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Bedbugs: The Baleful Biters are Booming

Sunday 12 September 2010

Apologies beforehand if you end up itching like a mad thing by the time you finish reading this.  However, bedbugs, which were once thought to have been almost eradicated are enjoying a massive bug renaissance. With the invention of DDT in the 1940s it was thought that the itch and rash would become a thing of the past. Yet like a scratch that you just can’t itch the humble bedbug has made an enormous comeback.

Above is a bedbug ingesting its meal of blood from a human host. What can only be described as an epidemic has broken out in the United States and, where the US goes the UK follows. The bedbug population of the United Kingdom is now booming. In both countries the problem is at is greatest since the Second World War. If you are getting freaked out by the site of one, screw your courage to the sticking point now.

Now the National Pest Management Association in Kentucky is predicting nothing less than a worldwide pandemic of Cimex lectularius. Yet how do they get in to your bed in the first place? They are not like that other blood sucker – the vampire: they do not have to ask permission to enter your home.

Plus, when they are doing it like they do it on Discovery Channel, it doesn't make them any more attractive. Their usual route in to your domicile is through luggage and clothing and often second-hand furniture. Unfortunately the cleanliness of your home is not a barrier – they often move from the Smiths to the Jones via cavities in the walls and floors.

An infestation from a distance can look bad - but not the end of the world.

Take a closer look though and it looks like the aftermath of a battle of Klendathu.

Then they feed on your blood, like the nymph above.  In fact, you can see the blood filling up and swelling its abdomen. You usually don’t feel a thing because they inject an anesthetic so you don’t notice and swat them. So that they can suck to their hearts content they also inject an anti-clotting agent – which keeps the blood flowing nicely.

If you are bitten too often it can create a rash or even eczema. As they like to stay close to their source of food – you – they can be found usually in the seams of mattresses and on furniture around your bed. Often they will live on the headboard, ready to jump you once you fall asleep. The bites are notoriously difficult to diagnose as they look like any number of things.

They are not nocturnal as such but that is when they are most active. When you fall asleep the warmth that you produce as well as the carbon dioxide from your breath attracts them like moths to the proverbial. However, there is some good news – they do not carry disease. So if you wake up one morning with enormous buboes under your arm it is most likely another source.

The females can lay hundreds of eggs, usually at the rate of one or two a day and they can live a long time between a feed, which means you can’t just abandon a bed for a year and then return to it thinking they will be gone. They won’t be. Here is what National Geographic have to say about the issue.

Scientists are not sure why they are making a comeback now. It could be the increase in international travel but it may also be that they have become resistant to the pesticides used to kill them. Whatever the reason, try not and let the bedbugs bite.

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