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DALY: Professional expertise required for controlling bed bugs

AT A GLANCE

Winter is a good time to decide on what to plant in your yard. The Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale has some excellent plants that are available for sale this winter. Go to the Extension website at www.gwinnettextension.com, and then click on events, to download the order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is Tuesday, March 12. The order pick-up day will be Thursday, March 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville.

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

Though bed bugs are still rare, in recent years they have started making a comeback. Pest control professionals are increasingly treating infestations. The resurgence of bed bugs in this country is most likely the result of the increased travel and immigration. Modern pest control tactics and using pesticides that are less effective on bed bugs also have contributed to the problem.

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 become elongated and swollen. Female bed bugs lay eggs on cracks, crevices or on rough surfaces. The insects reach maturity anywhere from 20 to 120 days, depending on the temperature and food availability. The insects have the ability to live for several months without food.

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 the window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and other similar places. Bed bug bites cause the development of a rash along with severe itching. They do not carry or transmit any diseases. One sign of bed bugs is the presence of blood stains from crushed bugs or by 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 as bed bugs and their presence confirmed prior to implementing any controls. Inspections and treatments must be very thorough. It is necessary to use a licensed pest control professional who has experience with bedbugs to do the treatments to eliminate the infestations. Experienced professionals know where to look for bed bugs and have the appropriate training and resources. You can find one through the website of the Georgia Pest Control Association at www.gpca.com. Doing chemical applications on your own is 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, especially beds and couches, discarded at dumps, on roadsides or for sale at flea markets, 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 some other 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.

Although bed bugs are quite rare in comparison to other household pests, reports of infestations of them are on the increase. Becoming familiar with them can help to 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 tdaly@uga.edu.