I’m too ashamed to ask my doctor, but I think we have bedbugs. My husband is an executive and our home is upscale. How could this have happened? We found them in the folds of the mattress, and I’m worried about disease!
You have no need to be embarrassed. Bedbugs have become a major problem for many people, and they’re not respecters of persons. In the United States bedbug infestations have been reported with increasing frequency since the 1980s, infesting homes, hotels, hospitals, and school dormitories.
In San Francisco reports of infestation doubled between 2004 and 2006. In Toronto, Canada, during a six-month period in 2002, there was a 100 percent increase in telephone complaints about bedbugs. In Germany in 1992 five cases were reported; by 2004 the number rose to 76. The Australians have seen a 400 percent increase from 2001 to 2004, compared to 1997 to 2000. New York has recently set up a bedbug “czar” to regulate infestations in hotels.
Bedbugs are visible to the naked eye, although they try to hide in dark places, in cracks of the bed, and in mattress and bedding seams. They are about half a centimeter long, but after sucking blood they grow much larger and more than double their weight. They are dark brown as adults, but more yellow when immature. They do not have wings, and they have to get blood to live. They can live up to a year and can go many months without food. They resemble a miniature cockroach with relatively big eyes and long, slender antennae. They seek out warmth when searching for food and are spread by human activity. They may get into suitcases and therefore be transported thousands of miles and from one bedroom to another. When a person travels long distances and stays in multiple hotel rooms—as many business executives do—the risk of getting bedbugs increases.
Only two of the approximately 70 varieties of the bug feast on humans. Other varieties suck blood from bats and other animals.
Most reactions to bedbug bites are allergic. The saliva of bedbugs contains substances that increase the blood flow to the area of the bite, making it easier for the bug to suck blood from its victim. It’s possible to develop an allergy to these substances, and the reaction to a bite may become more serious with repeated bites. Varying from a tiny raised red spot to a full-blown blister or even hives, the reaction can be treated with antihistamine or corticosteroid creams. Sometimes the allergy can manifest as an asthma attack. Other times the itching in the bites causes scratching, and the bites can become infected.
Eradication of bedbugs may prove difficult, because they are increasingly resistant to the usual methods of control such as insecticides, and there’s hesitancy in saturating bedding with insecticide. Mosquito nets impregnated with permethrin have been noted to reduce bedbug infestations, but may contribute to insecticide resistance.
Washing bedclothes in very hot water is recommended. Mattresses can be encased in impermeable covers. Cracks and crevices should be sprayed with permethrin. Steam treatment could possibly achieve sterilization also.
When traveling, do not place suitcases under beds. One of us sprays our own suitcases with permethrin before traveling, hoping it will deter these tiny “hitchhikers.”
Bedbugs have been suspected as possible vectors in the transmission of disease, but so far no clear-cut linkages are identified. Hepatitis B virus has been found in bedbug feces, and theoretically could be transmitted in bed dust contaminated with such feces. Studies are needed to explore the potential role of these insects in the spread of disease.