A string of national news reports in late 2010 about a so-called “resurgence” of bed bugs in major American cities was enough to keep us up at night. But is the threat real?
According to local entomologists, bed bugs don’t seem to be a problem so far in the Birmingham metro area. And the good news is there are some simple and free ways to keep it that way.
“Prevention is a lot less expensive and traumatic than trying to get rid of the critters if they ever came visiting, as they are notoriously difficult to control once there,” said Urban Regional Extension Agent Sallie Lee, who works at the Jefferson County Extension Office.
Lee said while there has been a recent increase in bed bug issues reported to her extension office compared to “few to zero” calls in the past few years, there aren’t any outbreaks for which parents should be concerned.
“It is very possible that Birmingham metro will not experience any major problem, but realistically it is possible there could be minor issues,” Lee said. International travel, especially in countries with lower hygiene standards, is one of the leading causes for the spread of these small, blood-sucking insects.
“If your family doesn’t travel, especially internationally, that reduces the possibility of bedbugs right there,” Lee pointed out.
Because bed bugs are “hitch hikers” and largely dependent upon humans to travel from place to place, it is possible to bring them into your home on luggage, clothing, and on secondhand beds, couches and other furniture, according to Xing Ping Hu, an extension entomologist at Auburn University, who has answered numerous calls and emails regarding bed bugs over the past five years. Once in your home bed bugs can live in almost any unprotected crevice, but most commonly in the seams, tufts, and crevices of mattresses, box springs, bed frame and headboard, according to Hu.
“Bed bugs are difficult to find since they spend most of the time hiding, especially in the early stages, until you are bitten and show the swelling symptoms,” Hu said.
Once bed bugs are discovered, it can be time-consuming and even costly to eradicate them. Sometimes minor cases can be treated fairly easily with heat treatments and store products, but for more severe infestations may require the help of a professional pest management company.
The goal for parents is to keep them out in the first place and both Lee and Hu offer some easy tips to keep in mind for doing just that.
Ways to Prevent the Bed Bugs from Biting
If you or your spouse travel frequently, take large, plastic bags with you. Put your luggage and other items into these bags to prevent bed bugs from entering.
Ask your hotel staff if the room you are assigned has ever been treated for bed bugs.
Whether staying at a hotel or with an acquaintance, look for droppings or actual bed bugs on the folds of the bed mattresses.
Always wash your clothes immediately when returning home after out-of-state travel or staying in a hotel.
“Children don’t get bedbugs from playing with other children…” Lee said, however, “Children ‘sleeping over’ at another child’s home where bedbugs have been introduced present possibilities, particularly if that family travels outside the U.S.”
When hosting a sleepover for children, be sure to speak with parents about bed bugs and the precautionary measures you have put into place at your home.
If your child is going to a sleepover, ask about the sleeping environment, if they have ever had a bed bug issue and what they have done to eliminate it.
If you think your child may have come home from a sleepover with bed bugs, place his/her belongings immediately in a plastic bag before you let them enter the home. Have your child remove all clothing also and place it into the plastic bags to be immediately laundered. Wash and dry on the highest heat setting.
Second-guess Secondhand Furniture
“Bedbugs are one reason I would not recommend purchasing used bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture,” Lee cautioned. But if you can’t resist the bargain here are a couple of things to consider:
When shopping secondhand closely inspect items for evidence of bedbugs, especially in the seams and crevices of upholstered pieces. Signs include fecal stains, eggs and shed skins. Bed bugs also have stink glands that leave odors.
If the item was from someone you knew personally and you don’t think it would offend them, request to inspect the piece before you take it home with you.
Preventative products such as mattress encasements and bed bug interceptors can also block the pests from reaching beds and biting.
But if you think it’s too late for prevention and that you’ve discovered a possible bed bug problem in your home, Lee said, “Don’t panic.”
“The presence of fleas, chiggers, or ticks can create symptoms similar to those experienced by those who think they have bedbugs,” Lee said. “That is why we suggest capturing any insect found in bedding, mattress, or furniture in the proximity of a bed and having it positively identified before beginning treatment.”
For more information on identifying and removing bedbugs visit: www.bedbugsigns.com
Born and raised in Birmingham, Amy Whitfield Richardson is a full-time marketing and public relations coordinator who now resides in Lexington, Ky. A former reporter, she enjoys writing articles from time to time for her friends at BirminghamMommy.com