Always inspect for bed bugs when traveling, getting used furniture

Tahlequah Daily Press |Oklahoma | July 19, 2019 | by Heather Winn

Bed bugs might be small, but they can cause big problems. After decades of barely registering on the pest control radar in the U.S., the insects have re-emerged as a concern in recent years.

Even though bed bugs aren’t known for carrying diseases, they can still make life difficult by causing discomfort, sleeplessness, anxiety, and even embarrassment. Being watchful can help avoid a problem or at least allow for early detection and professional intervention.

Small, reddish brown and flat, adult bed bugs measure about 3/16-inch long and can be mistaken for cockroaches or ticks. The pests, which are mainly active at night, like to feed on humans. Bed bugs do not fly, but they do bite. Although reactions to being bitten vary from person to person, generally people may experience itchy, red welts or localized swelling within a day or two.

Bed bugs can live in almost any crevice or protected area; however, the pests are commonly found in beds and sleeping areas, and particularly in the seams, tufts and crevices of mattresses, box springs and headboards. They also can make themselves at home in upholstered chairs and sofas, especially if the furniture is used for sleeping, as well as in the cracks, crevices and recesses of nightstands and dressers.

Other favorite hiding places for the bugs include along the edge and just underneath wall-to-wall carpet; cracks in crown molding; behind wall-mounted picture frames, mirrors, switch plates and outlets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.

Cleanliness usually has nothing to do with the potential for a bed bug infestation. Traveling is a common way people come in contact with the pests. They can be imported through luggage, clothing, and even a person’s shoes. Secondhand furniture, including beds and couches, can serve as entry points as well.

There are some steps homeowners and travelers can take to try to prevent an infestation. For instance, travelers are advised to quickly inspect their hotel rooms before settling in. Pull back all of the bedding at the head of the bed, check the underside of the mattress tag and the seams of the mattress and box springs. In addition to mature bed bugs, look for the light brown molted skin of nymphs (immature bed bugs) and dark spots of dried excrement. If you find any evidence of bed bugs, report it immediately to management and request a different room.

To minimize exposure in hotel rooms, pull the luggage stand away from the wall and place bags on it, keep clothing in the suitcase – rather than placing belongings in dresser drawers – and use a flashlight to inspect the closet before hanging clothes. Shoes should be placed in an open area. After returning home, consider unpacking your luggage immediately and in a location other than the bedroom such as the garage, mudroom, or entry way of your home. Wash your clothes promptly and carefully check the luggage for bed bugs.

At home, residents should carefully scrutinize any used and refurbished furniture items, and especially beds and couches, before bringing them inside. Homeowners also should avoid taking any furniture items from dumpsters or curbsides, no matter their apparent condition.

In cases of infestation, effective eradication of the pests often requires trained, experienced professionals. However, because insecticides cannot be used to treat infested and exposed bedding, garments and other items, those things should be bagged and laundered at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees, or placed in a dryer for 20 minutes on medium to high heat. Freezing items at below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for multiple days also may work.

For more information, or to schedule a program locally about financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, or Oklahoma Home and Community Education, contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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