Armed for the Bedbug Battle
What can you do to fight bedbugs? U.S. News asked entomologists, exterminators, and survivors. Here's their advice:
Prevention. When traveling, check the mattress (including seams) for blackish fecal stains that indicate bedbug activity, especially if you notice bites in the morning. If you have any doubt, unload your suitcase into the wash when you get home. Hot water and a high dryer temperature kill the bugs.
Avoid picking up furniture from the curb. Bedbugs can live pretty much anywhere, including sofas, dressers, and bookcases.
Diagnosis. Since most people don't react to bedbug bites, the best way to confirm you have them is to find a live one, the remains of one, or fecal stains.
Another clue: Entomologists say bedbugs tend to make a series of linear bites.
Treatment. Don't try this alone. You'll want to call in a pro, who will very likely bring insecticides more powerful than those available to the general public, caulk for sealing up bedbug hiding places, powerful vacuums to remove the adhesive eggs, and devices that can heat or freeze the bugs to death.
Doing your own extermination often just disperses the bugs. It's OK to supplement the exterminator's efforts by doing extra vacuuming and laundry, for example, but you don't want to vacuum up the exterminator's pesticides.
Don't begin sleeping on the sofayou'll probably just spread the problem. And don't vacate the house. You may need to serve as the bait that will attract the bugs from their hiding places to the poison. They can live for more than a year without food and may go into a dormant state if you leave.
Choose a company that's licensed, has handled bedbugs before, uses a multi-pronged approach to treatment, makes multiple visits, and doesn't promise miracles.
Keep clutter to a minimum after treatment, so exterminators can find any bugs on repeat visits.
Coping. Need support? Google will bring up a number of bedbug blogs. Keep in mind that the bugs don't spread disease and may provide you with a few good stories.
This story appears in the July 16, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.