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For whatever reason, the power of the media has forgotten all about swine-flu and reinvented an ongoing malady. Bed bugs are nothing new and have been around us humans forever. They deserve lesser attention as the current research has failed to identify them as significant carriers of any human disease.
Bed bugs belong to the Cimicidae family and join mosquitoes and ticks as insects that feed on human blood. They are small but visible to the human eye. They resemble ticks, have wings but crawl, and tend to be white in color, but swell to about half the size of a small pea and turn brown after a meal.
They eat once every few weeks, can survive months between feeds and spend most of their time in hidden seclusion. Growing bugs, called nymphs, feed more often. Their life span is just under a year. I worry more about the mosquitoes in our yards and parks.
Bed bugs are engineered to survive by using a painless method of anesthetic and blood thinning agents to draw out a drop of blood. The process takes a couple of minutes, and they tend to make a double or triple withdrawal just before dawn, under the cover of darkness. The resulting small red marks are hard to diagnose and distinguish from other sources. Some itchiness may be present, but the only concern comes from infection due to the scratching.
Detection is by good detective work. You need to get down on your knees with a flashlight and carefully examine places for them to hide around the bed frame, mattress, and other cracks. You may notice the actual bug, or residual material from eggs or small dark dots of fecal stain on materials.
Because they hide for months, detection is difficult as is eradication. The main concern of late has been the spread of bed bugs. Hotels are increasingly infested, because of the nature of travel and our shrinking planet. You may travel and never see any bed bugs or get bitten by one, but without caution, you will contribute to the spread. These bugs hide in the dark such in an open suitcase on the floor, or in a knapsack in the corner. The controversial toxin DDT served well to control their numbers at one time, before it was banned.
Simple rules apply. I never unpack my bags on my bed. Unpacking outside, washing the contents, and a quick insecticide spray and air out is a good practice. Students are attached to their knap-sacks. They lay them in the most unusual places, never clean them, and store them next to their beds.
Having bed bugs in your home is not a sign of poor hygiene. The term should not be confused with bed mites which are more microscopic, feed on dead skin droppings, universally present, and a common aggravator of allergies.
Here is the simple goal of my column. Make a date with your bed, knapsack or suit-case. Take it apart, scrub it with soap and water, give everything a good vacuuming, buy a new pillow, wash the comforter, and make it a habit to lay nothing but yourself on it, and you can go on to worry about other things!