Bed bugs are hitchhiking their way out West.
Bed bugs had been eradicated from the U.S. in the 1950s when the use of the chemical DDT was still legal. Now that it's not, bed bugs have been reintroduced into the country and are spreading from East to West.
They don't thrive outdoors, so they find their way into homes, hotels and other buildings by hiding in small, dark places like clothing, luggage, furniture and mattresses.
Just the mention of bed bugs makes people uncomfortable. These tiny pests measure less than one-quarter inch and are active only at night, which makes them hard to detect.
They feed on human blood by puncturing you skin--often making several bites in a row. That could make your skin itch and even become infected. As many as 30 percent of bite victims never realize they have been bitten.
The good news is that bed bugs are not suspected of transmitting diseases. Still, a female can produce up to 500 offspring in her 300-day lifetime, so once they're in your home, they tend to stay for generations.
Prevent bed bugs from making themselves at home in your mattress or furniture. Here's how:
- When you travel, carry a flashlight and a kitchen-sized plastic trash bag in your luggage. Once you are in your hotel room, pull back the bedcovers and check the mattress. Bed bugs are most likely to congregate around the box spring or headboard, as these are the least-disturbed places. Look under the seam and in all the dark places using your flashlight. Change rooms if you find them.
- Care for your luggage. Keep suitcases zipped when not in use, and prop them up on luggage racks, tables or even in the bathtub overnight. Or slip your luggage into plastic trash bags.
- Leave your luggage in the garage when you get home. Fill the trash bag with all of your clothes from the trip. Go straight to the laundry room and wash them in warm or hot water. Dry clothes in hot dryer (as hot as fabric can take). Bed bugs and their eggs cannot survive the heat.
- If you ride public transit or fly, change and launder your travel clothes as soon as you get home.
- Buy used furniture with caution. Use a flashlight to check every nook and cranny to make sure the piece isn't home to bed bugs.
- If you find bed bugs at home, hire a licensed exterminator to get rid of them. It's not a do-it-yourself job because the chemicals needed to kill them are not available to the public. Some exterminators use a heat treatment, and some even follow up with bug-sniffing dogs. Either way, it could take two or three treatments to rid your home of these blood-sucking pests.