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Sleep tight, if you can: Bedbugs are back

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 3, 2010
— Ew.

Really, that’s the only way to start a story about bedbugs.


And guess what: They’re here.


“We probably get two or three calls every week or so,” said Adam Elmer, Rock County Health Department registered sanitarian. “That’s definitely an increase. Last year, we probably got 10 all year.”


Ew, ew, ew.


“The population is just booming,” Elmer said. “They’re resistant to DDT and other pesticides.”


Bedbugs are now infesting U.S. households on a scale unseen in more than 50 years.


The problem has gotten so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency warned this month against the indoor use of outdoor pesticides. The agency also warned of an increase in pest control companies and others making “unrealistic promises about effectiveness or low cost.”


All this raises the obvious question: How will I know if I have them?


“They leave little bites on your skin, in groups of three,” said Elmer. “I’ve heard it described as breakfast, lunch and dinner.”


Thanks for that image, Mr. Elmer.


Most people wonder about the itchy bites and end up going to their doctors or doing research on the Internet.


In most cases, people have no serious problems with bedbug bites except for the annoying itching—and the lingering paranoia about being bitten again. However, some might have allergic reactions to the bites that produce blisters or hives.


Adult bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed but flatter, so they can be spotted with the naked eye—you just have to know where to look.


Most bedbugs live where they can get three square meals every day. Beds and heavily used sofas and recliners are among their favorite choices.


They can feed on pets but only do so if no human host is readily available.


If you catch them early enough, you might be able to manage the bugs without professional help, Elmer said.


For example, if bedbugs recently decided to dine at Chez Votre Bedroom and are demanding menus and the wine list, start by removing all the clutter—then get out the vacuum.


“You want to concentrate on small cracks and crevices and behind the baseboards—everywhere,” Elmer said.


Many people decide to throw out their mattresses. The other option is to buy a mattress cover designed to keep bedbugs in check.


Remember, bedbugs can survive a year without feeding.


If you end up hiring a professional, do your homework first.


“First of all, make sure the pest control company is licensed to apply pesticides,” Elmer said. “It’s good if they’re a member of a national organization, too.”


And ask for references.


Bedbugs tend to travel on used furniture such as sofas and night stands. They also can be picked up at hotels. One leading bedbug scientist always leaves his luggage in the bathroom when he travels, just to be safe.


“That’s probably not a bad idea,” Elmer said. “Or you could put a garbage bag around your suitcase.”


Of course, it always pays to check the sheets when you’re traveling.


That mint on the pillow is a snack for you.


You, on the other hand, are a snack for them.


Ewwww.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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