The bedbug hysteria started around Paris Fashion Week at the end of September (even the Parisians couldn’t make bedbugs a trend). There were increased bedbug sightings in hotel rooms, trains, and even movie theatres. This has led to a deepening concern that Paris is facing an epidemic of the little brownish-red pests with vampire-esque feeding habits. The city has since turned into a mattress graveyard, in maybe the biggest hint yet.
Officials are worried about the optics and the public health implications of this bedbug incursion, especially in advance of the city hosting the 2024 Olympic Games. But just how troublesome are they?
Bedbugs are not considered dangerous and they don’t transmit diseases, but they do sometimes deliver unsightly, itchy red bite marks, leading to allergic reactions and infections in some people. They are, however, almost always, annoying and creepy, and that alone can lead to sleep deprivation and stress. None of the rest of this story will help you with that, sorry.
Bedbugs are most active at night where people sleep, finding their “victims” by detecting exhaled carbon dioxide and body heat. They probe the skin until they find a spot that allows them to get a good, rapid blood flow going, then feed for—wait for it—5 to 10 minutes. Then they scurry off to a little crack or crevice where they digest and excrete their meal, mate and lay eggs. (Each female lays 1-5 eggs per day, and more than 500 during her lifetime.) The “good” news, if there is any, is that bedbugs only feed every 3-7 days, so most of the population in your room is either digesting or reproducing.
Let’s take a moment to stop dry heaving.
So the City of Lights is now the City of Fear Factor, but of course bedbugs are not just a problem for the French. A study called Bugs Without Borders was conducted in 2010 to better understand the global bedbug resurgence, and to get an accurate picture of the situation within the U.S. The survey reported that 97% of pest professionals in the U.S. were hired to treat at least one case of bedbugs in the calendar year. Summer was reportedly their busiest season.
The top three places where the pest professionals discovered a bedbug problem after a call were single family homes (91%), apartment or condominiums (89%) and motels/hotels (68%), but they also found them in nursing homes, schools and day cares, office buildings, college dorms, hospitals, and public transportation. According to a study on PestWorld.org, one in five Americans has had a bedbug infestation in their own homes, or knows of someone who has experienced having bedbugs either in their home or in a hotel. Bedbugs are found across the 50 United States, with the worst cities being New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Cleveland, and the worst state California.
There has to be something we can do to stop feeling like we are living in a horror movie, right? Well, it looks like bedbugs are here to stay, especially with increased numbers of people traveling internationally, and because of bedbug superbugs that have become resistant to many pesticides (but not all, thankfully).
That means it’s mostly up to you. So first, remember that bedbugs are expert hitchhikers and hiders. Carefully check for any signs of bedbugs before you bring secondhand furniture into your home. Reduce clutter (limiting their hiding spots), vacuum a lot (even your mattresses and box springs) and consider special mattress encasements that cover the entire box spring and mattress.
When traveling, pack a compact flashlight and use it to inspect the whole bed (bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed, so you’ll see ’em). Do this before you unpack – and then use luggage racks instead of putting your clothes on fabric surfaces. When you get home, wash and dry your clothes on the hottest temperature setting possible – even the “clean,” unworn items – and give your luggage a good vacuum.
If the crafty bugs still evade all those precautions, then remember: there’s a 97 percent chance your local pest control specialist has seen it before. No judgment!