Things that bite in the night


Everybody wants to be a winner, but Arkansas just won a contest that nobody likes: largest increase in reported bed bug cases.

A national extermination company recently told a local television news reporter that they had seen an increase of more than 50 percent. The Arkansas Health Department concurs.

“It’s a problem in every state, but we are getting lots of calls pretty much all year round…bed bugs suck blood and they like people, they live on carbon dioxide and warm places,” said Dr. Sue Weinstein with the Arkansas Health Department.

Weinstein, who is the Arkansas state veterinarian, receives so many calls and questions about bed bugs that she keeps an example of one in her office.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm and can live several months without a blood meal.

Echoing Weinstein, the CDCP website, tells us that bed bugs are found on almost every continent. While there’s a popular image of bed bugs infesting dirty hotel rooms, the CDCP states, “Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found. Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms.”

They spend their days hiding near sleeping areas, only emerging at night when potential food sources (i.e. people) appear. Within a structure, bed bugs have been observed to have traveled over 100 feet in a night, but they tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep.

This great capacity for travel is why the pests have spread all over the globe. They hitch a ride in luggage and the possessions people take with them when they visit or move to other places. Their ability to go long spans without feeding only bolsters their capacity to migrate.

Once infestation occurs, it can be quite a trick to get rid of bed bugs. While traditional methods typically involve insecticidal sprays, newer methods involve steam, CO2 deprivation, sticky traps and intense heat. Professional exterminators can best assess what your particular situation warrants.

While the little devils are often hard to kill, at least the risk they pose is more nuisance than public health hazard. Unlike ticks and fleas, who can transmit everything from Lyme disease to the plague, bed bugs typically do not bring anything with them.

As the CDCP notes, “A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.”

In most people the greatest medical risk is secondary infection because they’ve scratched their bite wounds. Even so, bed bugs are unpleasant and emotionally distressing. As the exterminator told the local news station, people get very desperate when they figure out they have bed bugs.

While it’s paltry little comfort, area treatment is straightforward and medical risks are typically minimal. The CDCP suggests the best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection of your sleeping area.

Maybe next year we can be No. 1 at something else.