Going Undercover - The Truth about Bedbugs

The Salt Lake Tribune
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The resurgence of bedbugs in American homes and businesses has caused many a sleepless night, but what's fact and what's fiction?

Fiction » Bedbugs imply poor hygiene.

Fact » They don't care if a home is neat or messy, only that people - their food source -are near. There's no evidence they transmit diseases. The real threat is their itchy red bites, and many people don't even have that skin reaction, said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban entomologist at Cornell University.

Fiction » If you think you have bedbugs, you probably do.

Fact » Entomologist Richard Pollack has found that fewer than 10 percent of the critters people identify as bedbugs actually are; that's also why he doesn't trust websites that list reports of bedbugs at hotels.

Fiction » When one hotel room has them, the whole place is infested.

Fact » It's not likely. When you check into a room, search along and behind the headboard and sides of the mattress to look for black stains, discarded molted skins and bugs. If you find anything suspicious, ask for another room that is not right next door, because bedbugs can crawl through cracks in walls. Still, it's smart to keep suitcases packed, closed and off the floor, but not on a bed or upholstered furniture. After a trip, do the laundry (including what you wore home) ASAP, or just tumble clothes in a hot dryer for a half hour. Leave suitcases in the garage until you can vacuum them.

Fiction » Bedbug-sniffing dogs are the best way to find the critters.

Fact » It's hard to know if a dog's training is up to snuff, or even if a pup is just having an off day - and you'll pay $300 to $600 for its services. Bedbug extermination is a serious undertaking and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so it's best not to act until a human pest professional identifies a bona fide bug.

First, inspect your bedroom and furnishings. You can buy ridged saucer-like traps to place beneath bed legs (or wrap legs tightly with double-stick tape) to catch any critters trying to climb up. Send or bring evidence to your local Cooperative Extension office (www.nifa.usda.gov/Extension; usually $5) or contact an online bug-ID service such as Pollack's IdentifyUS (identify.us.com) for a diagnosis ($20). If you strongly suspect bedbugs, find a reliable pest-control company (read on for how), which may charge up to $500 for an inspection.

Fiction » Your best line of attack is an over-the-counter spray.

Fact » Sprays containing essential oils are unlikely to do much. Pyrethroid-based pesticides may kill or repel some bedbugs, but can be dangerous if misused. Because resistance is one cause of the bugs' resurgence, it's doubtful you'll be successful on your own.

The Good Housekeeping Research Institute's bottom line is that if bedbugs are confirmed, get written quotes from three licensed exterminators detailing the course of action. That should include pesticides, traps and/or heat treatments (including what products will be used, how and where).