Friday, August 31, 2007

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

Are you scared yet?

Search "bedbugs" on Google News and you will find hundreds of news stories about mysterious itchy rashes, traumatized homeowners and frustrated pest control operators. Bedbugs are making a major comeback around the world, fueled by a massive increase in global travel that is spreading bedbugs way beyond their traditional stomping grounds of overcrowded housing and into the hotel rooms, luggage and even the homes of people who have never encountered them before.

Last week Saudi Arabia's Arab News reported that a pair of young Egyptian girls were killed by the pesticide treatment their father used to kill bedbugs in their bedroom. The whole family became ill, and the youngest girls died before reaching the hospital.

A recent NPR story exclaimed that "drenching the mattress with pesticides" is the only way to get rid of them. The good news is, this isn't the only way. Steam is extremely effective at killing bedbugs and their eggs - in fact, steam may be more effective than sprays, which can only kill the adult bugs. Pest control operators are reportedly using beagles to sniff out exactly the areas where bedbugs are hiding, to ensure good control.

While bedbugs are an extremely irritating pest - and a new one just emerging for most Americans - they do not spread disease, and should not be viewed as an emergency. In fact, while bedbugs are annoying, they pose less of a risk to your family than spraying pesticides inside your house. However, getting on top of the problem right away can spare you from some of the massive frustration that many people are reporting after experiencing an infestation.

Are you waking up in the morning with small, hard, itchy bites on you? Those may be bedbugs. Don't wait until the itching becomes ongoing and unbearable - inspect your bedroom to identify the culprit. Check your bedding carefully for signs of them. Tiny black dots spread around the sheets and mattress indicate bedbug activity.

If you think you have a bedbug infestation, you should immediately launder all the bedding in hot water and carefully vacuum the mattress (throwing away the vacuum bag afterward in your outdoor trash bin), remove all clutter from the room and move the bed away from the wall. For a full step-by-step on safe bedbug control, from prevention to identification to treatment, download this excellent fact sheet (pdf, 388 KB) from the New York State IPM program.

If you decide that you need the help of a licensed pest control operator, make sure that the PCO you call is experienced in dealing successfully with bedbugs. Call around until you find someone who knows how to handle them. They should be able to identify the pest, use technology (like beagles) to find all the bedbugs' hiding places, and then treat the area with the most effective, least toxic remedies available. We recommend specifically asking them about using heat and steam instead of spraying.

Bedbugs are gross, icky, weird, and new to most of us. But they're not a danger, and they can be controlled without poisoning our bedrooms - so don't let the hype get the best of you.

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