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Bedbugs are back
The return of a pest has homeowners scrambling for answers and paying for solutions.
November 29, 2005: 3:27 PM EST
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer
Bedbugs on parade
Bedbugs on parade
Blood lust
Blood lust

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - For the past couple generations of Americans, "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite," has been nothing but a cute little saying. But that was before the insidious insects began staging a comeback worthy of Dracula.

Infestations have broken out in at least 43 states with New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Texas among the hot spots. The National Pest Management Association reports a 500 percent increase in bedbug numbers since 1999.

Orkin, a pest control company, reported an 80 percent increase in bedbug calls in 2004 and expects a similar increase in 2005.

Frank Meek, entomologist and technical director for Orkin, says hard-hit locales tend to be business centers with dense hotel concentrations.

"In hotels they go from room to room often carried by a guest," says Meek, "or on the carts of the housekeeping staff."

Following World War II, DDT -- since banned -- eradicated bedbugs from most U.S. homes.

More pesticides have been have been developed, but the problem now is how to kill bedbugs. Younger pest control employees may not have ever even seen a bedbug.

Says Meek: "Unless you know the life habits of the bedbug, the places where it's most likely to hide and harbor, it is hard to control."

You can have an infestation and not realize it. The young bugs are tiny, almost microscopic. The mature ones are the size of apple seeds. They can lurk in box-springs, mattresses, upholstery, and also in picture frames, under moldings, in desks and dressers.

Bedbugs can live for a year without a blood meal, but once they start biting their victims may be plagued with multiple bites each night.

Threat is to psyche

Cindy Mannes, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, points out that no diseases are associated with bedbugs -- in that way the insects are relatively benign. What they do is engage in a kind of hit-and-run guerilla warfare.

"People just do not want to go back to bed and think insects are going to be crawling over them and biting them," says Mannes.

Imagine the sleepless nights spent waiting for the little vampires to bite. Mothers about the effects on their children. And some think it reflects badly on their housekeeping. But, according to Mannes, bedbugs are not associated with sanitation problems or cleanliness. Many five-star hotels have faced off with the vermin.

Eradication costs

The bugs can scatter in apartment houses, leaving a treated apartment for an untreated one, which means that it's better to do entire buildings at once; attack the infected apartments aggressively and do prophylactic spraying on the others.

Condo owners and apartment renters should not necessarily count on the extermination services coming free-of-charge; condo associations and landlords may not be contractually or legally required to eradicate the pests. One co-op building in New York reportedly threw more than $200,000 at their bedbug problem.

Costs of eradication can vary, depending on severity. Carrie England, spokeswoman for Orkin, says homeowners of single family residences should figure on spending about $75 to $150 per room. The worst cases can require multiple treatments and cost thousands. Afterwards, regular preventative care should be done.

And that's not all. Many people get rid of infested possessions. "I've had people tell me they had to throw out everything in the house," says Mannes. Replacing mattresses, boxsprings, and upholstered furniture throughout the house can be very expensive.

Fortunately, that's usually not necessary and cold winters can be an ally in the bedbug battle. Ludek Zurek, a professor of medical entomology at Kansas State University, says that homeowners can put infested furniture out into the cold for a day or two. "Below freezing temperatures kill bedbugs," he says.

Pest controllers may advise clients to get all their clothing and hats dry cleaned and their furniture and mattresses steamed. Even a modest wardrobe can cost hundreds, if not thousands, to treat.

Sufferers would probably say it's worth the price to be rid of the little bloodsuckers.

Bedbugs are not the only expensive house guests. Termites can be even more of a problem. Click here for more.

Vermin and other issues can lower the value of your home. For more, click here.  Top of page

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