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The Truth About Bedbugs

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With everyone finishing out summer vacation and trips to near and far, and away from one’s own bed, I wondered if any one had been unfortunate enough to develop bites secondary to bed bugs? Bed bugs, also known as Cimex Lectularis have been a known human parasite (remember the lovely louse in hair) for centuries. It is only recently that there has been a resurgence of this blood-sucking insect in all parts of this country and the developed world. YUCK!

Bed bugs are flat, oval shaped and about 5mm long. They seek warmth and that helps them locate warm-blooded bodies. They usually avoid the light, and hide in mattresses, crevices of box springs, headboards, and even behind hanging pictures. Did you know that they can survive a year without feeding? No wonder we are loosing the bed bug fight.

We humans also help to move them from location to location via clothing, suitcases, personal possessions and bedding. Now I am really thinking about moving my son into that dorm next week!!

Looking at the literature (JAMA, April 2009) it seems that more than 40 diseases have been attributed to bed bugs, but there is little evidence that such transmission has ever occurred. It is the reaction to the bite that it most bothersome as well as the mental anguish associated with it.

The usual response to a bed bug bite is to little to no reaction at the site of the bite. About 30 percent of people will develop more significant reactions with larger local reactions that are more bothersome. These bites may be treated with oral anti-histamines and topical steroid cream, and seem to resolve over several weeks. An antibacterial cream may be used if the bites become locally infected due to scratching.

With all of that being said, there are currently no repellents that have been shown to be effective. Mosquito repellant and oil of lemon eucalyptus may be of some help, but wearing these to bed every night doesn’t sound wise. Pesticides for spraying mattresses are also a cause of health concerns and are not routinely recommended.

Let’s just hope we are all in the 70 percent that don’t know if we have been exposed and leave it at that!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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