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SALEM COMMUNITY HOSPITAL...Don’t let the bed bugs bite

July 3, 2011
Salem News

Reports of bed bugs, also known as Cimex lectularius, first indicated a widespread problem in the U.S. in 2006. This summer, experts are predicting further increases in bed bug infestations, which are often found in public places frequented by travelers.

Currently, the U.S. leader for bed bug infestation is New York City, where the bugs have rapidly multiplied. But Ohio has become one of the hardest hit states in the nation due to its relatively central position, which makes it a popular location for travelers inadvertently transporting the insects from one side of the country to another.

"Bed bugs are insects that don't like light and so they are active at night," explained Lyn Pethtel, Director of Quality Improvement and Infection Control at Salem Community Hospital. "The reason they are known as bed bugs is that these blood-sucking insects feed on people or animals while they sleep."

"Adult bed bugs have flat, rusty-red-colored oval bodies. They are about the size of an apple seed and are big enough to be easily seen, but often hide in cracks in furniture, floors, or walls. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and they become a brighter red color. They can live for several weeks, months or longer without feeding on a host."

"Most bed bug bites are initially painless, but later turn into large, itchy skin welts. Bite marks may appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite and are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea, but they don't have a red spot in the center like a flea bite. The marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to the bites may require medical attention."

What To Look For

"Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep," Lyn continued, "such as apartments, hotels, cruise ships, or college dorm rooms. Bed bugs hide during the day in places like mattress seams, box springs, headboards, dresser tables, behind wallpaper, or in clutter around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night, but tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep."

"They are usually transported from place to place in the seams and folds of luggage, bedding, furniture, or may be carried on a person's clothing, purse or wherever they can hide. Those who travel frequently or share living quarters where other people have previously slept, have a higher risk of being bitten or spreading a bed bug infestation."

"One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on a person's face, neck, arms, hands, or other body parts," Ms. Pethtel added. "However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people, so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area."

These signs may include:

- Bed bugs seen in the folds of mattresses and sheets

- Rusty-colored blood spots from blood-filled fecal material that bed bugs excrete

- Small bloodstains from crushed insects

- An offensive musty odor when infestation is severe

Bed Bug Express

"Although they prefer humans, bed bugs can hitch rides on small animals like cats, dogs, birds, rats, or guinea pigs," she added. "If you suspect your pet has bed bugs, check the animal's skin for small red bites located close together. Wash and dry your pet's bedding with heat and throw away any toys that can't be put in a dryer."

Bed bugs can also cling to and find hiding places in suitcases and bags and can travel from a hotel, cruise ship, taxi cab or other public place very efficiently. In addition, bed bugs can live on the cracks of benches in places like subways or train stations.

"When you stay in a hotel, bring a small flashlight to inspect the mattress and frame, and look under cushions and in furniture drawers," Ms. Pethtel advised. "Immediately report signs of bed bugs, such as bug droppings or eggs. Since bed bugs can cling to carpet, keep your suitcase off the floor and on a luggage rack."

"When you return from a trip, put your clothes in the dryer immediately to kill bed bugs and their eggs. You can also vacuum your luggage and throw away the vacuum bag promptly."

Shopping & Bed Bugs

Shoppers were shocked last year to hear of bed bug spottings in stores like Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Niketown, and Hollister in New York City. "Bed bugs and eggs are visible on clothing, but many people don't know to look for them, so they may inadvertently bring bed bugs into their homes," Lyn said. "To ensure that your new purchases don't harbor bed bugs, put them in the dryer for a half-hour as soon as you get home, or take delicates straight to your drycleaner."

Colleges & Universities

"College dormitories are another site for bed bug infestations, which are brought in by students returning from vacations or trips home," Lyn stated. "To help keep bed bugs out of dorm rooms, clean up clutter and frequently inspect places where they could hide. In addition, use a mattress protector and don't bring in used furniture."

How To Keep Bed Bugs Out of Your Home

- Inspect luggage and wash clothing immediately after returning from a trip. For suspected infestations in clothing or bedding, a home laundry drier is very good at killing bed bugs, and only 10 to 15 minutes of heat exposure is needed.

- Inspect used furniture for bed bugs before bringing it into your home.

- Don't bring used bed frames, mattresses, or box springs into your home.

"Common pesticides tend to be ineffective against bed bugs, since the insects are developing a resistance to some over-the-counter chemicals," concluded Ms. Pethtel. "In the case of an infestation, treatment by a pest management professional is strongly suggested. Applying pesticides yourself is not recommended, and if done improperly, can often complicate the bed bug problem. In addition, never use any insecticide on a mattress."

Lyn Pethtel, SM(ASCP), RN, CIC, is the Director of Quality Improvement and Infection Control at Salem Community Hospital.



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