Can Anyone Sleep Tight with Bedbugs on the Rise?
Most people know the bedbug basics: they emerge at night to feast on human blood, and they’re darn near impossible to kill. But there are many surprising—and shocking—things about bedbugs that you probably haven’t heard.
If you haven’t yet had a run-in with these insidious little bloodsuckers, then consider yourself lucky, because bedbugs have exploded as the new international pest to be reckoned with. Cities all over the world are reporting record numbers of bedbug complaints and infestations. New York reported a 34 percent increase every year since 2000, and London claimed a 28.5 percent increase in the number of cases reported each year. Sydney, Australia has seen a 4500 percent increase in treatments for the pests, and the city reported that eight out of every ten hostels is infested with the creepy critters. The Environmental Protection Agency considers them to be enough of a nuisance that they just held a two-day public summit to try to find solutions to the bedbug problem.
Bedbugs Never Really Went Away
Public health advocates like to claim that bedbugs were “all but eradicated” in the 1950s and 1960s. The truth? Bedbugs have always been a problem in major cities and urban areas with rooming houses, run-down hotels, and a large transient population, since these areas were less likely to be properly treated with pesticides. The availability of cheap, air-conditioned international travel over the past few decades has allowed bedbugs to spread all over the world.
They’re Immune to Pesticides
In the 1960s, the EPA banned the pesticide DDT because of its potentially harmful effects on the environment and wildlife. Unfortunately, it was incredibly effective in wiping out bedbugs, as well as leaving chemical traces behind that would actually prevent them, too. No pesticide developed since the banning of DDT is anywhere near as effective at eradicating bedbugs. What’s even worse—bedbugs have developed a resistance to the weaker new pesticides, making them even harder to kill.
Scientists Thought Bedbugs Were Part of the AIDS Epidemic
In the early 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, bedbugs were one of the first culprits authorities looked to for answers. Doctors and hospitals knew that cities like San Francisco and New York, which were the earliest sites of AIDS infections, had bedbug problems, and so one of their original theories was that the bugs spread the disease.
Bedbugs Turn Up in Unlikely Places
Most people associate bedbugs with seedy motels and mattresses found on the street. Actually, they can be found anywhere where there is upholstery or fabric. Trains, planes, and other vehicles with cushioned seats, movie theaters, and even thrift shops can spread bedbugs. Any place with carpet can harbor bedbugs until they can hitch a ride on someone’s purse or in their pants pocket.
Bedbugs Don’t Spread Disease
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is “little evidence” that bedbugs contribute to the spread of any disease. Their bites may be itchy and unsightly, but according to Dr. Richard DeShazo, who appeared on the Today Show, “You can treat them symptomatically with topical steroids and oral antihistamines.” That may be good news, albeit a small consolation, to the millions of people who are playing host to these armies of invaders.
If you plan on traveling this summer, rigorously inspect your luggage and clothing before you return home and then wash every garment you took with you. Be careful on planes and trains, as the bugs can hide in the cracks between cushions, and check your mattresses for droppings or other signs of bedbugs’ presence. Once you’ve done everything you can, then sleep tight and … well, you know the rest.