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Bedbugs Back in U.S. Beds

Pest Firms Report Uptick in Calls for Bedbug Busters

From the WebMD Archives


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.

Is That a Bedbug?

Bedbugs are what biologists call true bugs. These wingless insects are obligate parasites. That means they eat blood and nothing else.

For the uninitiated, bedbugs are flat and oval, about 1/4 inch in diameter. They look like a small lentil. The vermin are brownish in color, but take on a rusty mahogany color after a blood meal. Close up -- if you really want to know -- the critter is covered with microscopic hairs that give it a banded appearance when it's engorged with blood. Newly hatched bedbugs are harder to see -- they are light tan and translucent.

Bedbugs don't really bite. They suck. They're equipped with a long, sharp, thin, hollow bayonet used to pierce the skin. Saliva injected during feeding contains an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from clotting. It may also contain a mild anesthetic.

Most people don't feel the animal feeding. The first sign that you've been a bedbug's breakfast is an itchy red dot with a lighter red ring around it. There's often one or more straight lines of these wheals, marking where your body met the bed. Usually, more than one bug is to blame.

A common myth is that bedbugs are invisible. They're not -- but they only come out at night. During the day they hide in bedding; in creases in the mattress, box springs, and bed frame; behind pictures on the wall or in tears in the wallpaper; behind baseboards; and just about anyplace nearby. How far they get depends on how soon you discover them.