Bed bugs are equal opportunity feeders, says University of Kentucky's entomology department member Kenneth F. Haynes.
"They don't discriminate between the rich and the poor," he said, but there is a link to economic levels. Some people can't afford to hire the best of the best pest control operator.
An example Haynes gave at the E. Paul Catts memorial lecture at Washington State University on Thursday called "The Resurging Bed Bug: Mysterious, Maddening and Motivating" was the case of an older man who had physical and mental health issues.
"He was living with them in a serious way," Haynes said, and his health condition let their presence get out of control.
A photo showed brown specks all along mattress seams -- some were bugs, some were fecal matter -- creating an audible gasp from the audience.
The man needed transportation to the hospital but when emergency crews arrived, they saw the problem couldn't take him in that condition. Instead, they called the local Hazmat team for help. Crews lined an ambulance in plastic and transported the patient while wearing body suits and masks.
"Poverty plays a role in bed bug problems, primarily because there's no agreement" for who's responsible for dealing with them in apartment buildings, he said. Often, as soon as they are controlled in one area, they show up in another.
Bed bugs are nothing new.
The first record of them comes from ancient Egypt, about 4,000 years ago, he said. Leftover artifacts discovered from that era are identical to the present-day pest.
There have been manuals about their control for a long time.
Englishman John Southall wrote a document called "A Treatise of Buggs" in 1730 and created a liquor to destroy them.
A manual from 1777, "The Compleat Vermin-Killer," recommended "to fill the cracks of the bed with gunpowder and light it on fire."
More recent generations lived with bed bugs and adapted to their presence. They poured boiling water over the slats and springs of beds and used a coal oil-soaked rag as well.
The pesticide DDT began being used in military environments in the late 1940s. Later, DDT-coated wallpaper with Disney cartoon characters on it was sold and encouraged to be used in homes.
However, bed bugs are still very active -- and last year was the most dramatic for their growth.
"It's been an escalation that would be unimaginable to pest control operators working just 10 years ago," he said.
Apartments are a major source in many parts of the country, especially in urban areas.
"They're anywhere and everywhere," Haynes said, "but especially where there's a human available night after night."
Single-family homes are not immune, he said, especially if there are travelers in the family or students coming home from college. Movie theaters, laundromats, hospital rooms, public transportation and college dormitories have all been known to have infestations.
"There's probably not a major campus in this country that hasn't, in one way or another, had to deal with bed bugs," he said, but they're getting better at dealing with it.
Bed bugs also are found in hotels and motels, and brand names can suffer serious damage even with unconfirmed reports.
In 2010, bed bug issues closed Niketown and Victoria's Secret locations in New York City. In 2011, bed bug cases tripled in the New York City public school system.
The United Nations building's issue with them was called an "ongoing battle" by Time Magazine.
"When anyone thinks of bed bugs, they think of New York City," Haynes said. "... As long as they have people coming and going, they're likely to have reintroductions of the problem."
About 75 percent of people show a reaction to bed bug bites, and the elderly may be less reactive. Overall, reactions vary considerably person to person but always leaves raised red spots. It may look like poison ivy and causes itching.
Often, bites are lined up across the first exposed area of skin they come across, such as a person's right side if they're sleeping on their left.
Haynes, while realizing the trouble bed bugs cause, also manages to see the interesting side of the pests.
Well over 90 percent of their lives are spent in the hidden cracks and seams of the mattress, Haynes said. They generally come out when hungry, which may be once a week or more often if the weather's warmer. They hide to lay eggs, mate, molt and defecate.
Bed bugs go through five developmental stages before molting into adults, and require a blood meal to develop to next stage. Also, they must feed before laying eggs.
Haynes said their unusual mating system is virtually unfound in any other animals. Called hypodermic or traumatic insemination, the male penetrates through the cuticle of the female's abdomen. He deposits sperm into her body cavity, not reproductive organs. After mating, she can lay about 15 eggs for every blood meal.
"Bed bugs are really beautiful, but I guess it all depends on your point of view," Haynes said.
Kelsey Husky can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 237, or by email to khuskydnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: DNKelseyHusky.
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