October 24, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt

With the bedbug epidemic on the rise in the United States, an increasing number of Kentuckians wake up in the morning to find they’ve had their first experience with the pests, said Michael Potter, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture urban entomologist. 

Bedbugs are small, dark brown bugs about the size of a tick that make their homes in small crevices in houses, apartments, dormitories and hotel rooms. The pests don’t crawl in from the outdoors. They are transported by clinging to clothing, suitcases or furniture. 
“They are amazing hitchhikers,” Potter said. 

Potter said bedbugs tend to be worse in larger metropolitan areas, but can also be found in small town America. The largest concentrations of bedbugs in the state are probably in northern Kentucky, Louisville and Lexington. He said area health departments have received a large number of complaints of bedbugs this year, but added many cases aren’t reported to the health department.

No one is immune from getting bedbugs. Potter said they can be found in million dollar homes and lower end establishments. Since they are small and stay hidden during the daytime, bedbugs can be difficult for the amateur eye to see. People should be suspicious of bedbugs if they wake up with itchy welts on exposed areas of their bodies, such as face, neck, back, arms and legs. If bedding or a piece of furniture contains bed bugs, it will also have blackish spotting from the bugs’ residue.

Potter said the most common places to find the insects are along seams and edges of mattresses and box springs, especially close to the pillow area. Bedbugs survive off the blood of warm-blooded animals, including pets, and like to be near their food source. Bedbugs usually bite people at night while they sleep. 

The riskiest way to become infested with bedbugs is to pick up used furniture, such as beds, mattresses and couches, which has been discarded on the street or in dumpsters. There is the possibility that these items are there because they are infested with the pests. There is also a small risk in buying anything secondhand that has not been laundered. 

Traveling also increases a person’s chances of getting bedbugs, because they can be found in hotel rooms. 

“It’s going to become more and more of a standard practice for travelers to do an inspection of their beds before they turn in for the night,” he said.

Though the reason bedbugs came back to the United States is a mystery, one of the possible explanations for the resurgence is an increase in international travel. While bedbug cases in this country dropped in the 1940s and 1950s, there are areas of the world that never got rid of the bugs.

It is very difficult to get rid of bedbugs once a home is infested. UK entomology doctoral student Alvaro Romero found that bedbugs have developed immunities to insecticides pest control companies commonly use. Another possible reason for the resurgence is modern insecticides target cockroaches and ants but have little effect on bedbugs, Potter said.
“The prospects for the future are not good,” he said. “There’s no reason to think the problem is going to subside anytime soon.”

If a person suspects they have bedbugs, they should contact a pest control professional. While hiring a professional may be costly, Potter said this isn’t the type of insect people should try to get rid of themselves, because the insects tend to hide in cryptic places. A pest control professional may have to make several visits and do several treatments to get rid of bedbugs. 

Items that are heavily infested with bedbugs may need to be discarded, but if a person wants to keep an infested bed, they should buy an encasement for the mattress and the box spring and leave it on for at least a year. 

Potter said bedbugs have never been known to transmit diseases to humans. However, people who have been bitten by bedbugs may want to see their doctor, who can prescribe treatment for the bites.


Michael Potter, 859-257-2398