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The bedbugs are biting

Hygiene: Bedbugs are coming west and causing itchy, scratchy welts

Posted: December 2, 2010 8:59 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Bedbugs are known to congregate in and around mattresses, especially around the welting as pictured here, according to Sit ’N Sleep owner Larry Miller.

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“Nighty, night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Many children are tucked into beds every evening with that catchy little refrain, but until recently, the bedbug was more of a mythological character than an everyday threat.

Now, according to the National Pest Management Association, bedbugs are becoming more and more common throughout the United States.

A recent NPMA study showed that bedbug calls to pest-management companies have increased 81-percent overall nationwide since 2000. Sixty-seven percent of pest-management companies reported treating hotels and motels for bedbugs. Ninety  percent of pest-management companies that treat homes and apartments dealt with bedbugs on their calls.

While more prevalent on the east coast, bedbugs have migrated west, as well, according to Larry Miller, owner of Sit ’N Sleep Mattress Super Stores.

“Desert areas will get bedbugs in the winter. They thrive in cooler, moist conditions so winters here are dangerous,” he said. “The epidemic started in New York City. We think they originally came over from Europe or Africa, then flourished here, kind of like a flu, moving across country.”

Bedbugs can be found anywhere that people live, work or play, including hospitals, movie theaters, college dorms and clothing stores. The bugs usually hitch a ride on a human host and subsequently settle into their new surroundings.

Since a female bedbug can produce up to 400 offspring at a time, an infestation often soon follows.

“They’re pretty evident. There’s usually not one or two. Sometimes they’ll be in the sheets, or they’ll burrow into the welting on the side of the bed,” Miller said.

Where the bugs are not seen, they are usually felt as bedbug bites resemble a rash or raised red welts.

Since starting at Santa Clarita Pediatrics in Newhall this July, pediatrician Dr. Joni Bhutra has seen five cases of bedbug bites.

“Patients usually have bites all over their body, on exposed areas such as arms and legs,” Bhutra said. “The bites are very itchy and patients will complain, but there isn’t a fever or any other symptoms.”

Most of her patients’ parents are surprised at the diagnosis. “They’ll tell me they examined the bed but couldn’t see any bugs. Just because they’re hard to see doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Bhutra said.

Generally, the symptoms can be managed with a combination of over-the-counter medications, such as hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines.

The problem with bedbug bites, Bhutra continued, is that patients will often scratch the spots until the skin breaks and an infection sets in, at which case an antibiotic or strong steroid cream will be prescribed.

If bedbugs are present in the home, Bhutra also recommends that all sheets, blankets, stuffed animals and pillow cases are washed at the hottest temperature setting, and a mattress protector be added to the bedding.

Protect-A-Bed Bed Bug Packs with box spring, mattress and pillow covers are available at Sit ’N Sleep Stores for every size mattress, from $159.99 to $239.99, in high-tech, breathable materials.

What Miller doesn’t suggest is covering your bed in plastic to avoid bedbugs.

“Chances are it won’t stop the bedbugs, plus it’s uncomfortable, sweats and will decrease the life of your mattress,” he said. “If you want to prevent bedbugs from coming into your mattress, you need an encasement that prevents them in the first place.”

That’s after making sure the affected area is clear of bedbugs, which Miller suggested handling as follows.

“Take every bit of linen and clothes out of the room, put everything in a dryer and set on high.  Bedbugs can’t live past 113 degrees for more than 20 minutes,” he said. “Then bomb the house with all the linens out.”

Bombing, as Miller referred to, is the setting of insecticide devices inside the home. There are plenty of options available at grocery or big-box stores. Nonpesticide versions are abundant on the Internet and in natural foods supermarkets, such as Bed Bug Patrol (www.bed-bug.net).

The active ingredients in the child and pet safe Bed Bug Patrol are plant extracts that have been shown to kill bed bugs within moments of contact, with claims of a 97.4-percent kill rate.

But how do you avoid attracting bedbugs in the first place? Being careful while traveling is a good start.

When you arrive at your hotel or motel, do a brief inspection of the room, checking carefully around the mattress, bed frame, windows and drawers.

If you even are a little suspicious of some activity, contact a manager immediately and request another room. 

Instead of unpacking and moving your clothes into a motel or hotel closet or dresser, keep them in your suitcase and keep that closed as much as possible.

Upon returning home, wash all your laundry immediately in hot water, followed by a hot tumble in the dryer.

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