They are the consummate uninvited houseguests, bleeding you dry as a food source and lingering in your home with no intention of leaving.
No, we’re not talking about your in-laws.
Increased international travel, changes in pest management practices and a lack of public awareness has led to a resurgence of bedbugs in the United States unseen since World War II.
Spotting and eradicating the elusive bedbugs is no easy task and some cities have declared them an epidemic. Summer travel offers an ideal time for exposure and the issue has become so pervasive, that it prompted the EPA in April to hold its first-ever bedbug summit.
Angie’s List, the nation’s leading provider of consumer ratings
on local service providers, including pest control companies
, went to its highly rated providers for tips on avoiding, identifying and eliminating bedbugs.
“Bedbugs are expert hitchhikers, so it only takes one night in an infested location for a person to take bedbugs with them to their next destination,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “Usually, the first indication of exposure to bedbugs is bites on a person’s skin, though it often takes a week or longer for people to react to bites.”
The nocturnal, appleseed-sized bedbugs feed exclusively on blood, though they have the ability to survive for months at a time without a meal. Not everyone has an adverse reaction to bedbug bites, but symptoms typically appear as a row of itchy, red welts. Bedbugs are not known to transmit disease, but their bites can cause an allergic reaction or infection.
“The key to preventing an infestation of bedbugs is to minimize your risk of exposure to them,” Hicks added. “Because bedbugs are non-discriminatory about the environment in which they live, you can pick them up anywhere from a summer camp, to a college dormitory, to a hospital, or even the most posh hotel. We recently polled Angie’s List members nationwide and more than half of those who had been exposed to bedbugs said they got them after staying in a hotel.”
Angie’s List offers 5 tips to minimize your risk of exposure to bedbugs:
- Leave it: Don’t be tempted to pick up that used piece of furniture someone put out for trash pickup. The ideal habitat for bedbugs is on mattresses and box springs, where they are usually guaranteed a food source for eight hours a day. However, bedbugs have also been found in rental or reconditioned furniture, and inside delivery vehicles. One Angie’s List member rented a medical lift chair that was infested with bedbugs.
- Inspect it: Always inspect the room in which you’ll be staying if you’re away from home. Leave your luggage outside the door and use a flashlight to check mattress seams and along bed frames, headboards and box springs for signs of bedbugs. Look closely at sheets and blankets for evidence that could include exoskeletons (shed skins) of younger bugs and “spotting”, which are small, dark stains from excreted blood. If you notice signs of bedbug activity, immediately request another room.
- Protect it: When you travel, keep your personal items in sealed plastic bags. Keep bags and luggage off floors and beds.
- Clean it: Thoroughly inspect your belongings before bringing them back into your home. If you suspect bedbugs, unload your luggage on a hard surface, like a bathtub. Immediately wash items you believe might be infested in the hottest temperatures possible. Wash by hand items that can’t be laundered; dry, then thoroughly vacuum and discard the bag.
- Clear it: A cluttered area in your home offers an unlimited number of hiding places for bedbugs and make eradication even more difficult. Keep your rooms and closets tidy, and avoid putting items under your bed.
“If you think you might have bedbugs, it’s important you address it quickly and contact a qualified professional to provide a thorough inspection and diagnosis before you seek treatment,” Hicks added. “Female bedbugs can lay up to five eggs per day, so a major infestation can happen quickly. Since visual confirmation of bedbugs is so difficult, some companies offer canine investigation, in which they use specially-trained dogs to locate infestations of bedbugs.”
Be leery of pest control companies that try to treat bedbugs like they would a general pest. What works for termites or carpet beetles won’t work for bedbugs.
“You can’t just hire any pest control company to treat bedbugs, so do your research and find one that specializes in bedbug eradication,” Hicks said. “Treating for the wrong types of bugs is costly and ineffective. It takes a specialized treatment and likely will require multiple treatments.”
Angie’s List offers 5 effective ways to treat for bedbugs:
*1,284 Angie’s List members took the poll. Responses are representative of Angie’s List members but not the general public
- Cleaning: Thoroughly clean an infested room. Launder linens in hot water. Remove clutter, turn over drawers and furniture and clean thoroughly. Disassemble bed frames and clean. Repair and seal cracks and holes around baseboards, window frames and moldings. Vacuum thoroughly and discard the bag.
- Dust treatment: There are organic insecticidal dusts available that are all-natural, but lethal to bedbugs and may be used by a qualified professional in conjunction with other treatments.
- Heat treatment: Some pest control companies use specialized equipment to heat up a room to at least 120-degrees Fahrenheit for two or more hours to kill off bedbugs.
- Mattress covers: Use entomologist-approved bedbug mattress covers. By encasing mattresses, bedbugs are restricted to the surface, where they can be more easily detected and eradicated. Encasements should be bedbug “bite-proof” and “escape-proof”.
- Structural fumigation: The most extreme and costly method, but also the most effective. Not to be confused with “fogging” or “bombing”, structural fumigations require the structure be covered with a tarp and vacated for several days, while a fumigated gas is released. Be sure to contact a pest control company that is licensed in fumigation services.
Angie’s List collects consumer reviews on local contractors and doctors in more than 500 service categories. Currently, more than 1 million consumers across the U.S. and Canada rely on Angie’s List to help them make the best hiring decisions. Members get unlimited access to local ratings via Internet or phone, exclusive discounts, the Angie’s List magazine and help from the Angie’s List complaint resolution service. Take a quick tour of Angie’s List and view the latest Angie’s List news.