JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Commander, Navy Region Southeast initiated an awareness campaign Sept. 27 to ensure a large knowledge base about a little pest that has become more prevalent throughout the United States.
In recent years, a worldwide resurgence of bed bugs has invaded public consciousness. The way people live today, with increased domestic and international travel, living in close quarters, and limited use of insecticides, have all contributed to the bed bugs' unwelcome return. While the mere mention of the pint-sized pest is enough to make anyone's skin crawl, knowing what they are, where they come from, and how to treat and prevent them are important to calming fears about their significance as a threat to public health.
The small, brown, nocturnal insects survive on the blood of their hosts, which are usually sleeping humans. "Bed" bug is something of a misnomer as they can live just about anywhere, including clothing, carpets, cracks, and crevices. While they are not known to carry diseases like mosquitoes or ticks, they can be difficult to eliminate and can make life miserable for anyone who experiences an infestation. These unpleasant characteristics have made the bed bug an object of fear for many, including military members and their families.
Dr. Harold J. Harlan, a board-certified Entomologist of the Information Services Division of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board in Washington, D.C., has studied Cimex lectularius L., the common bed bug, for more than 38 years. In his dealings with both the insects and with people, including those bitten by them and those tasked with controlling them, he's ready and willing to address the common perceptions about bed bug behavior and their effect on quality of life.
"The most common public misconception about bed bugs is that they are only present in unsanitary conditions," said Harlan. "The reality is that bed bugs have been found in just about every place you find people, including hotels, apartment buildings, cruise ships, movie theaters, trains, and long-term care facilities."
Bed bugs and their eggs are transferred from location to location in a variety of ways, most commonly on bedding, moving boxes, and furniture. Travelers are especially vulnerable to picking up bed bugs on both their luggage and clothing.
Reactions to bed bug bites vary from individual to individual. While bites often go undetected, they can cause skin reactions after repeated bites that are the result of proteins in the bed bugs' saliva. Very often, people will seek medical attention for bed bug bites because of their general fear of the insect.
"Another common misconception that bed bug bites cause terrible and long-lasting medical problems for their victims," said Harlan.
Most of the time, concern about the bites drives people to seek information and help.
"Usually, we hear from individuals who have stayed somewhere and been bitten," said Lt. Cmdr. Craig Stoops, acting officer in charge of the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE), a field activity of the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, located on board Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. "We receive anywhere from one to two inquiries about bed bugs every month."
Sailors and their families can take a number of steps to keep bed bugs out of their homes.
Travelers can treat luggage with a commercially available, EPA-labeled pesticide developed specifically for these insects. Check hotel rooms for bed bugs and inform the management if any are detected. Keep luggage and personal items off of the floor and hang clothing that is not being worn. When returning home, avoid bringing bed bugs into the home by checking belongings for bugs or eggs, which are both readily visible. Wash affected clothing in hot water followed by drying in a hot dryer, which will kill bed bugs in all states of development. Vacuum bed bugs from box springs and mattresses with a high energy particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum. Seal any openings where they have access to the home. Enclose mattresses and box springs in commercially available plastic covers, which will prevent bed bugs from entering and entomb any bugs that are already present.
If a bed bug infestation is discovered, seek the services of a qualified pest management professional. They use a variety of extermination methods, including pesticide placement, heat, cold and steam.
Many detailed resources about bed bug control are available through both government and university Web sites. Another good place to get objective information is with state agricultural extension services. Understanding bed bugs and how to deal with them will bring peace of mind, and a better night's sleep.
For more information on bed bugs, infestation and extermination, visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, http://www.nmcphc.med.navy.mil/ and the EPA Bed Bug Web Site, http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/bedbugs.html.