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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sleep Tight Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite

By Deborah McGuire

They’ve been around for thousands of years and yet serve no other purpose to humans other than to annoy us.
The resurgence of bedbugs has become epidemic in the United States and residents and visitors of Cape May County are not immune to being a late night snack for the creeping crawlers. And contrary to some reports, the national problem does not seem to be abating.
“There are some reports that say the problem is abating in New York City because the city is getting a reduction in calls,” said Jeffrey White, a research entomologist with Cooper Pest Solutions and Technical Director of Bedbug Central. “That’s a false sense of security.”
According to White the tiny critters are here and are here to stay after a more than 50-year hiatus.
White explained that after World War II, bedbugs were basically eradicated by the use of DDT. Years went by without a bedbug problem because of the long shelf life of the now-banned pesticide.
“From 1950 through 1980, a different class of pesticides hit the market,” White said. “We have more pesticides today, but they’re from the same class, synthetic pyrethroids.”
Over time, the bugs have shown a higher resistance to many of today’s pesticides.
“There are a lot of different factors going on in the resurgence,” said White. “Pesticide resistance, lack of public awareness and travel.”
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) Consumer and Environmental Health Services Public Health, Sanitation and Safety Program issued a bedbug fact sheet.
According to the fact sheet, transmission occurs when bedbugs hitch a ride. “In most cases, bedbugs are transported from infested areas to non-infested areas when they cling to someone’s clothing or crawl into luggage, furniture or bedding that is then brought into homes.”
With tourism and hospitality being the county’s main industry, visitors abound when summer rolls ‘round. The high people movement in hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and private homes means a constant stream of changing tenants. More changeovers mean more chances of infestation.
Places that experience changeovers need to steel themselves for an eventual infestation, said White.
“There is almost nothing you can do to prevent bedbugs from being introduced,” he said. “Just be prepared for when it happens. If you’re renting a house out for 16 weeks a year, you’re probably going to encounter some bedbugs.”
To that end, he shared tips for making sure unwanted “guests” don’t stay behind. Between renters, if possible, is the best time to inspect a property.
Inspection at the time of changeover is the first step in the line of defense against the annoying buggers. Prime bedbug real estate includes the seams of mattresses and box springs as well as the bottom of box springs.
Encasing the mattress and box spring is helpful in controlling bedbugs. According to White encasements are now on the market specifically for bedbug control.
“In a single family home, it’s an investment,” White said about the encasements. “But it can help slow the possibility of an infestation.”
The second line of defense is a bedbug monitor. White said the Verifi active monitor re-leases carbon dioxide and an attractant. The monitor is placed behind the bed. Another method of control is interceptors, small bowl-like traps that put beneath the bed’s legs.
To avoid an infestation in the first place, “the only thing you can do is know how not to bring them to your house,” said White.
White warned of bringing used furniture into a home. “If you’re going to buy a used couch, think about it,” he said. Even antiques can suffer the scourge of bedbugs.
An infestation does not necessarily require a soft, plump mattress, chair or sofa. According to the Mayo Clinic, bugs can also live in carpeting, peeling paint and wallpaper and under light switch plates or electrical outlets.
When bringing any item into a home, inspection is key. Inspect the item for the bugs themselves, said White. “If you see something that looks like a tick, be concerned. Remember, these bugs are small,” said White.” The entomologist also cautioned to look for black spotting. “It’s fecal material,” he said. Spots are made up of digested human blood.
If signs of bedbugs are noted and a decision made to still bring the item into the home, a few things can be done to kill off the bugs.
“Heat is one of the best things out there,” said White, noting that a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit will kill both adult bedbugs and their eggs.
Items, such as bed linens, that can be safely placed inside a clothes dryer can be dried on high heat.
Using over-the-counter insecticidal aerosol bombs is not recommended, according to White.
“They should not be sold for bedbug control,” he said. “It treats open space. Unless the bedbug is going up the wall, it’s not going to kill the bedbugs. Those bomb not only don’t kill bedbugs, they spread them.”
One surefire way of killing the parasites is steam. “We know at 120 degrees they die very quickly,” said White. “At 160 – 180 degrees, it’s an instant death.”
White stressed that if the bug problem is, or becomes, out of control, then professional intervention is needed.
Bedbugs can live for a year without feeding, but usually feed every five to 10 days.
“They’re back and they’re here to stay,” said White. “The best way to handle it is with awareness and handling it proactively.”
If a bedbug problem is discovered, White stressed the need address the problem.
“Take it seriously, head on and put things in place to identify it as early as possible and handle it appropriately.”
When asked what purpose bedbugs serve in the animal kingdom, White, who received his Masters degree in Entomology from the University of Florida and is a nationally-noted bed bug expert replied, “There are very few organisms on Earth that exist just for their own survival. I have found no other purpose for bedbugs other than just to annoy us. Bedbugs were eliminated from the United States for the past 40 years or so and we did perfectly fine.”

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