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They want your blood. No, not the undead denizens of “The Twilight Saga” or “True Blood.” A more corporeal nocturnal plague may lurk much closer to home: bedbugs.

“It’s like having tiny little vampires in your house,” said Andy Linares, owner of the New York-based Bug Off Pest Control Center.

And their antics are not limited to the comfort of your bedroom. Bedbugs can take over residential and office buildings, hotels and movie theaters. A recent infestation shut down two popular retail stores in New York City — the Hollister flagship store in SoHo and the Southstreet Seaport Abercrombie and Fitch — and a Brooklyn hospital opted to fumigate a triage room after a single insect snuck in with an admitted patient earlier this week.

So what’s the big deal?

Bedbugs are tiny, wingless insects that feast on human blood. They hide in cracks and crevices and crawl out when a victim is asleep to gorge on exposed flesh. Although not everyone experiences a visible reaction to bites, many people find itchy welts on their skin. Humans are their preferred source of sustenance, but the parasites can also subsist on pets, bats, birds and rodents.

The insects are not always technically classified as a health threat because there is no evidence that they transmit disease. But their growing resistance to extermination methods and ability to multiply rapidly and survive without feeding for up to a year mean this small critter can disrupt lives. The main problem may be more psychological than physical.

“Rats, roaches, files, ants – you don’t see people physically distressed, where they come in and cry,” said Linares. “We see a lot of emotional reaction to bed bug infestations that we do not see with other pests.”

How do bedbugs spread?

Use of DDT in the years following World War II nearly eliminated the scourge in the United States. Now burgeoning populations permeate cities across the country. An online bedbug registry provides a public (and anonymous) forum for posting infestations. Linares attributes the resurgence to the explosion of global travel, immigration patterns and increasingly stringent EPA regulations that control the use of heavy-duty chemical pesticides. The bugs can travel on clothing and in luggage, and can even attach themselves to human hosts on public transportation.

On the home front, introducing secondhand items of any type into your living space is a leading risk factor. Used furniture is a particular threat. Once the pests are present in one unit of an apartment building or other multi-unit dwelling, the bedbugs are likely to spread to the neighbors.

How do you detect them?

Aside from exoskeletons, small blood stains and black spots on your sheets, bedbugs can be difficult to detect due to their small size and ability to hide. Visual evidence is often hard to find, although a musty smell can indicate an infestation. Bite marks are often the first indication of the bugs’ presence. Bedbug-sniffing dogs are a current force in efforts to identify the unwelcome residents, and a session with a canine expert can cost several hundred dollars. Certification programs have been developed in an attempt to regulate the requisite skill set, and experts cite a 96 percent success rate in detection with dogs that have been properly trained.

How do you get rid of them?

“There are no magic bullets since products that frankly would have been effective are no longer an option,” said Linares. “You cannot rely on one technique – you have to go in with a multi-pronged attack.”

The first line of defense involves filling in all cracks and gaps and disposing of infested bedding, furniture, books and other objects. Additional effective techniques include maintaining a heated environment at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, steaming clothing and furniture, and treating the entire area with a variety of liquid, aerosol and powdered insecticides and disinfectants. Wrapping a mattress in airtight encasements ensures that no bedbugs can get in or out, and interceptors have been designed to trap the pest within furniture legs. Bedbug beacons are carbon dioxide monitors that act as lures to trap the offending insects. Sometimes multiple treatments are required to completely eliminate the invaders.

Precautionary measures

The discovery of bedbugs can lead to an expensive and emotionally taxing ordeal, and communities are starting to take a more active role in combating the pests. New York Governor David A. Paterson is expected to sign a bill forcing New York landlords to notify prospective tenants of any bedbug infestations within the past year. Ohio is particularly hard hit and last November, officials submitted a request for an emergency exemption from the EPA to authorize the industrial-grade pesticide Propoxur for use in private homes. Although the pesticide is approved for use in commercial buildings and even pet collars, in June, the EPA opted not to approve the chemical for home use because of concerns over health risks impacting children’s nervous systems.



  • kkm


  • Carol Southern

    Yes, it can happen to YOU!!! It did to me 4 years ago in an apartment in Chicago at Pratt & Sheridan. One of them woke me up biting my arm in the middle of the night. I caught it & put it in a plastic bag to be identified. It left a raised welt with 5 tiny bites in a circle. The bite was red & sore for several days. I washed & vacuumed everything possible, applied pesticide specifically for bedbugs (& wiped off the excess, because of my cat), & finally bought a $200 encasement set for my mattress & box spring. I treated my next apartment thoroughly before I moved in!

  • fred

    I just about killed myself. It took me over a year to get rid of them…had to dispose 90% of my furniture….I lost 50 pounds from not sleeping a spent 1000′s on professional pesticide companies….lost most of my friends because no one wanted to come to my house or allow me to enter their house or car. I finally had to move. It’s been two years and I still wake up thinking I have them again.

  • Brenda

    Yes, they are persistent little buggers. My sister had them in her house and it took two years and hundreds of dollars worth of extermination to finally eradicate them. I learned about them the hard way when I slept in her house on an air mattress on the floor. I woke up with at least 50 separate bites on my legs arms and abdomen. This was most distressing. It took me a really long time to get over them.

  • Sara

    Ugh! Been there with all of the same problems and the landlord would only treat my bedroom and not my whole apt. or the adjoining units. After researching the issue i realized that i wouldnt be able to get rid of them this way, and so i moved. I disposed of our beds, put everything in cold storage for the winter to freeze the buggers and the eggs. We washed everything and froze pillows, blankets and the vacuum bag in the freezer after every use. I used powdered poisons and slept on blow up beds and plastic furniture for months in our new place. I felt like they were crawling on me for years after we were rid of them. It was the most stressful and expensive situation, and the old land lady wouldnt even give me my deposit back because she said i broke the lease.

  • janice

    Found one on a three day vacation to Boston in a hotel at 4:00 in the a.m., and I freaked out. We immediately notified management and checked out, isolated and/or threw away luggage, clothing, cell phones, laptop, personal items, etc. When we arrived home, we stripped to the bone, putting clothes, shoes, etc. in plastic sealed bags we bought on the way back before even coming into the house (thankfully, it is just the two of us and it was in the wee morning hours). We learned how to do the electronics and laptop in a special way–after finding out that they even travel inside the casings! Everything else that we didn’t toss, we used the steaming in a hot car method for 2 weeks, drying on high heat for an hour method afterward, washing and drying again what could be safely washed, and freezing everything for a month in airtight plastic before touching anything again. Boiled anything that could be boiled. Thank goodness, we didn’t bring any back, or they just didn’t survive our extreme measures, but I was so distraught, we came home instead of enjoying the weekend. After some major discussions with hotel management, my husband did get a refund. But, now I’m almost afraid to travel–this has never happened, even overseas in some pretty “iffy” overnight accomodations….

  • gene

    To Khalifwifey: Please think about how you refer to others. Why be hurtful? Go beyond stereotypes.

  • Gabriel Evelyn

    Hi, I know this is a long shot, but I currently live in an apartment in Chicago at Pratt & Sheridan, and I just discovered the beginnings (at least I hope the beginnings!) of a bed bug infestation in my apartment. If by chance you read this post, did you ever get rid of the bugs while living there?