When news stories flash across the television about an infestation of bed bugs at a hotel or college, people cringe. Those pesky, biting insects just seem to gross people out. But bed bugs can happen anywhere and come from anywhere.
In fact, Columbus ranked No. 5 out of 50 U.S. cities on Orkin’s 2020 Bed Bug Cities List. Washington, D.C., claimed first on a list not popular to be named on.
Bed bugs really never went away from the United States despite all the chemicals created to kill them, says John Addair, president of Stryker Pest Control, Columbus.
“It was bad back in the 1920s and ’30s,” he says. But in the late ’30s, the introduction of a chemical called DDT “nearly wiped them out by 1940.”
The scientist who discovered DDT’s insecticidal properties won a Nobel Prize, and it was widely used to protect troops and control pests in WWII and afterward. But the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” helped publicize DDT’s awful side: It was a poison that had lingered in the food chain. It nearly killed off bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and California condors, among other species. It was banned in 1972. The birds made a comeback … but so did the bedbugs.
With DDT gone — and also because of an increase in international students and business people working overseas — bed bugs have hitchhiked their way back into our lives, Addair says.
What Are Bed Bugs?
These small, flat insects solely survive on the blood of people and animals while they sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fully grown, they can be similar to the size of an apple seed and are very visible. Their color depends on whether they have fed recently. If they have, you can see the red blood color under their transparent shell. Otherwise, they show up a dark reddish-brown, Addair says.
“That saying, ‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite,’ is very true. They do bite,” adds Addair.
They hitch rides on luggage, purses, and clothing. During the day, they hide in apartments, hotels, cruise ship rooms, trains, dorms, and homes. They can shimmy up or down to the human and feast away.
Health Risks Associated With Bed Bugs
The CDC notes that bite responses from these pests range from a small bite mark to dangerous allergic reactions. Sometimes the annoying itching from their bites can lead to a skin infection.
Whether these bugs spread disease remains up in the air.
“I go back in history and at one point, they said mosquitoes don’t transmit disease,” Addair says. “My belief is to be safe rather than sorry. It has not been proven that they do, but I wouldn’t take any chances.”
Who Do They Attack? Anyone
Addair says they have no preferences from old to young, skinny to heavy, female or male.
“Bed bugs don’t care if you make $7.50 an hour and drive a Corvette or a Chevette. The only thing that drives them is blood,” he adds. “If you have a heartbeat and breathing, that’s all they care about.”
He also has seen through the years in pest control that bed bugs don’t care if you have a clean or dirty house. They do, however, stay away from areas with lots of dust on them. They don’t like dry and dusty.
Where Bed Bugs Are Found
Although the little rascals like to be close to and inside bedrooms, they also will go to the basement if someone is sleeping down there. Ditto dad’s easy chair in the living room if he has a habit of nodding off there watching TV.
“I’ve treated homes that would give Stephen King nightmares,” Addair says. “We did find them in the kitchen where the bed was against the wall where the kitchen was located. They were coming through the outlet and drywall.”
But most of the time, the bugs are located in the seams of mattresses (look for the black flecks of fecal matter), box springs, headboards, couches, baseboards, and outlets.
What People Do Wrong
People have literally burned down their homes in an ill-advised effort to eradicate bed bugs, Addair says.
“I’ve seen where they get this idea to spray rubbing alcohol directly on the bugs, mattresses, and couches,” he says. “Rubbing alcohol is super flammable. Someone lights a cigarette, and poof! It’s all gone. It’s terrible.”
People do not understand chemicals and how they work. They buy random chemicals and end up sick or with allergic reactions, he says.
He always recommends people calling a professional pest control company.
“So many things can happen if you treat bed bugs yourself. Many homeowners have made the problem worse,” he says.
How Professionals Get Rid of Bed Bugs
When you do hire a professional pest removal company to exterminate bed bugs, it could cost $1,000 to $2,500, according to FixR. The cost also depends on the size of the home, how many bedrooms, and how bad the infestation is.
Addair says companies use three different methods of getting rid of bed bugs — freezing, heat or chemicals. His company uses the chemical method.
Not only does he treat people’s homes and apartments, but his teams also must battle bed bugs in fire stations, ambulances, trains, planes, cars, and commercial buildings.
“We get calls daily about bed bugs in Columbus in all different places,” he says.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs at Home
- Check your home when you move in, after coming home from vacation, when guests leave after sleeping overnight or when a service worker leaves.
- Examine regularly the places where bed bugs gather, such as the seams of mattresses and box springs, behind headboards, electrical outlets, baseboards, and picture frames.
- Inspect any furniture you buy at a second-hand or consignment store before bringing it inside.
- Machine wash and dry bed sheets and pillowcases at the hottest temperature possible.
Main image credit: British Pest Control Association, CC 2.0.