According to the CDC, bedbug populations in the United States fell off sharply in the 1950s. However, these pests are making a big comeback now. An increase in international travel may be partly to blame. But the combination of resistance to pesticides and general lack of knowledge about bedbugs is a more serious problem. Basically, bedbugs have been out of the picture for the average American for so long that we’ve forgotten how to deal with them. They were successfully fumigated with potent toxins for decades, but these chemicals are no longer working very well. Some strains of bedbug are almost completely immune to all insecticides approved to eradicate them.
What to Look For
There are a number of signs that indicate a bedbug infestation. The red, swollen bite marks (that may take up to 2 weeks to appear) are the most easily recognizable sign. You may also find shed exoskeletons in the creases of bedding. The sheets and mattress may have a sweet, musty odor. Finally, small rust colored spots on the sheets may be evident from bedbug fecal matter.
What Problems Do Bedbugs Cause?
Although bedbug bites don’t pose a serious health risk, they are often unsightly and uncomfortable. Some people have an allergic reaction. Others become susceptible to skin infections such as impetigo due to the break in the skin barrier and excessive scratching. Unlike mosquitoes and certain varieties of lice, bedbugs are not known to transmit any blood borne diseases.
The greatest health risk to humans is actually from the insecticides used to kill the bugs. Between 2003-2010, more than 100 individuals became ill (and one died) from overexposure to these insecticides in houses and apartments. About 40% of the reactions resulted from residents applying the chemicals themselves rather than hiring a certified professional. There are a number of non-toxic approaches to limiting bedbug infestation. You can find the CDC’s recommendations including vacuuming, sealing cracks, and heating the affected room here. Most important, never take a DIY approach to insecticide application!