Judging from the surge and eventual disappearance of news stories about bedbugs a couple of years ago, the tiny creatures are no longer a problem. But someone forgot to tell the bugs.
They’re still out there, in people’s homes, hotels plain and fancy, and many other places, according to Kansas State University assistant professor Sarah Zukoff.
“Bedbugs can happen to everyone. There is a negative stigma that surrounds them, so many people are too embarrassed to ask for help,” said Zukoff, who is an entomology specialist with K-State Research and Extension. “Bedbug hitchhikers aren’t choosey, and can end up in any of our homes if given accidental transport. I’ve run into bedbugs during hotel stays.”
One of the most ironic times bedbugs, known to scientists as Cimex lectularis, were discovered was at the hotel of a national entomology meeting, said Zukoff, who is based in Garden City, Kansas.
“Although, many of us insect geeks took specimens home in vials, they could easily have tagged along in our baggage too,” Zukoff said.
If you find them, you can prevent them from coming home with you, but that means knowing how and where to look for them.
Related: Bedbugs 101
If you want to inspect for bedbugs, she said, either because you’ve had itchy bites at home or are staying in a hotel or elsewhere, use a flashlight to check the bedframe, headboard, under the mattress tag, and seams on the mattress and box springs. Also check cracks and crevices near the bed, including floor molding, electrical outlets, and switchplate covers.
If you find what you think might be bedbugs, collect some of them with tweezers, seal them in a plastic bag or jar, or in a piece of tape. Take the sample to a county extension office. In Kansas, that would be any K-State Research and Extension district or county office. The bugs can be identified by K-State’s Insect Diagnostic Lab.
Besides hotel hopping, bedbug infestations can happen through other means, Zukoff said. For example, a relative or friend comes to visit and the next thing you know, you have little itchy bite marks on your body. These marks will usually be in small clusters or linear patterns of three, often referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Apartments that share piping or wiring with infested neighbors also are common modes of entry. Bringing home used furniture or mattresses that are unknowingly infested is another way infestations start.
“Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the problem,” Zukoff said. “Bedbugs will not go away on their own. Dealing with bedbugs can be expensive and not every pest control company knows what they are doing when it comes to bedbug control.”
If an infestation is confirmed to be bedbugs, the next step is deciding whether to call a pest management professional or manage the problem yourself. Choosing the right help and helping yourself is the most important thing anyone can do to fight an infestation, she added.