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P-L-E-A-S-E Leaf Me Alone, Bedbugs!

Updated on April 24, 2013

Bedbug bites leave itchy welts

When I was young my parents put me to bed with the little ditty: “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” And when I had children I repeated it to them. But today, what seemed like a silly little warning is so true.

The recent rash of bedbug sightings in: hotels, homes, offices, stores, libraries and even library books, have made us realize these tiny pests should be taken seriously.

While these bugs don’t transmit disease, the red welts caused by their nocturnal bites are as traumatic as they are itchy. There are a variety of remedies, including chemical sprays and plastic bags for luggage and mattresses. And there's a green solution. Scientist recently discovered a plant that traps bedbugs like flypaper.

As we might gleam by the age of that “bedbug bite” ditty, these insects have been sharing our beds for thousands of years! The ancient Greeks and Romans complained of these blood suckers.

Spraying DDT before the pesticide was banned in the U.S. in 1972

At the same time man was waging World War II, we were also battling bedbugs. Gallons and gallons of powerful pesticides, such as DDT, eradicated the parasites in the 1940s. But after people read biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, public opinion changed on the benefits of indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the U.S. and it was banned in 1972.

Without DDT in the pest control arsenal the legion of bedbugs renewed themselves. Around 1995, Americans noticed a major infestation of these tiny ¼-inch reddish-brown, oval-shaped insects.

Large cities, such as Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York City, have suffered from this resurgence. The bedbug infestation in New York is so huge that The New York Times has published hundreds of articles about bedbugs. The interest is so large that Bedbugs is a Topic category on the New York Times website. And one Huffington Post blogger, Michael Colongione, writes exclusively about bedbugs.

Hotels are susceptible to bedbugs
Hotels are susceptible to bedbugs

As You Sleep Tight– Bedbugs Feed on Your Blood at Night

The vast majority of these teeny- tiny bugs hid in mattresses and only come out after you're quiet and asleep. That’s why they are extremely difficult to see and catch.

Wherever people sleep is susceptible to being infested with bedbugs, especially spots with a high turnover of people moving in and out, such as hotels and cruise ships. There’s a common misconception that bedbugs are only found at “dirty” or economy hotels and motels. Bedbugs are not attracted to dirt, they only feed on blood.

They generally stay very close to a bedroom unless they decide to hitch a ride on your clothes, luggage or purse. Bedbugs seem to enjoy travel as much as us. Once mobile they can spread wherever you put down your suitcase. And bedbugs aren’t afraid to venture away from their source of food. They can survive for 18 months without eating.

They’ve been known to spread from one suitcase to another in an airplane’s overhead bin or the luggage storage area in the belly of the jet. When people stop at the office after a business trip and bring their infected suitcases to work, the bedbugs are happy to crawl into files and file cabinets.

Bedbugs and their eggs hide in the spines of library books

Bring a book home from the library and put it on a bed stand in a room with bedbugs and you’ll soon have bedbugs infesting the public library. With thousands or millions of visitors each year, various public libraries were bound to encounter a bedbug problem. The tiny insects and their nearly invisible eggs hide in the spines of the library books.

In addition to mastering the Dewey Decimal system, librarians now know how to spot infected books and use extreme heat or cold to kill the bugs. One public library in Islip, NY hired a bedbug-sniffing dog to visit their facility several times a year, according to the NYTimes. Other libraries have instructed pest control companies to change their chemical sprays, primarily aimed at roaches, and requested their insecticides also target bedbugs.

Cold and heat treatments are effective in eradicating bedbugs. Many libraries primarily use cold temperatures because heat can accelerate the aging of books.

Bedbugs Remedies: Pesticides, Plastic Mattress and Luggage Bags, Heat & Cold; Plus a Green Solution: Kidney Bean Leaves

Many people have resorted to chemicals to kill the bugs and their eggs. There are several chemicals on the market that control bedbugs. Heat is one reliable way an average citizen can get rid of these insects and their eggs. You can use a little machine called Packtite to heat treat infected or suspected items. You put your infected luggage, stuffed animals, shoes, etc. into this unit and heat the items to 120º – a bedbug killing temperature. .

A natural remedy was found by scientists at the University of California – Irvine and the University of Kentucky. They discovered that leaves on the kidney bean plant contain tiny hair-like fibers, called trichomes, that stab the bug’s leg and trap it.

After reviewing 1920 reports explaining how kidney bean leaves were used 100 years ago by southern Europeans to rid their homes of bedbugs, scientists researched how bedbugs interacted with kidney bean leaves.

The researchers weren’t as successful with the second part of their study – creating an artificial flypaper-type bedbug trap. Their synthetic bug traps are far less effective than the natural ones.

NATURAL BEDBUG VELCRO: A bedbug's leg is trapped (right) by a kidney bean leaf's microscopic hairs, known as trichomes.

Photo by the University of California – Irvine
Photo by the University of California – Irvine

An April 10, 2013 study published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface details how the kidney bean leaves effectively trapped the bedbugs. “Struggling, trapped bedbugs are impaled by trichomes on several legs and are unable to free themselves.” The scientists tried to synthetically recreate the leaf hooks “using kidney bean leaf surfaces as templates.”

“Every bug entrapped by a leaf had at least one piercing on one leg by a trichome,” the report said. “Bedbugs were entrapped fairly quickly when walking on kidney bean leaves… This means that a bedbug was usually entrapped within seconds after placement on a leaf. Bedbugs continued to struggle after being pierced by a trichome and the struggling movements often led to more piercings of the bug on the same or additional legs.”

The study concluded, “The bean leaves entrapped bedbugs quickly and effectively.” However, their artificial bedbug traps took longer and didn’t hinder their movements as well as the leaf. The amount of time “before a bedbug exhibited a momentary snag while running on a fabricated surface was always greater than measured on natural leaves,” the study said.

Leaves are Bedbug's Flypaper

Growing Kidney Bean Plants

You can forgo the chemicals or fabrications and follow a 100-year-old folk remedy used by Balkan housewives. Each night they would spread bean leaves around an infested bedroom floor. In the morning, they burnt the leaves along with numerous bedbugs it had trapped,

For this green solution, you'll need to grow a few kidney bean plants. Here are two informative websites about growing these vegetables:

One more website I want to recommend was created by New York City's Health Department. It's filled with info about these tiny blood-suckers. TDowling

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