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Cover Story April 16th, 2009

  Untitled Document
good night, sleep tight... don't let the bed bugs bite
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by lyle e davis

About two years ago, Corky Mizer warned us about the coming invasion of bed bugs. He was a guest speaker at our Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club.

For those who don’t know him, Corky Mizer is that amiable, always smiling, major domo at Corky’s Pest Control and is probably one of the top pest control experts in all of San Diego County, if not Southern California. Corky knows his bugs. And spiders. And rats. And cinch bugs. And bed bugs.

Yes, bed bugs.

At that Kiwanis meeting, Corky gave us a broad view of the various pests that trouble those of us who live here in paradise; but one part of his speech caught my attention. He told us that his and other pest control companies were seeing more and more incidents of bed bugs, particularly in hotels in the Los Angeles area, but most recently, in the San Diego county area as well. And the problem was going to get bigger, not smaller, he said, and we could count on a major increase in the San Diego region.

That stuck with me. I can’t imagine a much more distasteful experience than having a horde of bed bugs gnawing away at this body of mine and draining all the blood they wanted to dine on. But that’s exactly what they do.

What’s more . . . Bed Bugs are Here!

Yep. Just as Corky predicted, bed bugs have become a concern for those of us who live in San Diego county; whether we travel and stay in hotels or stay at home. Bed bugs are found in many hotel, motel rooms, college dorms, rehabilitation centers, sleep treatment centers, hospital and hospice centers, and nursing homes. It may happen to you - so make sure that you are not bringing the bugs back home with you!

What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs and their relatives have evolved as nest parasites. Certain kinds inhabit bird nests and bat roosts and await the return of their hosts; others have adapted well to living in the ‘nests’ (homes) of people.

photoThe Harvard School of Public Health tells us that female bed bugs may lay 1-5 eggs per day until they produce about 200 eggs. The eggs may hatch in 6-10 days in warm weather or heated buildings.

Hatchling bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about 1/4 of an inch in length. From above they are oval in shape, but are flattened from top to bottom.

Their color ranges from nearly white (just after molting) or a light tan to a deep brown or burnt orange. Your blood, or that of any host, may appear as a dark red or black mass within the bug’s body. Because they never develop wings, bed bugs cannot fly.

The stages are that nymphs emerge, and try to find a blood meal. From nymph to adult bed bug usually takes about 35-48 days. The adults may survive for long periods of time in empty houses, waiting for their favorite meal --- man. If they are desperate they may take a meal from birds or rodents. Well-fed adults may live up to a year and a half.

photoBed bugs seek out people and animals, generally at night while these hosts are asleep, and painlessly sip a few drops of blood. While feeding, they inject a tiny amount of their saliva into the skin. Repeated exposures to bed bug bites during a period of several weeks or more causes people to become sensitized to the saliva of these bugs; additional bites may then result in mild to intense allergic responses. The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles those caused by many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas. The offending insect, therefore, can rarely be identified by the appearance of the bites. A physician should be consulted to rule out other causes for the lesions and to offer treatment, as needed. The affected person should resist the urge to scratch the bites, as this may intensify the irritation and itching, and may lead to secondary infection. Physicians often treat patients with antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce allergic reactions and inflammation. Despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, bed bugs are not known to transmit any infectious agents.

Recent studies have only shown a slight link as a possible spreader of type B hepatitis but this has not been conclusive. Bed bugs remain a pest, but stories of their psychological effect on people do hold some weight. Even in the gold rush days, tales of people going crazy from a bed bug infestation were not all that uncommon.

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Bed Bug Bites on Stomach

Protect Yourself from Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are not necessarily found in cheezy, chintzy hotels and motels. You’ll find them in top name facilities throughout the hospitality industry. They even show up at sea, on board big-name cruise ships. Control of bed bugs is usually done by fumigation/application treatment. Some hotels in badly infected areas will place the feet of beds in pans of kerosene or oil to keep bed bugs from crawling up, but they will still get onto a bed by falling from the ceiling. Those treatments alone put me off wanting to travel.

