Originally Published: February 26, 2011 10 p.m.
Traveling on business has some people nervous, and not because of a fear of flying. Many people are concerned about bedbugs. These critters, which were largely eradicated in the 1950s, have made a comeback in recent years. The insects have become widespread in certain urban areas. New York City has been named the nation's most bedbug-infested city, with Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati and Chicago not far behind.
The name "bedbug" comes from the insects' favorite habitat - in or around beds or areas where people sleep. They often hide along mattress seams, under nightstands or in dust ruffles. Bedbugs are not a sign of an unclean home. And they're not just found in hotel beds or homes; bedbugs may turn up in clothing and fabric stores and in movie theaters, too.
Bedbugs - officially named Cimex lectularius - are mainly active at night. They are from an insect family that feeds on the blood of warm-blooded animals. Bedbugs just happen to prefer humans. Adult bedbugs are reddish-brown, flattened and oval shaped. They sometimes are mistaken for other insects, such as carpet beetles.
Typically, bedbug bites are located on the face, neck, arms and hands. Their bites may leave red marks - with a darker red spot in the middle - or they may be colorless. Some people have no reaction to the bites, while others experience an allergic reaction that can include severe itching, blisters or hives. If you have a reaction, see your doctor. For others, a skin cream containing hydrocortisone and oral antihistamine may speed recovery and stop the itching.
An infestation of bedbugs is a challenge to eliminate, so it's best to prevent them. Here are some tips:
When staying in a hotel, check the bed thoroughly before you go to sleep. Keep your suitcase off the floor and on a luggage rack. When you return home, wash everything in hot water.
Wash and dry any new clothing, towels or sheets before using the items.
Consider using plastic covers on the mattresses in your home.
Avoid buying secondhand sofas or beds.
If you experience a bedbug invasion in your home, try spreading boric acid powder around the floor near the bed or sofa that has been infested. Another remedy is to spray infested areas several times with mouthwash, wait for a time, and then wash all affected items in very hot water. Other treatments may include a combination of the following:
A thorough vacuuming of cracks and crevices to physically remove the insects from your home.
If it's winter and the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, place infested items in a bag outside for several days, as bedbugs are vulnerable to freezing temperatures.
During the summer, try bagging up the infested items and placing them in a closed car that is parked in the sun. The temperature needs to reach at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because bedbugs can hide and also live for several months without eating, you may need a professional exterminator to rid your home of the pests.