In the 2013 “Bugs without Borders” survey, pest management professionals reported that the majority of bed bugs are found in homes — but they are also in hotels, dorms, nursing homes, schools and office buildings. The number of instances of bed bugs in libraries, retail stores and airplanes has gone up! Bed bugs plague cities, both large and small. There is some evidence that bed bug infestations are a seasonal problem occurring most often in the summer and least often in the winter. The pest control company Orkin ranks cities by the number of bed bug treatments Orkin performed per year; Denver was number nine (right after Washington, DC) in 2013.
The first step in controlling any pest problem is to accurately identify the pest. Here in Colorado, we also have bat bugs and swallow bugs. See the fact sheet Bat Bugs, Bed Bugs and Relatives.
Control measures are expensive, including the costs of replacing furniture and bedding. However, these are not the only costs. What is the real cost of bed bugs and their control?
There are costs to mental and physical health. Infestations of bed bugs can cause emotional distress, anxiety, paranoia and sleeplessness. In a recent study conducted by the University of Arizona, 89% of respondents indicated that bed bug infestations led to extreme stress and 100 % indicated some level of anxiety. The bites associated with bed bugs can result in secondary infections (even though bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases). Another health risk is associated with misuse of chemicals to control bed bugs. People have treated their beds and mattresses with “alternative treatments” – everything from Listerine to lighter fluid.
There are costs to the environment – repeated applications of certain pesticides may lead to populations of bed bugs that are resistant. Bed bugs all but disappeared in the 1940s and 1950s, with the widespread use of DDT, which had long-lasting insecticidal activity as a dry residue. Reports began to circulate with 3 years of its introduction that some bed bug populations had become DDT-resistant. By the 1960s, bed bugs resistant to DDT were found worldwide.
Being vigilant is the best way to prevent infestations from spreading. Regularly inspect for signs of bed bugs. Pay close attention to sheets and to the seams of furniture and upholstery for telltale brownish or reddish spots. These pests have been known to inhabit electrical sockets, surge protectors and behind picture frames. Vacuum and clean all areas – including offices, hallways, lobbies, kitchens, bathrooms on a daily basis. Eliminate clutter as best as possible.
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