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Bedbugs Back in U.S. Beds

Pest Firms Report Uptick in Calls for Bedbug Busters
By
WebMD Health News

Oct. 3, 2003 -- More and more Americans don't sleep tight. Not when the bedbugs bite.

Once known only from our mothers' bedtime rhymes, blood-sucking bedbugs are making a comeback.

It's happening all across the country, says Cindy Mannes, director of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. Every year since 1999, U.S. pest-control firms have been getting more and more bedbug calls.

"Five years ago, pest control companies got one or two bedbug calls a year. Now they get that many every week," Mannes says. "It's in every state except for eight we haven't heard from yet. They truly are coming back. The problem is going to grow. We are predicting a steady increase."

Pest-control firm Orkin Inc. predicts up to a 30% increase in bedbug infestations over the next five years. Calls to Orkin this year are up 500% over just two years ago.

Why Now?

Exterminators -- who now prefer to be called pest-control professionals or PCPs -- have a theory. They say the uptick in the little bloodsuckers is a side effect from modern pest-control methods.

Time was, exterminators -- excuse me, PCPs -- sprayed bug killer all over the place. If you had bugs when they came, you had nothing but dead bugs when they left. Concerns over exposure to that much poison led to modern techniques. Now PCPs use insect-specific traps and baits. If they're after cockroaches, that's all they'll kill. This gave bedbugs an unintended reprieve.

And of course the enormous increase in international travel means that bedbugs in one place quickly travel to another. They're great at hiding in your suitcase.

"My husband goes to China all the time," Mannes says. "The last time, I told him to leave his suitcases in the garage and vacuum them before bringing them in the house."

Bedbugs in the Best Places

Not in my house, you're saying. But don't be so sure, says entomologist Frank Meek, BCE, national pest control manager for Atlanta-based Orkin Inc.

"At first it was just in hotels -- not just low-end places but just as often in high-end hotels," Meek tells WebMD. "Now we are seeing bedbugs in homes, in school dorms, in condominiums, and apartments. They're getting on aircraft, both overseas and domestic runs. We've also had reports from cruise ships."

We think of bedbugs as confined to fleabag flophouses. But that's only because poor sanitation fails to get rid of the pests -- not because it attracts them in the first place.

"The bedbug does not live off of trash or organic debris," Meek says. "Its sole food source is blood. It is not attracted by filth or odors of filth such as the housefly or some cockroaches. The level of cleaning doesn't make it more attractive to them or help them reproduce."

In other words, you can find bedbugs in the best of places. And its tendency to hide in suitcases makes it a world-class hitchhiker. International travelers report bedbug bites from the best hotels in the world.

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