“Good night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” never rang more true. There’s a resurgence of bedbugs in the U.S., and many people are getting eaten alive without even knowing what’s hit them. Warning: This post is not for the squeamish.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we are in the midst of the biggest bedbug infestation in the U.S. since World War II. The small, flat, oval, and reddish brown insect is infesting hospitals, hotel rooms, college dormitories, and now peoples’ homes. They live in the crevices and folds of mattresses, sofas and sheets. Then, most often before dawn, they emerge to feed on human blood. The EPA is holding their first ever bedbug summit on Tuesday.

Bedbugs are not microscopic–that is, they can be seen with the naked eye. They are , however, small–about 4-5 mm in length. They feed on warm blood, so humans are a favorite meal; but bedbugs will bite pets too in a pinch. This makes it especially hard to control residential infestations.

Since bedbugs neither jump nor fly, they must climb up beds to reach their prey. They sense heat, so a common method of attack is for the insect to climb up the bedroom walls to the ceiling. As they make their way across the ceiling, they’ll feel for heat. Once they feel body heat rising upward, they drop; and the party begins.

Bedbug bites are often characterized by three raised, welt-like bumps in a row. These bumps are indistinguishable from mosquito bites. They can be very itchy, and this hyper-irritating itch is usually the first sign that bedbugs are present. The diagnosis can be made by the three bumps, which are referred to as, “breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Because bedbugs are most active right before dawn, their feeding is rarely felt by the meal-host. Bedbugs feast and go back into hiding, where they come out every five days for more food. They can, however, stay dormant (without food) for up to eighteen months. Grossed out, yet?

The first step in fixing the problem is diagnosing whether an infestation is present. Infestations usually result from the transmission from travelers, students, and even outdoor pets. The next step is detection (usually done by pest control companies), then quarantine (cleaning and keeping clean) and treatment. Treatment can be through systemic (medication) or topical (hydrocortisone) corticosteroids. Applying hot water to the bites is a home remedy that is said to produce great results; mind you, the water must be hot enough to neutralize the poison left by the bedbugs, so it should be somewhat uncomfortable when applied, but not too hot to cause scalding.

OK, we’ll I’m creeped out by this news; especially since my family and I travel enough to increase our chances of infestation. If you are itching uncontrollably, but can find no source of irritant–no mosquitoes, no change of soap or laundry detergent, not eating anything different–then think bedbugs. Look for bites and if you find three in a row, you better figure you’ve become breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call the pest control and get your placed cleaned. Yeccchhh…I’m grossed out too.

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