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October 17, 2010 (San Diego) – Residents in some local communities are itching to oust some unwanted invaders: bed bugs. The blood-sucking insects have become a growing problem in San Diego County in recent months, turning up in hotel rooms to plague travelers. But now Carolyn Sam with the International Rescue Committee of San Diego, an organization that assists refugees, warns that bedbugs are becoming a growing problem in City Heights and El Cajon.

“Help us get the word out to refugees and non-refugees alike: DO NOT PICK UP USED FURNITURE THAT IS JUST SITTING ON THE SIDEWALK,” she wrote in an e-mail to groups working with local refugees. “This is the #1 way that bed bugs are getting into homes in City Heights. Various refugee families in City Heights and El Cajon have already been affected, and the problem continues to grow.”

Entomologist Wendy Gelernter, PhD, made a presentation to IRC staff. She noted that extermination is costly—and often not effective, since bed bugs are developing resistance to pesticides.

Handout is available at: (1. 6MB pdf)

Presentation is available at: (6.5 MB pdf)

Bed bugs are small, wingless parasites that are oval-shaped and red or brown in color. They feed at night and most people can’t feel when they are bitten. Bites are raised, red and itchy, similar to mosquito bites and disappear in a few days. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can relieve itching. Bedbugs can also cause sleepless and mental stress. Fortunately, the bugs do not carry diseases.

The insects are found most often in mattresses, box springs, linens, headboards and other bedroom furniture. However they can invade cracks and crevices in picture frames, couches, baseboards or even electrical outlets and phone jacks.

How do you know if you have bedbugs? Small, dark red or brown spots on mattresses or elsewhere are tell-tale signs.

Bed bugs have developed resistance to the most widely used group of insecticides, the pyrethroids. Pest control companies no longer guarantee treatments for bedbugs and over-the-counter products are also not effective, according to Gelernter—and some can cause health problems for homeowners if not used properly. (Note: it’s a myth that eliminating DDT has caused the rise in bed bugs. In fact, bed bugs had developed a resistance to DDT, too, before the chemical was banned for harm it caused to eagles, pelicans and other wildlife.)

Use of diatomaceous earth (soil made of crushed-up shells) is one way to treat a bed bug infestation. The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons causing them to dehydrate.

Mattress encasements can trap bed bugs and prevent them from biting. Brands that performed well in laboratory testing include Mattress Safe and Protect-A-Bed Buglock. Cost is about $100 each for mattress and box spring encasements.

Commercial grade steam cleaners reach high enough temperatures to kill bed bugs when dry steam is applied to beds, furniture and carpets. Amerivap and Hi Tech Cleaning systems are recommended by Gelernter, but it’s costly at around $800.

Vacuum daily, remove bag immediately and throw away in a tightly sealed plastic garbage bag. Wash clothes and linens in hot water with plenty of soap, then dry on highest setting.

Bedbugs can be physically removed by using a playing card, business card, thin spatula or putty knife to dig bugs out of crevasses where they are hiding. Capture them on clear plastic packing tape, then throw it away in tightly closed plastic garbage bags. Clean your home weekly for best results.

Moving won’t solve the problem, since you’re likely to take the bed bugs with you to your new home. Inspect all used furniture and electronic appliances closely before bringing them into your house.

If you travel, carefully inspect contents of your luggage before bringing into your home to avoid importing hitchhiking bed bugs from your travels.

For more information, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention join statement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, issued in August:

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