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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bed Bugs Make Unwelcome Comeback

Bed Bugs Make Unwelcome Comeback
  • By Julie Weisberg

  • September 18, 2011

  • "Goodnight, and don't let the bed bugs bite."

    It's an age-old American saying. And for much of the last several decades it was just that: only a saying.

    But recently, the phrase has taken on additional meaning — become almost warning of sorts — as over the last few years reports of bed bug infestations have noticeably risen across the country, including right here in Connecticut.

    And local health and entomology experts say bed bug populations are expected to continue to rise, expanding into new and additional areas into the foreseeable future.

    "It's a problem," Alex Cinotti, assistant director of the
    East Shore Health District, told Patch.

    "We hear about it on a weekly basis," Cinotti said, adding that includes reports from throughout the state, as well as towns the district serves: East Haven, Branford and North Branford.

    "And that's probably the tip of the iceberg," he said.

    Leslie Balch, director of health with the
    Quinnipiac Valley Health Department, agreed.

    "We're seeing it more and more, and we're just going to have to death with it," Balch said.

    According to Dr. Gail Ridge, a bed bug expert with the
    Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, there are two types of bed bugs that feed on human blood: the Common bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) and the Tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus Fabr).

    And it is the Common bed bug that is once again, with increasing frequency, making its home in Connecticut.

    Adult bed bugs are apple seed in size, with nymphs and eggs much smaller.

    They are brown in color, flat and oval shaped, with six legs and two antennae (see images included with this story in the gallery at the right).
    Since they have no wings they do not fly, and they also do not jump. The insects also prefer to feed at night and hide during the daytime.

    Although bed bugs have been a common nuisance throughout much of human history, Ridge said the widespread use of powerful chemical insecticides such as DDT for pest control throughout much of the early 20th century — as well as the invention of the mechanical washing machine and vacuum cleaner — led to the near eradication of the insect as a common household pest in North America by the early 1940s.

    Until now, that is.

    In Connecticut, Ridge said bed bug populations have been on a "very noticeable" incline since 2003.

    "That's when I began to have pest management professionals coming into my office and asking me: 'What do I do,'" she said.

    Since then, just about every region of the state — including south Central Connecticut — has had recent and/or continuing reports of infestations.

    "It's a problem on every block, in every town, in every part of the state," Cinotti said.

    And what has led to the resurgence of the household pest?

    Ridge said experts believe the sharp reduction in the long-term use of residential pesticides over the past several years, in addition to the continued increase in international trade and travel, have conspired together to allow the insect to once again regain their foothold in hotels, apartment complexes, office buildings and schools — as well as private single-family homes — across North America.

    She added that current infestation levels are beginning to climb back to "pre-DDT days."

    "With many of the populations being pesticide resistant," Ridge said.

    The only good news about the bed bug is — unlike fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other blood-feeding insects — they are not known to be disease carriers.

    This means that although they are undesirable to have in a home, especially for those that are sensitive or even allergic to their bite, experts say there is no known additional health concerns associated with the pests.

    "They really are, more than anything, a major nuisance," Ridge said.

    Still, for many, the realization that their home, office or apartment has a bed bug infestation can lead to feelings of embarrassment, disgust or fear about the social stigma that can sometimes occur when others incorrectly associate the root cause of an outbreak with a general lack of cleanliness.

    "People think it's their fault, and most of the time, it's not," Cinotti said.

    So, how can you identify if you have a bed bug problem? Although only an expert can confirm the presence of the pest for certain, some signs include:

    • Unexplained, often itchy red spots appearing on skin usually in rows or clusters (skin reactions may be more severe).

    • Scattered brown spots on bed linen and/or mattress seams, or favorite seats
    • Small oval brown insects on beds or chairs
    • A sweet musty odor is often noticed when populations are high

    Because the insects can be mistaken by the untrained eye for carpet beetles, fleas, ticks and small cockroaches, it is important to get an expert to confirm that it is indeed bed bugs that have been found in a given area.

    If an infestation has been confirmed, health officials say tenants should notify their landlord, and individual property owners should contact pest control professionals who have experience dealing with bed bugs.

    And all of this should be done as soon as possible, as delays in treatment can make controlling the insects much harder.

    "They are very difficult to deal with, and it does take some time," Balch said, adding the department — like most local health districts — frequently works with landlords and tenants, as well as individual home owners, to educate them about the bugs and how best to eliminate them. "And we've had some successes."

    Of course, the best defense is a good offense. And, while easier said than done, there are some simple steps individuals can take to lessen the chance of an outbreak.

    One of the most frequent ways people bring bed bugs into their homes is through traveling, as many hotels and motel rooms are perfect breeding grounds for the tiny insects.

    Because of this, travelers should take several precautions during their stay and when returning home, including: 

    • Select hot drier and wash tolerant travel clothes

    • Use hard smooth luggage over fabric luggage
    • Pack plastic bags to seal purchases and/or items that may have become infested
    • At destination, inspect bed area for bed bug signs on headboards, mattress seams, adjacent furniture, and objects near to the bed
    • At destination, keep luggage off floors and beds, place them on high luggage racks
    • Do not unpack clothes
    • Always keep luggage closed
    • Place hanging items on shower rail
    • Keep shoes away from bed
    • Before checking out, seal suspicious items in plastic bags
    • On arriving home, unpack materials outside residence and take laundry etc. directly to washer and/or drier for immediate cleaning
    • Delicate items or objects can be frozen in a freezer for 5 days to kill all stages of bed bugs

    "The main thing is, you want to be sure you're not bringing them home with you," Balch said.

    But Cinotti added that if your home does have an outbreak, it is important for people not to panic, to know that there effective ways to control and even eliminate the bugs.

    "The are all kinds of pest control operations out there that are very good," he said.

    For more information about bed bugs, as well as how to prevent and treat an infestation, the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station has
    an entire section of their website devoted to the subject.
    In addition, the Connecticut Department of Health has a resource page on bed bugs.


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