Infestations of Cimex lectularius -- commonly referred to as bedbugs -- have become such a big health issue that in 2008, Congress considered a bill to fund increased inspection of hotel rooms for the creepy crawlers.
Though the bill didn't pass, knowing the facts can help protect you from falling prey to the nocturnal, blood-feeding, reddish-brown wingless insects, measuring 1/10 to 2/10 of an inch in size.
At the recent meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Miami Beach, Fla., Albert C. Yan, MD, chief of pediatric dermatology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, discussed the rise in infestations.
How bad is the bedbug problem?
Bedbug populations in the U.S. have increased by 500% in the past few years. Consider:
- A 2008 inspection of a hotel in Nashua, N.H, found that 16 of 117 rooms were infested.
- In 2004, New York City had 377 bedbug violations for the entire year. From July to November, 2005, a five-month span, there were 449 violations reported.
- In a study of 700 hotel rooms between 2002 and 2006, 25% of hotels were in need of bedbug treatment.
Why are cases on the rise?
It's likely due to the rise in international travel and the elimination of pesticides like DDT, which had been highly effective in destroying bedbugs.
One study found that bedbugs in New York City, a hotbed of activity for bedbugs where pesticides are used more frequently, were 264 times more resistant to the insecticide deltamethrin than Gainesville bedbugs.
Where are bedbugs found and how do I avoid them?
Favorite spots are along the seams of mattresses or box springs, behind headboards, or in other small, dark spaces.
To avoid bedbugs, check your hotel room before unpacking, especially along the seam of the mattress, between the mattress and box spring, and in cracked wallpaper near bed and furniture crevices.
Never put your suitcase on the floor, and if you are thinking about using the luggage rack in the room, check it thoroughly.
Once home, wash or dry clean your items immediately and check your suitcase for any signs that you have brought the bugs back with you.
How do you treat bedbug bites?
Antihistamines as well as ointments and creams containing corticosteroids are effective in reducing the itching and redness of bedbug bites, and warm compresses applied directly to the bites can help ease itching.
As for your house, switch to vinyl seamless mattress covers and seal cracks in paint, wallpaper, and furniture. Wash clothes and bedding in 140-degree water or dry clean.
Neem oil is a natural product that has an odor that is repellent to bedbugs.