Bed bugs: Inbreeding in a bed near you


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Here’s some disgusting news sure to make your skin crawl, swell and itch. Bed bug populations are thriving. And it turns out there’s a reason for the recent infestation: inbreeding.

While other organisms eventually die out from extensive inbreeding — due to severe mutations — bed bugs are producing healthy offspring and creating new infestations.

Coby Schal, PhD, and Ed Vargo, PhD, entomologists at North Carolina State University, studied the genetics of bed bugs from three multistory apartment buildings in North Carolina and New Jersey, and found high levels of relatedness within each apartment and very low genetic diversity within each building. Meaning? Infestations begin from only one or two introductions of the bug. (Click here for the full study.)

“Inbreeding gives bed bugs an advantage in being able to colonize,” Schal said. “A single female that has been mated is able to colonize and start a new infestation. Her progeny and brothers and sisters can then mate with each other, exponentially expanding the population.” Ew.

In addition, bed bugs have formed a resistance to insecticides. But rest easy, new research has found that it’s possible to “shut down the mechanism that is linked to breaking down the insecticide and making the bed bug resistant.”

The science is a bit baffling (so I won’t bore or confuse you with it), but lucky for you, there are measures to help prevent a bed bug attack while we wait for a miracle cure:

Step 1: Prevent
• Do not bring bed frames, mattresses, box springs or upholstered furniture from the street into your home.
• Inspect beds and furniture when traveling. Keep suitcases off the bed and floor, and check them before leaving.
• If you have a sneaking suspicion that you’ve been exposed, wash and dry your clothes on hot settings or store in a sealed plastic bag until you can.
• Seal cracks with caulk, which will prevent bed bugs from entering your home.
• Clean the clutter, which offers bed bugs great hiding places.

Step 2: Identify
• Check out the picture to the left. That’s a bed bug. You’re welcome.
• Baby bed bugs are semi-transparent, light tan and the size of a poppy seed. Adult bed bugs are flat, have rusty-red-colored oval bodies and are about the size of an apple seed.
• Be on the lookout for blood stains, droppings and eggs in mattress seams, sheets, pillow cases, upholstered furniture, crevices and cracks in furniture, and baseboards of walls. Use a flashlight and magnifying glass and begin by checking 10 ft. to 20 ft. around where you sleep or sit, which is how far bed bugs tend to travel.
• People who react to bites will get small bumps or large, itchy welts within minutes or days of being bitten.

Step 3: Removal
• Contact a licensed pest control company — treatment requires at least two visits and a third follow-up to confirm all bed bugs have been vanquished. Severe infestations may require more visits.
• You can reduce the infestation with a few tricks. Force them out of cracks with a putty knife, playing card or blow dryer on a low setting. Catch them with sticky packing tape or kill with paper towels. The heat from a blow dryer will kill them after 30 seconds of continuous contact.
• Wipe away dead bugs, blood strains, eggs and droppings with hot soapy water. Wash all items with bug stains in hot water (140 degrees F) and dry on the highest setting for at least 20 minutes.
• Vacuum carpets, floors, bed frames, furniture, cracks and crevices daily. Empty the vacuum outside of your home after each use.
• Enclose infested mattresses and box springs in a cover that is labeled “allergen rated,”
“for dust mites” or “for bed bugs” for at least a full year. Check for rips or openings and tape them up.

Click here for more tips and close-up photos. Again, you’re welcome.