Corky’s Pest Control inspects and treats all hiding places that must be searched out including mattresses and bedding. In order to ensure eradication of the bed bugs, it takes efforts on both parts by both customer and your pest control company.

How Can You Tell If You Have Bed Bugs?

When disturbed, bed bugs actively seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices. Cast skins of bed bugs are sometimes discovered. Although such a finding confirms that bed bugs had been present previously, it does not confirm that any continue to infest the residence. Thus, inspect carefully for live crawling bed bugs. Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified.

Their flattened bodies allow them to conceal themselves in cracks and crevices around the room and within furniture. Favored hiding sites include the bed frame, mattress and box spring. Clutter around the room offers additional sites for these bugs to hide, and increases the difficulty in eliminating bed bugs once they have become established.

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Bed Bugs Hiding in a Mattress

How Do Bed Bugs Invade a Home?

Because bed bugs readily hide in small crevices, they may accompany (as stowaways) luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other such objects when these are moved between apartments, homes and hotels. Used furniture, particularly bed frames and mattresses, are of greatest risk of harboring bed bugs and their eggs.

How Can You Tell if the Residence is Infested?

Bed bugs infest only a small proportion of residences, but they should be suspected if residents complain of bites that occurred while sleeping. The bedroom and other sleeping areas should be carefully examined for bed bugs and signs of bed bug activity. Folds and creases in the bed linens, and seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs, in particular, may harbor bed bugs or their eggs. They may also be found within pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind cove molding, and in laundry or other items on the floor or around the room. Sometimes, characteristic dark brown or reddish fecal spots of bed bugs are apparent on the bed linens, mattress or walls near the bed. A peculiar coriander-like odor may be detected in some heavily infested residences.

What To Do If You Have Bed Bugs?

Thoroughly clean the infested rooms as well as others in the residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs, and use a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. Dismantling bed frames will expose additional bug hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.

Mattresses and box springs can be permanently encased within special mattress bags. Once they are installed, inspect the bags to ensure they are undamaged; if any holes or tears are found, seal these completely with permanent tape. Any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.

To prevent bed bugs from crawling onto a bed, pull the bed frame away from the wall, tuck sheets and blankets so they won’t contact the floor, and place the frame legs into dishes or cups of mineral oil. Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor, and fill cracks around baseboards and cove moldings to further reduce harborages.

If you own your residence, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control operator who is knowledgeable and experienced in managing bed bug infestations. Ask the pest control company for references, and ask at least a few of their customers about their experiences before you agree to any contract.

If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to manage the infestation. Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed pest control operator.

As a standard practice, Corky’s Pest Control will provide you with a service agreement that is specialized for his chosen plan. This plan will detail the methods and insecticides to be used, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager as well as by the tenants. Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the same floor as well as those directly above and below.

If you come home from a vacation or business trip with infested clothing, empty your suitcase in the garage directly into the laundry. Get items requiring dry cleaning taken care of right away, then your suitcase can be sprayed inside and out and sealed in a garbage bag until the next use. By then it should be completely free of infestation. There are many other steps to ensure that bed bugs are not spread to your home, but if ever in doubt, contact Corky's Pest Control for a free bed bug inspection.

What shouldn’t you do?

Don’t panic. Although bed bugs can be annoying, they can be battled safely and successfully if you adopt a well-considered strategy.

Do not apply pesticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply a pesticide, or apply it without a license to the property of another (including common spaces in apartment buildings). Generally, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply pesticides. They should, instead, hire a licensed pest control operator to confirm the infestation and to develop an integrated pest management plan.

Do not dispose of furniture that is useful. Infested furniture can be cleaned and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street may simply help spread bed bugs to the homes of other people. Infested furniture intended for disposal should be defaced to make it less attractive to other people.

Officials in some municipalities affix to potentially infested furniture a label to warn of bed bugs. To reduce opportunities of infested furniture re-entering their building, building managers should ensure that any disposed furniture is locked within a dumpster or immediately carted away to a landfill or waste facility.

Sources: Harvard School of Public Health
Corky’s Pest Control, San Marcos, Ca.

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