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Health experts: Prepare for battle against bed bugs

By Sarah Dallof | Posted - Jul. 29, 2010 at 10:30 p.m.



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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- The old phrase "don't let the bed bugs bite" is once again relevant. Utah exterminators and heath experts agree cases of bedbugs are spiking across the state.

What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. They are usually active at night when we sleep. Adult bed bugs have flat rusty-red-colored oval bodies, and are about the size of an apple seed. They are big enough to be easily seen, but they often hide in cracks in furniture, floors, or walls. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and become a brighter red. Bed bugs can live for several months without feeding.

They attack as a team: pest control experts Carl Wilson and Kevin Thorne and Thorne's bed bug-sniffing dog Radar.

"Where he really comes in handy is big complexes," Thorne says. "He can search a lot of space in a short amount of time."

While searching an apartment complex Thursday, they found the bugs alongside a shared wall and in a bed frame -- one apartment down, 15 more to go.

"It's something people are going to become more socially aware of," Wilson says.

According to the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, bed bug cases are up. Environmental health area supervisor Diane Keay is seeing more now than ever before in her decades-long career.

"I would say the health department is getting calls every day," Keay says.

How to get rid of bed bugs:
  • De-clutter your home; caulk cracks, and repair wall coverings to eliminate hiding and breeding places
  • Vacuum the mattress (especially the seams and tufts), box springs, bed frame, baseboards, and any furniture near the bed on a daily basis. Placing a dust mite resistant mattress cover over the mattress and box springs will make the vacuuming easier (keep on for one year). Empty, change or store the vacuum bag inside another container; vacuuming only removes the bed bugs, it does not kill them.
Source: Salt Lake Valley Health Dept.

But the problem isn't just in Utah; the entire nation is seeing an increase in bed bugs.

Alaska has seen an 800 percent increase this year. Several New York stores had to shut down for days to eradicate the pests, and a recent survey found that one in four hotel rooms have the bugs.

So, how do you know if you have a problem?

"Usually the first thing you'll notice is the bites, and that's an allergic reaction," Keay says.

You can also look for brownish-black spots on your mattress, furniture and walls.

There are some steps you can do yourself to get rid of bed bugs, and experts recommend you attack the problem as soon as you know about it. You may be going up against a little bug, but it's a big fight

"They get everywhere," Thorne says.

Bed bugs are hitchhikers -- they get to your home by climbing into a suitcase or clothing. They do not transmit disease.

E-mail: sdallof@ksl.com

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Sarah Dallof

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