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Bedbugs: Why They're Back

Experts Explain Why Bedbugs Are Everywhere Again -- and What to Do
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 6, 2011 -- For a while, it seemed the bedbug had gone the way of the Edsel automobile and cold water flats. Not anymore -- as we’ve learned. They’re back with a vengeance, and experts now seem to know why.

Bedbugs may not get as much play in the media as they did in the summer of 2010, but they are here to stay, experts warned at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in Philadelphia. New research presented here helps explain why they are back and a lot of it has to do with an ability to outsmart existing treatments.

We saw hide nor hair from these vermin in the U.S. for close to 60 years, but now the number of bedbug infestations in homes, hotel rooms, and the like has jumped 10- to 100-fold since 1990.

What Is a Bed Bug?

Bedbugs are wingless, rust-colored insects. They are about the size of an apple seed. They don’t spread disease, but they do bite and munch on your blood. Their bites can trigger allergic reactions, including welts and itching in some people. Other people may not have any symptoms after a bite.

Part of the reason they are here en masse is their tremendous capacity for inbreeding. Researchers studied bed bugs from buildings in North Carolina and New Jersey and found an uncanny family resemblance among them. This was confirmed in another study of 21 bedbug infestations from Maine to Florida.

Others species don’t survive after inbreeding, but bed bugs don’t just survive, they thrive, says Coby Schal, PhD. He is an entomologist at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. “A single mated female can create a whole new population or infestation,” he says.

"We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg," Schal says. "They are here to stay for awhile.”

But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid movie theaters, hotel rooms, or other places where bedbugs lurk.

“Bedbugs don’t hitchhike on people,” he says. “They are more likely to take a blood meal for five to 10 minutes and leave.” 

This means they piggyback on your stuff instead. “You can pick up bed bugs on furniture and clothing,” he says.

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