DALY: Bed bug infestations are on the rise

Very few people have ever experienced a bed bug infestation. Until recently, they were quite rare in the United States. These insects were common in our nation prior to World War II. Afterward, the widespread use of synthetic insecticides, such as DDT, as well as improvements in household and personal cleanliness almost eliminated them from the United States.

In recent years bed bugs are making a comeback. Pest control professionals are treating increasing numbers of infestations. The resurgence of bed bugs in this country is most likely the result of the increased travel and the migration of people from other countries. Bed bugs are becoming more resistant to pesticides.

Adult bed bugs have a reddish-brown color and are roughly 3/16 of an inch long. They are flat and can crawl into tight areas such as cracks and crevices. They have beak-like piercing sucking mouthparts. After a blood meal their bodies becomes elongated and swollen. Female bed bugs lay the eggs in cracks, crevices or on rough surfaces. The insects reach maturity anywhere from 20 to 120 days, depending on the temperature and food availability. They are able go without food for several months.

Detecting the presence of bed bugs can be difficult. The insects are small in size and are nocturnal feeders, meaning they feed on hosts in the dark. They hide during the day in window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and other similar places. Bed bug bites cause the development of a rash as well as with severe itching. They do not carry or transmit any diseases. One sign of bed bugs is blood stains from crushed bugs or dark spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes and walls. Sometimes, in heavy infestations, an offensive sweet, musty odor from their scent glands may be present.

Bed bugs are a challenge to control. The insects must be accurately identified and their presence confirmed prior to implementing any controls. Inspections and treatments must be very thorough. It is necessary to hire licensed pest control professional who has experience with bedbugs to do the treatments. Experienced professionals know where to look for the bugs and have the appropriate training and resources. You can find a professional through the website of the Georgia Pest Control Association at www.gpca.com. Doing chemical applications on your own is usually ineffective. It can sometimes disperse the insects and worsen the situation.

Prevention is the key to controlling bed bugs. Avoid accidentally introducing them to your home. Do not pick up furniture items discarded at dumps and on roadsides, especially beds and couches, since they may be infested. If bed bugs are suspected at one particular location, do not bring items from that place into your home or place of business. Concerned travelers should check their hotel bed for signs of the insects by examining the bed sheets and upper and lower seams of the mattress. Also consider removing and examining the areas behind the headboard, a frequent hiding place for the bugs in hotel rooms. If the insects or evidence of them are detected, request another room or go to another hotel. Elevate suitcases off the floor (e.g. on a luggage stand) to keep any bed bugs from getting into the luggage. Inspecting or vacuuming luggage upon arriving home is not useful since it is hard to detect bed bugs inside a suitcase.

Even though bed bugs are quite rare in comparison to other structural pest, reports of infestations are on the increase. Becoming familiar with them can help you avoid infestation or at least prompt earlier intervention by a professional.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or by email at tdaly@uga.edu.