Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association
Vampires may be all the rage, but they’re not the only bloodsuckers making a comeback.
A new survey from the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky has found that bed bug infestations are on the rise. According to their report, bed bug outbreaks around the country have jumped 81 percent since 2000. Almost every pest management company polled – 95 percent (up from 25 percent in previous years) -- said they responded to at least one infestation over the past year. It’s no wonder exterminators are so busy! Over the past few years, bed bug populations in the U.S. have ballooned by 500 percent, according to Congress' "Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009."
It’s not just residential homes that are under attack. The pests frequently show up in hotels and college dorms, and have even been spotted in Laundromats, on public transportation, in movie theaters and stores. In the past month alone, the critters temporarily shut down Manhattan branches of the retail clothing stores Abercrombie & Fitch in the South Street Seaport, Hollister in SoHo, and Victoria’s Secret at Lexington and 58th St.
Blame their ubiquity on the insects’ penchant for travel. According to the NPMA, bed begs love to hitch rides in suitcases, boxes and shoes, and often hide out -- and lay eggs -- in walls, upholstery, furniture crevices and ventilation ducts. They also aren’t picky about their accommodations; they’ll happily settle into homes that are clean or dirty, warm or cold, humid or dry. The only thing they require: a food source. That’s where you come in.
As nocturnal creatures, bed bugs come out of hiding at night to feast on blood and dead skin cells -- leaving itchy red welts on their victims. Bed bugs aren’t believed to be dangerous, but scratching the bites could lead to an infection. More than anything, the insects are considered a huge nuisance. According to the NPMA they are among the most difficult pests to get rid of and require the use of pest management professionals. Bed bugs were believed to have been eliminated in the 40s, through the use of the now-banned pesticide DDT. But they reappeared in the 80s and exterminators have been struggling to deal with their resurgence ever since.
That’s why prevention is key. If you know what to look for, bed bugs are actually easy to detect. Pest management companies use visual inspections to determine whether a home has an infestation. Bed bugs are the color and shape of an apple seed – sometimes slightly smaller. If you’re a yard sale, flea market or Dumpster diving denizen, you need to be extra vigilant. Inspect used items for miniscule dots of dried blood and fecal matter -- which looks like poppy seeds. The eggs, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to spot and even harder to kill. Your best bet: Be very wary of found treasures, especially mattresses and headboards.
If you’re a frequent traveler, check out web sites like bedbugregistry.com, where users can post bed bug sightings. Once you arrive at your hotel, inspect your room before unpacking. Pull back the blankets on the bed and look for brown or red dots of blood on the sheets.
Have you ever encountered bed bugs -- or know anyone who has? Chime in below!