Bloodthirsty Bedbugs Have Returned

“They’re back, and they’re bloodthirsty. Bedbugs, not too long ago little more than a riff in a nursery rhyme, have returned with a vengeance in the United States and around the world,” says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

And the problem only promises to get worse before it gets better, says the article. An expert on bedbugs from Virginia is quoted as saying, “Our ability to stop the spread is absolutely nonexistent.” No corner of the US has been spared, and the situation is similar in Canada.

The problem in big cities is worse than rural areas. It’s a pandemic – a disease prevalent throughout the entire country, continent or the whole world. It is an epidemic over a large area.

Why are the government policy-makers, local officials, businesses, landlords and private homeowners all struggling to respond to apple-seed-sized insects?

When we had DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) – now banned – bedbugs were largely eradicated. Now the bedbugs have become resistant to most of the insecticides we have in the market. They have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to multiply in spite of everything we have done to get rid of them.

Where would you find the bugs?

As the name implies, you will find them on your beds. You may find them in chairs, sofas, electrical outlets, baseboards and crevices at homes, apartments, hotels, hospitals, college dorms, offices, movie theatres, high-end stores and more, says the CMAJ article. Bedbugs hide during the day and they emerge at night to feed. Only in cases of severe infestation are they found crawling on individuals or in their clothing during the day.

How do they get around?

The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is a wingless, red-brown, blood-sucking insect that grows to an adult length of 5 – 6 mm. Bedbugs do not fly. They get around by crawling or hitching a ride on people’s clothing or shoes, bedding, luggage, handbags and furniture.

Are they dangerous?

No, they do not cause or transmit any disease. They feed on human blood with a painless bite, often delivered when people are asleep. The bites can leave itchy, bloody welts. They can cause skin rashes and allergic symptoms, as well as psychological effects like exasperation and irritation. Bedbug bites, however, should be considered a possible cause of chronic blood loss and iron-deficiency anemia in people who have signs of bedbug infestation.

Treatment of the bites typically involves symptomatic use of antihistamines and corticosteroids. Getting rid of bedbugs is hugely difficult. Methods include insecticides, heat, steam, freezing and vacuuming, but can take time and be very costly.

The Environmental Protection Agency held its first “bedbug summit” in 2009 and is participating in a US government task force trying to educate the public and develop better eradication options, says the CMAJ article.

Travellers should take steps like carefully inspecting their hotel room and checking clothing and luggage after a trip. Sleep well. Don’t let the bedbugs bite you.

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