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Four Stars Won't Stop Bedbug Bites

Experts warn renewed insect infestation affects even the fanciest U.S. hotels

TUESDAY, July 31, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're staying in a swanky hotel this summer, don't be surprised if bedbugs bite while you sleep tight.

The blood-sucking critters are on the march, and experts warn they might be more likely to plague a four-star resort than a fleabag motel.

It appears international tourists are bringing the insects to the United States, where they find cozy homes in hotel rooms and make their presence known.

"You're at the mercy of the bedbugs," says Philip Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida. "You don't know they're there until it's too late."

Koehler first rang the alarm about bedbug infestations earlier this month. He says pest control workers are getting as many as 10 times more bedbug reports from hotels, motels and resorts than several years ago. Luckily, bedbugs are nothing more than a nuisance. They're about the size of a ladybug, and easily visible to the naked eye.

The problem is no one sees the bugs. They spend their daylight hours in cracks and crevices, only coming out after dark, Koehler explains.

"At night, they crawl into bed with a person, climb onto their skin, insert their mouth parts and suck blood," he says. "At the same time, they will exude a droplet of excrement, which causes spotting on sheets and pillowcases. When they're done with a blood meal, they crawl back to their hiding places and stay there for another day."

A bedbug bite, which feels like a mosquito bite, usually causes irritation and itching, although an allergic reaction is possible, Koehler says.

On the bright side, bedbugs won't make anyone sick, even though they do harbor germs.

"They aren't very good at transmitting disease, but they're very annoying when you're trying to sleep," Koehler says.

He has a few theories about why bedbugs are making a comeback after a half-century of causing few problems in America: "They have been a problem in other parts of the world. People may be visiting, and bringing them with themselves and their luggage. They crawl out at night and hide in hotel rooms."

Frank Meek, a pest control expert, agrees foreigners could be at fault. The infestations "do seem to come in the larger metropolitan business centers, like San Francisco, New York and South Florida," he says.

Changes in pest-control methods could be another factor, Koehler says. Exterminators have turned to poisoned bait instead of insecticide, but bedbugs only feed on people.

"There's nothing really controlling bedbugs," he says. "And they haven't been around for such a long time that most of the staff in motels and hotels doesn't know what a bedbug infestation looks like."

Getting rid of bedbugs isn't easy.

"We go through a procedure of cleaning and replacing furniture if necessary, and we do chemical applications to the areas where we suspect problems," Meek says. "The way that most of these buildings are constructed, you have shared passageways from room to room for climate control, plumbing, electrical and fire control. In a lot of cases, you can run these fellows from room to room or floor to floor."

What To Do

If you're a hotel or motel owner, learn about the signs of bedbug infestation, such as spotted sheets and pillowcases, and train your staff to look out for them.

If you're a guest and feel strange bites in the night, ask for another room.

Learn all about bedbugs, and see a picture of one at work.

About.com's insect expert will tell you all about bedbugs and how they made appearances in blues songs.

SOURCES: Interviews with Philip Koehler, Ph.D., professor, entomology, University of Florida, Gainesville; Frank Meek, national pest control technical manager, Orkin Exterminating, Atlanta.
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