By David Baron
“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Yuck. Not the most comforting thing to tell little children as we tuck them in at night. Until recently, bed bugs were just an arcane reference to a problem that went the way of the horse and buggy. Or so you thought. Unfortunately, they’re back.
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Bedbugs are gross. They bite, they are difficult to get rid of and they understandably tend to freak people out. According to L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles has risen from 25th to fifth on Orkin Pest Control’s annual list of the 50 Most Bed-Bug-Infested Cities (New York is ranked ninth).
These tiny little blood-feeding parasites, commonly described as being about the shape and size of an apple seed, live off the blood of humans and animals, much like mosquitoes. The bugs have a habit of making themselves at home in a mattress, box spring, bed frame, headboard, couch or any other little nook or cranny where they can hide during the day and have easy access to a meal (i.e. you) while you’re sleeping at night. Creepy.
And they can make a person pretty uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically. But they’re not something to freak out about. Bed bugs are not a function of poor hygiene, slovenly housekeeping or your underlying health. They just move in wherever they are introduced (hitchhiking on a suitcase or backpack or pet, for example) and stay put if they’ve got a place to hide and a sleeping individual to bite. They do not live on your body the way scabies does, or lay eggs on you as do lice.
Bed bug bites result in red, itchy hives or welts on any part of the skin that’s exposed during sleeping, that appear in the morning and weren’t there when you went to bed the
night before. The bites generally don’t have noticeable little dots in the center where the bite actually occurred. And they pretty much heal spontaneously and completely in a few days – provided you don’t scratch them to the point of getting them infected or causing them to scar. You might suspect an infestation if you have these symptoms, notice tiny little blood spots on your sheets, or (you’re going to love this) dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets, mattresses, bed clothes and/or walls.
There’s are some great handouts on this not-so-great subject on the L.A. County Dept. of Health Services website. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/phcommon/public/AtoZTopics/AtoZpubDisplayAll.cfm?alpha=B That’s about all you need to know. Sleep tight, hope I helped relieve some of your bed bug fright. Dr. David Baron is the executive director of the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness
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