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Bedbugs Back in U.S. Beds

Pest Firms Report Uptick in Calls for Bedbug Busters
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Is That a Bedbug? continued...

The earliest sign of bedbugs -- other than wheals on your body -- is tiny dots of blood on the sheets. That's because wounds from bedbug bites bleed a little. And bedbug poop is a liquid; it appears as darker dots on the sheets. If you've got lots of bedbugs -- and the little suckers are prolific breeders -- your bed will have the distinctive sickly-sweet, soda-pop-syrup smell that the bugs give off.

Speaking of breeding, a single female bedbug lays 10 to 50 eggs every three to 15 days. The sticky eggs are laid near the bugs' hiding places. If they feed regularly, bedbug nymphs become adults in two to six weeks.

Bedbugs and Disease

There's one good thing about bedbugs. No, really. It's this: They don't seem to transmit disease. Here's Ben Beard, PhD, chief of the bacterial zoonoses branch of the CDC's division vector borne diseases in Ft. Collins, Colo.

"There's no medical reason to worry about a bedbug bite, unless you are unusually allergic to them," Beard tells WebMD. "They have never been considered important in disease transmission -- or never incriminated. Some researchers have found that bedbugs can carry hepatitis B virus, but I'd say it isn't of any public health importance."

One of those researchers is Ann Silverman, MD, director of gastroenterology and hepatitis research at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., and assistant professor at Wayne State University.

Silverman somehow talked hepatitis B patients into allowing her to let bedbugs feed on their arms. The bugs became full of live hepatitis B virus. When bugs were liquefied and injected into woodchucks, the animals became infected.

"The question is, 'Can bedbugs transmit hepatitis B by feeding on one person infected with the virus and giving it to the next person?' At this point we just don't know," Silverman tells WebMD. "But people shouldn't get alarmed."

Even so, Silverman admits, while doing the research she had nightmares that her hepatitis-fed bedbugs got loose.

Similar tests showed that hepatitis C -- a totally different virus -- can't survive in bedbugs.

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