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How to Fight Bedbugs

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Bedbugs aren't just a "city problem": These skeevy skinsuckers have been infesting homes and businesses EVERYWHERE -- all across the country! With a prime hotel/rental vacation week just around the corner (Labor Day weekend!), we asked research entomologist Jeff White from Bedbug Central to educate us on the finer points of bedbug prevention.

So: Why are these nasty pests so prevalent all of a sudden? "[Modern] pesticides don't work as well as the ones we used to use back in the '50s, '60s and '70s," says White. "A lot of popular pesticides [back then], like DDT, had strong residual effects but they'd remain effective for many, many years. But the pesticides we have today only last a couple of weeks, and once they dry, they may not work. Another reason bedbugs are so widespread is, there is a lack of public awareness because they were eradicated from the U.S. for a good 50 years. A lot of people nowadays don't know what a bedbug is, whether or not they have an infestation at home or how not to take them to the workplace or elsewhere. [Bedbugs] are great hitchhikers -- that's what they've been designed to do through evolution. They travel on a pantleg or shoe, or, more commonly, on a person's personal belongings -- like a purse, backpack or laptop bag."

White says that one of the reasons it's difficult to detect an infestation is that as much as 30 percent of the population doesn't react to bedbug bites. Years ago when I was dealing with an infestation, I was visibly eaten alive -- while my husband remained blissfully bite-free.

Though bedbugs haven't been proven to transport any diseases, the very thought of becoming a human feast can turn even the most staunch anti-germaphobe into an itching maniac. What are some ways to keep your home bedbug-free?

1) Know that cleaning will not affect bedbugs AT ALL. "Prevention revolves around education: knowing what the bugs look like, knowing what the signs and symptoms of bedbug bites are, avoiding common ways they enter your house," says White.

2) Avoid "trash-picking," a.k.a. grabbing discarded furniture off the street.

3) When traveling, do a basic inspection so you can avoid a room with a bedbug problem. Inspect the bed, headboard and bottom of the box spring for bedbugs and the small brown spots that are their droppings. Adult bedbugs are visible; they're about a quarter-inch long and resemble ticks.

4) If you buy used furniture, check for these same signs of infestation before bringing it home.

5) Unpack outside your home and immediately toss all of your clothes into a hot wash and/or hot dry cycle to kill off any uninvited stragglers.

6) Be sure to inspect your luggage for any stragglers. If you spot one, spritzing it with rubbing alcohol should do the trick.

7) Mattress covers are a quick and easy way to keep bedbugs at bay, but be sure to check that bedbug prevention is mentioned on the packaging.

8) If you find bedbugs, White says to consult a professional exterminator immediately, as bedbugs can actually spread through cleaning.

"Ignorance is not bliss," he says. "It's not going to solve this problem. Bedbugs are back, and they are here to stay. They aren't going away anytime soon. If you suspect you might have bedbugs, do something about it. As people begin to educate themselves and better understand how to avoid transporting them, I do hope things will improve."


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