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Watching Out for Bedbugs

Along with other insect-related problems we’re worrying about (bites from ticks, mosquitos and ants, to name a few) we’re got an even nastier one: bedbugs. And they’re growing in number.

Although bedbugs aren’t dangerous (unlike ticks, say, that can give you Lyme disease) they’re expert biters. According to Seemal R. Desai, MD, who has a private practice in Plano, Texas and is clinical assistant professor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “The most common sign of bedbugs is having bite marks on your body, which can sometimes turn into itchy welts.”

Additionally, they’re extremely difficult to eliminate, unlike other pests. The only way to do it is via a long, painstaking process by professional exterminators.

One of the likeliest places to find bedbugs is in a hotel or motel, so in vacation season it’s especially important to look for the little critters. To help find bedbugs before they find you (and your belongings), Desai recommends looking for the following signs near places where you sleep:

A sweet, musty odor: This kind of smell often indicates a bedbug infestation. Bedbugs produce chemicals to help them communicate. Not everyone can detect the smell, though, so even if there’s no noticeable odor, you should still check for bugs using the tips below.

Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture: Examine your blankets, sheets and mattress pads, and then check the mattress and box spring. Are there specks of blood anywhere, especially near the seams? If so, there could be an infestation. You should also check on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.

Exoskeletons: Bedbugs shed their outer shell, leaving it behind. Look for these shells on the mattress, mattress pad, and beneath couch cushions.

Tiny, blackish specks: If you see blackish specks on the bedding, mattress, or headboard, it could be bedbug excrement.

Eggs: Females lay white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. You’ll have to check extra carefully for these eggs, since mature bedbugs are only about the size of an apple seed.

“Most people who get bedbugs do so while traveling, making it critical to keep an eye out for infestations,” Desai says. “If you do get bedbugs and have many bites or a bite that looks infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat an infection and help relieve the itch.”

For more information on how to look for bugs and have bites treated, see American Academy of Determatology’s video “How to Check for Bedbugs” on the organization’s website, www.aad.org.

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