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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bed Bugs: What You Need to Know

By Julia Ireland

Bed bugs were the focus of a recent informational seminar held at the Lawrence Township headquarters branch of the Mercer County Library.
Speaking before a crowded room on Oct. 27, Kristin Reed, a registered environmental health specialist from the Mercer County Division of Public Health, spoke about how to identify, prevent and eliminate the tiny pests.
Reed said county health officials are working with the county library system to help get the word out about bed bugs, which are becoming a growing concern throughout the area, particularly in libraries themselves.
Locally, there recently was a bed bug problem in the township’s own emergency medical services building.

How to Recognize Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are parasitic insects ranging in size from a pinhead to an apple seed.
“They will fit through the hole in a needle head,” Reed said.
Their eggs are white and look like “a grain of salt” and are hard to detect, but adult bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, she said.
Barbara Bromley, a horticulturist at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, located at 930 Spruce St. in Lawrence Township, is an expert at distinguishing bed bugs from similar pests like bat bugs, lice, fleas, ticks and cockroaches.
“If you find something in your house and you don’t think it belongs there, most of the time we can identify it,” Bromley said. “I’ve had a lot of bed bugs brought in and even three cases of bat bugs.”
Bed bug bites are often misdiagnosed. They often occur in clusters of three, and although they cannot cause disease, they may cause reactions and infections, Reed said.
Reed recommends checking anything that is upholstered: mattresses, box springs, couches, clothes and wheelchairs are popular bed bug homes. Dark spots on bed sheets and in the folds of mattresses can indicate bed bugs themselves, feces or blood marks, Reed said.
“They like books because they like close areas,” said Michael Andrews, a representative from Cooper Pest Solutions.
Reed said the county library system has been combating an ongoing problem of bed bugs in books returned from infested homes.

How to Avoid Being Affected by Bed Bugs
Reed said there is no definite way to prevent acquiring bed bugs in your home; however, she recommends keeping your living space clean, tidy and clutter free.
The best way to kill bed bugs is using heat. Reed recommends vacuuming and steam cleaning carpets and upholstery.
“One complete washer and dryer cycle on the hottest setting will kill eggs and adults,” Reed said.
Another preventative technique is purchasing a bed bug encasement for your mattress and box spring.
“Encasing mattresses and box springs usually costs about $100, and those that are $30-$50 probably won’t keep out bed bugs,” Reed said.
Bromley said that a common way to bring bed bugs home is by traveling.
“When you go to hotels, it doesn’t matter if it’s a five-star or a flop house, you have to be aware,” Bromley said. “Put your luggage on a luggage rack – never on the bed, never on the carpet. Or put it in the bath tub - just take it out when you want to take a bath.”

What to Do if Your Home Gets Infested
“There is no effective over-the-counter treatment,” Reed said. “If you have bed bugs, you need help.”
Reed calls combating bed bugs a “collaborative effort” between homeowners and exterminators. There are typically three treatments made by a pest control company, but this may vary depending on the cases’ severity.
“If you happen to have a severe infestation, we bag things and make recommendations on what to throw away and what to keep,” Andrews said.
It is the homeowners’ responsibility to prepare their home by removing clutter, and they must be willing to follow recommendations on how to complete treatment and dispose of infested items.
“To be done effectively, each service needs to be done about 14 days apart,” Andrews said. “Three treatments would take about a month or a month and a half or longer depending on the infestation. When we do a visual visit we first find out your habits, like where you go when you come home from work. Then we’ll do an actual search.”
Reed said seeking professional help is extremely important, however costly.
“To treat a one bedroom studio apartment with three treatments, it could be about $7,000. That’s just a minor infestation, not a major infestation, and it’s in a small location,” Reed said. However, by steam cleaning and removing infested items themselves, homeowners can reduce the cost.

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