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Battling bed bugs

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Their name implies that they're confined to your bedroom, but bed bugs can live anywhere:  hotels, offices, even movie theaters have had infestations. Removing them is a $500 million-a-year industry and the problem continues to grow.

"Anybody and everybody is susceptible to bed bugs. They have no difference whether it's a clean home or dirty home. All they care about is that you have blood in your veins," said professional exterminator Jim Muir.

Bed bugs hibernate. They can go up to 18 months between meals. If they find a warm, dark place in your home, they'll stay there until you do something about it.

"Bed bugs are something you want to address immediately or they become a problem. It's not just treating your bed; you want to check your bed frame, the carpet, really the whole room to make sure you've gotten rid of them completely," explained Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

You know you have bed bugs if you get bite marks in groups of three. They may also leave small red and brown stains at the top of your mattress.

"Don't panic if you have bed bugs," said Hicks. "Call your pest control company and talk to them about the process because what people don't realize is often times you are going to be out of your home for several hours, so you want to be sure you pick a time and day that is convenient for you."

Muir added, "We typically do one of two things; one we recommend highly is the heat treatment. We bring in up to 8 furnaces. We heat the structure up to somewhere between 130-150 degrees… everything inside, clothing, bedding and everything."

A typical heat treatment will run you $1,200 to $1,800 depending on the method used and the size of your home. You may also want to follow that up with monthly chemical treatments, otherwise they may return and you'll have to go through the entire process again.

Hicks says you can try to eliminate the bugs yourself, but only if you're sure it's a small, confined infestation. Wash everything in water above 120 degrees and steam clean rugs and carpets with retail insecticides.

3 Signs of Bed Bugs:

  • Bite marks on the body. These bites usually come in groups of three. It's called the breakfast, lunch and dinner pattern. It's caused by the bite marks the bug makes as it walks across your body.
  • Stains on the mattress.
    Small red and brown stains at the top part and corners of your mattress or near the headboard are caused by the bugs defecating on the way back to their dwelling.
  • A noticeable sweet aroma. A heavy bed bug infestation can cause a sweet aroma in the room where their habitat is located. Some have described it as smelling like raspberries or rotting fruit.

  • DIY Eradication:

    • Find them: Bedbugs like dark, warm places like mattresses, carpeting and cracks in drywall.
    • Eradicate them: Rubbing alcohol will kill bugs and eggs on contact. Launder all clothing/bedding using water above 120 degrees Fahrenheit or freezing the items. In summer, put items in plastic and leave in the sun for a few days. Steam clean rugs and carpets using retail insecticides.


    Hiring a pro:

    • Most states require pros to have a licensure for this job. Other things to look for include long-time presence in the community, local reputation, experience with bed bugs and use of integrated pest management. IPM uses a combination of chemical measures, preventative measures and sanitation to both improve efficacy and limit environmental impact.
    • Expect to pay as much as $1,800, depending on the method you choose, the experience of your exterminator and the size of your home.
    • Most will charge you a fee for consultation, which includes a thorough inspection.
    • Ask questions as they move through the home - reputable contractors should be willing and able to explain to you what they're doing, why, and how they're going to treat your problem.
    • Some also offer (or refer) dog services, which use specially trained dogs to sniff out evidence of bugs.
    • Ask about all your options and what the process is for each, including whether you'll need to leave your home.


    Don't bring bed bugs home:

    • Be careful with your luggage and other belongings while traveling or using public transportation.
    • Do not bring in furnishings you find on the street; thoroughly inspect second-hand furniture store items before purchasing.
    • While traveling, inspect hotel headboards, mattresess and box springs, as bed bugs can survive for months without feeding.
    • Summer camp tip: Inspect your child for signs of bed bug contamination. Bag your child's summer camp belongs in plastic and expose to the sun for a few days if you can. Then wash everything in water hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit or freeze the items.