- Health & Wellness
- Dr. Frischer
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How often have you heard the following? Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite!
Most of us don’t know the next line: …and if they do, then take your shoe, and knock ‘em ’til they’re black and blue! These words are part of our culture and are common for parents to say to children before they go to sleep. They are based on the fact that bed bugs have been around to torment us for thousands of years.
The most common type of bed bug is Cimex lectularius, a small parasitic bloodsucking insect. Bed bugs were almost eliminated from the western world in the early 1940s, in part due to the use of potent pesticides such as DDT. They reappeared, however, around 1995. Increasing foreign travel, exchange of second-hand furnishings, and a lack of attention probably account for the recurrence.
Is there an issue with bed bugs locally? Absolutely. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention along with the California Department of Public Health are focusing their attention on this increasing problem.
Perhaps you’ve been unfortunate enough to have seen one. Adult bed bugs are wingless, with flat bodies that are brownish in color. Their microscopic hairs give them a banded appearance. They grow to 4-5 mm in length and 1.5-3 mm wide. Bed bugs prefer to live where people do, and especially in the beds where we sleep.
Bed bugs can cause a number of health problems, including skin rashes and allergic symptoms. Bites may have no visible effect, or they may cause prominent blisters. There is no specific treatment for the bites other than to eliminate the insects and control the symptoms. The bugs can be infected by at least 28 human pathogens (including the well-known and dangerous bacteria MRSA and VRE), but no study to date has clearly found that they are able to transmit bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms to a human being.
A bed bug sucks blood in order to feed itself. It pierces the skin of its host with two hollow tongue-shaped feeding tubes. With the first tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics. The anticoagulant ensures that the blood keeps flowing, and the anesthetic ensures that the bite doesn’t hurt, which might result in the victim swatting it away. With the second tube it withdraws the blood of its host. The insect feeds for about five minutes, and then returns to its hiding place. Although bed bugs can live for a year without feeding, they normally try to feed every five to ten days.
Bed bugs mate by traumatic insemination. The reproductive tract of a female bed bug is used for laying eggs, but the male doesn’t use this tract for insemination. Instead, the male pierces the female’s abdomen with hypodermic genitalia and ejaculates into the body cavity. The sperm then travel through the blood to the ovaries! Males will mount any freshly fed partner regardless of gender, because sexual attraction for male bed bugs is based primarily on size.
Houses and apartments can become infested with bed bugs in a number of ways, including:
•Bugs and eggs that “hitchhiked in” from an infested source, such as pets, clothing, luggage, or furniture
•Nearby dwellings, through duct work or false ceilings
•Wild animals (such as bats or birds)
How do you detect them in your home? Bed bugs are elusive and usually nocturnal, which can make them hard to spot. After biting, they don’t stay on their host – they scurry away to safety. They often lodge unnoticed in dark crevices, and eggs can be nestled in fabric seams. They usually remain close to hosts, in or near the bed, or in other furniture, luggage, cars, and bedside clutter.
Eradication of bed bugs may require a combination of pesticide and non-pesticide treatment. Resistance to pesticides has increased significantly over time, and there are health concerns over their use. Safer methods include vacuuming, and heat-treating or wrapping mattresses. Bed bugs do have natural predators, but that’s of very little help to most of us. If you have enough cockroaches, ants, and spiders in your home, however, they may take care of your bed bug problem.
Good luck…may you never see one of these pesky creatures in your own bed!
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: July 28, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 15