Bed bugs: why they come back

December. 6, 2011 — For a while, bed bugs seemed to have moved away from Edsel cars and cold water apartments. Not anymore – as we’ve come to know. They’re making a comeback, and experts now seem to know why.

Bug bugs may not be as much in the media as they were in the summer of 2010, but they’re here to stay to warn experts at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) annual meeting in Philadelphia. The new research presented here helps explain why they return, much of which has to do with the ability to outperform existing treatments.

We’ve seen the fur of these pests in the United States for nearly 60 years, but now, since 1990, the number of bed bug infestations in homes, hotel rooms, and more has increased 10- to 100-fold.

What are bed bugs?

Bugs are wingless, rust-colored insects. They are about the size of an apple seed. They don’t spread disease, but they can bite your blood. Their bites can trigger allergic reactions, including cuts and itching in some people. Others may have no symptoms after being bitten.

Part of the reason they gather here is because of their enormous inbreeding ability. Researchers studied bed bugs and wholesale cheap sweatshirts in North Carolina buildings and found uncanny family resemblances. This was confirmed by another study of 21 bed bug infestations from Maine to Florida.

Other species don’t survive inbreeding, but bed bugs not only survive, they thrive, says Dr. Coby Schal. He’s an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. “A mating female can create a whole new population or infestation,” he says.

“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Schall said. “They’re here for a while.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid movie theaters, hotel rooms, or other places where bed bugs lurk.

“Bugs don’t ‘don’t hitchhike,'” he said, “they’re more likely to leave 5 to 10 minutes after eating the blood meal.

That means they’ll carry your stuff. “You can pick up bugs on furniture and clothes,” he said.

In their own game Beating Bed Bugs in

“The movie theater is dark, so it’s hard to spot bed bugs,” Schal says. Don’t skip the blockbusters. Instead, take off your clothes when you get home and put all your clothes in the dryer on high for 30 minutes.

He said: “When the kids come back from college for the Christmas break, take precautions if their dorms are infested. “Put all their items in a high-heat dryer, or put them outside in the cold air, because the cold kills them too,” he said.

See more ways to get rid of bed bugs.

When Schar checks in a hotel room, the first thing he does is pull out a flashlight and examine the bed, mattress seams, headboard, coffee table and dresser. “I look in cracks and crevices for signs of bed bugs,” he says.

Here’s another tip: “If it is, remove the headboard, don’t be too heavy, look at the back, “He says. “Bedbugs don’t like to be interrupted by room service when making beds or changing sheets.” That’s why they may congregate behind or under the headboard, where they’re less likely to be disturbed.

Viviana Temino, MD, says bed bug bites look a lot like hives and she’s seeing more of them these days. She is an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“We have to start looking at bed bugs as a possible diagnostic for hives, especially if the hives are happening at night and you’re fine that day,” she said. Temino did not attend the meeting, but reviewed the findings for WebMD.

So what do you do if you notice any bed bugs or bed bug bites?

This is the tricky part because we’ve run out of solutions, says Dr. Ken Haynes. He is an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Louisville. He said 88 percent of bed bug populations in different parts of the country are insecticide-resistant.

Drug resistance means that many treatments no longer work. Haynes and colleagues are now trying to understand the problem and see if they can fix it.

Unless they get some answers, “we need to have a better approach to managing insecticide resistance,” he said. Using heat treatments instead of chemicals might work.