This week’s article is from Dr. Larry Braden:  Bedbugs Part 2

It’s been a long and productive day and now, as I sit to write, I itch all over. All I want is some rest and know none is in the offing. At first I wonder then realize: I’m thinking about Bed Bugs yet again!

You and I know by now they are back, and with a vengeance. But where do we get them? Like most things in public health, wide spread illness generally begins from defined sources. Once offensive organisms find themselves beyond their original habitat they spread through populations very quickly and afar. In the case of the bed bug several fundamental habitats have been identified. These include hotel and motel rooms and, to a lesser degree, other elements of travel. Not surprisingly, “second hand “ activities such as flea markets and used clothing stores pose a threat. Unfortunately the threat even extends to friends and relatives that have traveled to visit you.

The most affected cities in United States, listed in order of the severity of infestations include:

1) New York              8) Los Angeles          15) Dallas

2) Cincinnati               9) Boston

3) Detroit                   10) San Francisco

4) Chicago               11) Columbus, Ohio

5) Philadelphia          12) Dayton, Ohio

6) Denver                  13) Baltimore

7) Washington, D.C. 14) Louisville, Ky                                  

Don’t give up on flea markets and second hand clothing stores. They are a lot of fun for many. They are a very positive community resource at many levels. As you move about, however, look closely for these critters. They can often be seen, with adults measuring ¼ to 3/8 inches. They emit an odor that we can appreciate when their numbers are great enough. It is a distinct musty, sweet odor, not unlike raspberries. When you buy an item, clean its surface and, if clothing, wash it two times with the hottest water you can. Then put it in a drier, very hot, for at least 30 minutes.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself while traveling.

As you pack your suitcase: 

*Give thought to your plans and take just what you need.

*First place clothing, shoes and toiletries in sealable plastic bags.

*Tuck a couple extra large sealable plastic bags in your luggage for storing those things you’ve worn or acquired.

While on your trip: 

*Inspect your hotel or motel room very closely.

Turn back the comforter, the sheets and mattress pad.

Look most closely at the seams of the mattress and comforter.

Casts (the exoskeleton of maturing organisms) and fecal spots are the easiest to recognize.

*DO NOT put your luggage on the bed or floor.

Put it on the rack provided by the facility.

Pull that rack and your luggage away from the wall.


Some suggest you put your luggage in the bathtub.

*DO NOT unpack your luggage and put its content in the dresser.

*DO NOT put worn items back into your suitcase…place them in sealable plastic bags.

*DO NOT put purchased items in your suitcase, especially shoes and clothing. Put them is sealable plastic bags.

*Before packing to leave, inspect your luggage looking for bugs. Look all places, but look especially in the seams, zippers, and pockets. 

Once you are home:

*Leave your luggage outside…DO NOT take it into your home.

*Remove items from your suitcase and look for bugs again…at both the luggage and its content.

*Store your clothing outside until it has been washed and dried in a hot drier for at least 30 minutes.

Items that cannot be washed and dried can be dry-cleaned or frozen for 2 weeks.

*Store your luggage outside your home (garage or storage shed) OR if you must bring it into the house, place it in tightly sealed plastic bags.

Wow! All that for a weekend out of town! It might seem like a lot, but when you see or experience the tremendous efforts that go into ending an infestation your assessment changes. There is simply too much to say on this subject. Suffice it here to say: You begin with a magnifying glass and tweezers, used to find and harvest hundreds if not thousands of individual bugs. You upend furniture, lift carpet edges, remove electric socket and light switch covers, and more. Efforts can involve heat. One Little Rock motel owner has access to a portable industrial heater. He closes infested rooms and heats them to 120 degrees for 30-60 minutes. Then on to cold. Thirty two degrees for several days might kill them. Freezing furniture and other items at 0 degrees for 4 days MIGHT end an infestation , but even at this temperature it can take a month. There are sticky traps and pesticides and even specially trained dogs. Dogs? Yes, the industry that profits by helping us now certifies dogs that can sniff out and lead us to the bed bug. Be sure, if you invest in one, that the dog working for you is in fact certified. The industry is fraught with unscrupulous handlers. For all these services you can expect to pay many hundreds to thousands of dollars. Broken budgets and lost businesses are all a part of the legacy of the bed bug.

Once the first “Integrated Pest Management” intervention has been made you should expect additional inspections through time. Don’t be surprised if the first round is not entirely effective. You should not be upset with those you’ve paid so dearly to help you. It is the tenacious nature and elusive presence of this beast that condemns you to months of expense, discomfort and discord.

 As if all that is not enough you might find yourself in a doctor’s office. “Doctor, what can you do about this hideous rash and overwhelming itch?” you say. The doctor says, “Not much. Benadryl? Cool oatmeal bathes? Sure…they help some. There is not much else.” As a physician I might be moved to take your hand in mine as an expression of compassion, but……NO!…..I don’t want your cooties!!!

Good night, sleep tight,

Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

And if they do

Then take your shoe

And knock ‘em ‘til

They’re black and blue!


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