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article imageBed bug infestations growing worldwide

By Kathlyn Stone     May 21, 2009 in Health
Is something eating you? What are the health risks from bed bugs? How can you prevent bed bugs? How do you get rid of them?
Hey, is something eating you? If you’ve had an encounter with Cimex lectularius, commonly known as bed bugs, you already know it’s a major irritation to be a tiny creature’s midnight snack.
Bed bugs feed at night on humans and other warm blooded animals. They’re small, just 5 to 7 mm long, but are still visible to the naked eye. They are oval shaped, devoid of wings, and can be yellow to reddish brown in color.
Now experts warn that bed bug infestations are on the rise around the world. An increase in international travel, immigration and a growing resistance to insecticides have made it possible for the unwanted traveling companions to appear and spread in developed as well as lesser developed countries. One of the most common places where bed bugs hitch a ride is in hotel rooms, where the parasites move along with departing visitors’ luggage and clothing.
According to the pest control company Orkin, the parasites like to hide in cracks and crevices such as mattress seams, sheets, furniture, behind baseboards, in electrical outlet plates and picture frames.
The stigma commonly associated with bed bugs is mostly unwarranted because infestation can occur anywhere and is not dependent on a lack of hygiene, according to an article by Carolyn Hildreth, MD, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) “Patient Pages.” Bed bugs are most commonly spread among shelters and jails, but they can be found in all types of housing. According to Orkin, bed bug infestations occur in all types of hotels, from one star to five.
Symptoms and treatments
Some people have no reaction to the bites but the most common response is the appearance of small, itchy bumps or welts where the bites occurred. Over-the-counter topical antihistamines or topical corticosteroids can help relieve the itching. The welts normally disappear within two days.
Inflammation and swelling of the skin at the site of the bite can indicate an allergic reaction, and would call for antibiotic treatment. If left untreated, the condition could evolve into a fluid-filled bump or rash or secondary bacterial infections.
Although rare, some individuals develop an allergic reaction to bed bug bites. In that case, urgent intramuscular injection with an antihistamine, corticosteroid, or epinephrine (adrenaline) may be required, according to JAMA.
Prevention and elimination
Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eliminate so it’s best to avoid coming into contact with them if possible. Before settling in at a hotel or other unfamiliar location, check the mattress and sheets for brown or red spots. Orkin shares that a large infestation creates “a musty, sweet odor, like soda pop.” The World Health Organization describes the smell as simply "unpleasant."
You should also inspect used mattresses, box springs, and bedding before bringing them into your home.
If you do encounter the insects, health experts recommend the following:
•Vacuum mattresses, box springs, chairs and other furniture.
•Cover mattresses and box springs with plastic sheeting to trap the bugs and take away their food supply. Under normal room temperatures and with access to blood, bed bugs can live 300 days or more. Females lay from one to five eggs a day, or up to 500 in a lifetime.
•Use insecticides, with caution. Some insecticides, such as those used to kill malaria spreading mosquitoes, were also effective at killing bed bugs. Unfortunately, bed bugs are developing a resistance to insecticides. And many insecticides pose their own health risks for humans.
•Contact a licensed pest control company.
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