Bed bugs appear to be on the rise around the world, as more and more experts and professionals in pest control report huge rises in prevalence, even so far as to suggest we are on the verge of a bed bug pandemic.
The results of the 2010 Comprehensive Global Bed Bug Study conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky in the United States found that 95 per cent of respondents said their company had encountered a bed bug infestation in the last year: this compared to only 25 per cent reporting such encounters before 2000. The survey questioned nearly 1,000 US and international pest management companies.
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NPMA, told the press that the study suggests that "we are on the threshold of a bed bug pandemic, not just in the United States, but around the world".
In Britain earlier this week, the pest control company Rentokil reported a 24 per cent rise in the number of bed bug infestations they have been asked to tackle in the first half of this year.
A spokesman for Rentokil told the Daily Mail that "bedbugs are becoming more of a pest problem in this country and around the world".
In 2008, Sydney-based entomologist Stephen Doggett surveyed 121 pest managers across Australia and found that bed bug infestations had gone up by 4,500 per cent since 1999.
One of the reasons often cited for the rise in bed bugs is the increased amount of travelling that we humans undertake, and the bugs hitch a ride in our luggage. The respondents to the NPMA survey said they thought lack of awareness and precautions and changing pest control products and methods were also responsible for the rise.
Some scientists also suggest the insects are becoming resistant to pesticides. Doggett told Australia's The Age newspaper that bed bugs have developed a strong resistance to traditional pyrethroid insecticides, and pest controllers now use nearly 1,000 times the concentration they use to kill other insect infestations.
In the US, bed bugs are infesting homes, hotels, apartment blocks, stores, movie theatres, offices, churches, laundry rooms, college dorms, hospitals, daycare centers, libraries, all forms of transport, and many other places where humans live or come together.
Bed bugs are easy to spot: you don't need a magnifying glass or sophisticated detection equipment, just the naked eye. In fact visual inspection was the preferred method of respondents to the NPMA survey.
They are wingless insects, about the same size and colour as an apple seed, and as well as the bed, they like to hide in suitcases, boxes, and shoes, because these are also near their food supply: living humans.
They are quite elusive: you will probably have to take off the mattress to look for them in the slats or baseboard of the bedframe, or look around the nooks and crannies of the headboard and in the seams and tucks of mattresses and mattress covers and inside duvets and pillows.
They also like to hide in switch plates, upholstery, cracked and broken plaster, skirting boards, picture frames, wallpaper, and furniture crevices.
They come out at night, enticed by the increased levels of carbon dioxide that occur when we are asleep, and they suck our blood, leaving itchy bites. As they tuck into their bloody meal their pale brown flattish bodies become fatter and darker and then, replete, they waddle back to their little abodes.
As well as bites and finding the little critters, other tell-tale signs include blood spots on the sheets, finding tan-coloured husks of skins they shed in the nymph stage, fecal pellets and a distinctive slightly sickly sweet smell.
Bed bugs are not thought to transmit disease.
Once an infestation sets in, they can lay up to 300 eggs in two months, and they can survive up to a year without a blood feed. Also, an infestation quickly spreads to other nearby rooms and apartments.
Here are some of the things you can do to get rid of or prevent bed bug infestations:
Be scrupulous about cleaning and changing bedding: take the mattress off and inspect the baseboard, slats, etc, and vacuum well.
Keep all beds pulled slightly away from the wall, furniture and curtains.
Don't let bedclothes touch the floor, wrap sticky tape (sticky side out) around bed legs, or use traps, to prevent the bugs climbing onto the bed.
Keep the floor under the bed free of clutter: if you must store things under the bed, remove them, empty boxes, and vacuum frequently.
Change sheets and pillow cases once a week: use a hot wash or tumble dry on medium or high heat.
Use light coloured or white sheets and check for spots, either of blood or droppings.
Tuck sheets covering the mattress in tightly or use fitted sheets.
Search for bed bugs (and the nymph husks) along the seams of mattresses (also in hotels, other places you stay) and don't put your bags and luggage on the floor.
When you buy used furniture, check it carefully for signs of bed bugs before bringing it into your home.
If you find an infestation, remove all the items from the bed: pillows, mattress, blankets, sheets, bed slats, etc and vacuum thoroughly and get rid of the contents and bag in a sealed container.
Remember to check and clean inside the vacuum cleaner too.
Seal mattresses and box springs inside special cases to exclude bed bugs.
You can also apply pesticides to cracks and crevices, but you are advised to get a licensed professional to do this and they will probably need to visit at least twice.
Don't apply pesticides to surfaces that will come into contact with people: check the advice that comes with it, and if in doubt, consult a professional.
The Department of Health in Illinois, where there has been a surge in bed bug infestations this year, advised in a recent statement that "pesticide applications should not be done unless bed bugs have been identified by a qualified specialist".
Where in the world did bed bugs ever originate from?
I've never had a case of bed bugs, but after reading the article I'm terrified.
Actually I am, I'll probably become seriously nerotic about it.