"Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite!" Ack. I can't even wish my son good night anymore without feeling itchy! Sadly, bedbugs are all over the news these days, making appearances at summer camps, movie theaters, the Empire State Building, and retail stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Victoria's Secret. And, according to the Congressional Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009, U.S. bedbug populations have increased by 500 percent in the past few years.
What should parents who are, uh, buggin' out do to protect their families from these sneaky little devils? We went to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) -- to find out what parents should know about bedbugs. Missy Henriksen, the vice president of public affairs for the NPMA, gives us the scoop:
- How do you know if you have bedbugs in your home? "Most people initially identify them because of itchy bumps -- red, welt-like shapes on their arms -- but not everyone is susceptible to bites." [Editor's note: bedbugs are not thought to transmit diseases -- the itchy welts are an allergic reaction to the bites themselves.]
- How can you tell if your kid's spray of red bug bites are from bedbugs? "Bedbug bites are usually in a line pattern. And they'll bite in areas where we don't normally see mosquito bites, like the trunk of your body, your back, your face, and then similar to mosquitoes, on your arms and legs."
- What should you do if you or you kid have bites and suspect bedbugs? "Look around the bed for signs on an infestation. You can see adult bedbugs [babies are harder to see because they're colorless], which look like an apple seed or a lentil. They're flat, oval, and wingless, and reach about ¼-inch when full-grown.
"Check around the seams of your mattress, around the box spring and headboard, and under the dust ruffle. You're not just looking for the bugs themselves, but also 'bedbug dirt' [their fecal matter], which looks like ground black pepper, and little spots of dried blood on the sheets from when they fed at night. That being said, they may not always live around your bed; they can also live in other furniture, clothing, and hard-to-reach places, like behind wall sockets and in picture frames."
- If all signs point to an infestation, what should parents do next? "If you suspect an infestation, contact a pest management professional; bedbugs are not a DIY project. They're very difficult not just to spot, but also to treat. They can go for up to a year without feeding, and females can lay up to 400 eggs over the course of their lifetime, so just because you're not getting bitten for a while or don't see them for a few months, that doesn't mean that they're truly gone. You must treat a small infestation in order to avoid a larger one."
- What can families do to prevent getting bedbugs in the first place? "Depending on their age, you can educate your children in terms of what bedbugs look like (remind them of the apple seed comparison), and tell them to let you know if they see similar bugs at home, at a friend's house, or at school. Parents can also check with their child's school or daycare facility to learn if they have protocols in place, should they suspect an infestation. (Bedbugs are hitchhikers, and they love to travel, so if another family has them and brings infested belongings outside their home, they can spread easily.)
"Also, encourage children not to share or borrow clothes. If your kid comes home with an unfamiliar-looking garment, throw it in the washing machine on the hot wash cycle and the dryer on high heat, as bedbugs can't withstand temperatures above 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
"And families can also check things that come into their home, like school backpacks and overnight bags from sleepovers. But ultimately, the message parents should take away is to be educated and vigilant, but not paranoid. Don't cancel daily activities or vacation plans because of fears of bedbugs, but just be aware of some of the little things you can do to help protect your family."