Bed bugs are out there, and they hunger for your blood.
A worldwide problem, bedbugs are resurging, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and while the creatures don’t transmit disease, they can be a genuine nuisance – their presence causing at minimum itching or loss of sleep.
Terri Auger, a registered sanitarian with the City of Abilene’s Environmental Health Department, said that bedbug outbreaks don’t have to be reported to her department, but are considered a nuisance under the Health and Safety Code.
“So if someone does complain, we go out there under that code” Auger said. “If we find (a live) one, they have to abate the room and have it cleaned by a licensed pesticide applicator – and then fax over the invoice to make sure the room has been treated. They can’t self-treat.”
The small, brown insects live on the blood of people and animals, and they can come into your house or public places in an “infinite” amount of ways, said David Culbert, a bed bug technician with Pest Patrol.
Whether it be clothing, used beds and couches, luggage or any number of other entryways, they tend to hide, at least initially, in mattresses box springs, bed frames and headboards.
They leave tell-tale bites on one’s face, neck, arms, hands and other body parts, though those bite marks may take up to 14 days to develop in some people.
Other signs are exoskeletons, left over after molting, the presence of the bugs themselves in the fold of mattresses and sheets, and rusty-colored blood spots from excretions on mattresses or nearby furniture. Some also report a sweet, musty odor.
Communal settings – apartments, hotels, theaters, or similar locations – are a haven for the bugs, she said.
An outbreak of the little biters doesn’t mean that a place is unsanitary, Auger said.
That’s because it’s woefully easy to pick them up, she said. Travelers going from place to place, for example, might pick them up from drawers or suitcase racks.
“The little critters will just crawl right in on something and now you’re moving them somewhere else,” she said. “It has nothing to do with your sanitation.”
Lyndale at Abilene, a local nursing home, recently curtailed an influx of bedbugs said Joe Frush, the facility’s executive director.
“Some new residents moved in and they had an infestation in their mattress that they didn’t know about,” he said.
As soon as the issue was discovered, the facility immediately enacted its in-house, three-phase procedure to control and eliminate bedbugs, he said.
“Unfortunately, this happens occasionally in places like this, when you have multiple people moving in,” he said. “The key is to get on it, to treat it, and also treat the other areas as well.”
The infestation won’t spread through the building, Frush said.
“We’re being responsible and taking care of it,” he said.
Culbert said it’s essential to stem both the local infestation and to cut off contact with outside sources that might bring the bugs back in.
With proper procedures, they can be obliterated, though it takes a swift, concentrated effort, Culbert said.
“If you piecemeal it, you’re not going to get rid of them,” he said.
His company’s professional treatment involves vacuuming up visible bugs, steaming their rice-sized, clear eggs, encasing mattresses and box springs, isolating one’s bed, dusting outlets and treating baseboards, curtains and furniture. Follow-ups every two weeks are scheduled to make sure they don’t return.
For in-home treatment, Auger recommends that people take their clothing and put them in a black plastic bag, kept warm over a “few days.”
“Or they can take all their clothes and put them in a dryer – high heat for 20 minutes, not low heat for an hour,” she said. “Bedbugs are killed by high heat.”
For mattresses, Auger said that there are a variety of commercially-available chemicals, though it’s up to each individual to determine how well those tools are working, since another option – totally replacing a mattress – can be prohibitively expensive.
Culbert said that many people prefer professional treatment to prevent the bugs from being chased from room to room, infesting additional furnishings, something he’s said he has seen when people self-treat.
Culbert said that the bugs are attracted to wherever you spend the most time stationary, whether it be a bed or a favorite chair.
“They sense your carbon dioxde when you’re stationary the most,” he said.
Although admittedly more aware than some others, Auger said that she’ll go so far as taking a small flashlight with her to the movie theater, checking furniture in public settings such as libraries and generally keeping an eye out wherever she goes.
“They may crawl off someone’s shirt and get on the furniture, and they’ll crawl on someone else,” she said. “I don’t want to cause panic, just be aware of your surroundings, basically.”
While the crevices of mattresses are favored spots, wall sockets are another place one might find bedbugs, Auger said.
“I’ve seen them on window sills, on the ceiling at wall joints,” she said. “They’re not just around the bed where there’s a food source, but they will travel to find one.”