Sleep tight? Bedbugs are more common than years ago and they can’t be prevented

Feb 1, 2011 Comments Off on Sleep tight? Bedbugs are more common than years ago and they can’t be prevented

P.R. Olson, owner of Olson’s Pest Technicians, examines a mattress in a Sioux Falls home for bedbugs. / Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader

Written by

Dorene Weinstein
Where bedbugs are:

Bedbugs love to hide in the seams of your mattress

In sofa seams

In cracks in the bed frame and head board

Under chairs, couches, beds and dust covers

Under rugs, edges of carpets, drawers, baseboards and window casings

Behind light switches, electrical outlet plates, cracks in plaster

Inside televisions, radio clocks and phones

In Backpacks, sleeping bags, clothes

Behind wallpaper, picture frames and other dark areas

Quick tips to help remove bedbugs:

The best way to deal with bed bugs is by sealing your mattress and pillows with a plastic or hypoallergenic zipped cover. This traps the bugs that are inside your pillow and prevents them from feeding and kills them over time – remember, a nymph can live for two months without feeding, an adult can survive more than 12 months.

Do not apply any pesticide to mattresses or surfaces that would come in contact with the skin unless the pesticide specifically states that the product can be used in this manner.

Wash all your linens and place them in a hot dryer for 20 minutes (or you can freeze them at -5 C or below for five days).

You can vacuum to capture bed bugs and their eggs, but because the eggs are embedded to the fabric, you may have to scrape the surface. Once you have vacuumed everything, immediately place the vacuum bag into a plastic bad, seal it tight and dispose (outside).

Hang clothing in the closet farthest from the bed

Place luggage on the folding rack found in most hotels

Place luggage in the dry cleaning bag found in the hotel.

Don’t bring home a used mattress or upholstered furniture.

If you’re traveling, find out where the critters have been and protect yourself from bringing home an unwanted visitor. Go to to find a listing of hotels that have had bedbug problems.

They’re creepy, crawly, revolting organisms that live among us, feeding and breeding off our waste, our homes and even our blood.

That’s not a tag line from the latest horror movie. Rather, it’s a portrait of the pests that invade our space.

Cockroaches, termites and bedbugs have adapted and persevered throughout the ages.

While many of us have no complaint about sharing the world with less appealing life forms, some organisms seem to be especially egregious and tough to take.

Take bedbugs, for instance. Bedbugs are parasites that need a blood meal to survive and breed – and the blood comes from us.

The population of bedbugs have boomed over the past several years.

“Five years ago, I used to get a bedbug call a month; now, it’s a call a day,” says P. R. Olson, owner of Olson’s Pest Technicians in Sioux Falls.

And their calling card – specks of blood on your sheets and bites on your body – is enough to freak out the most unflappable folks.

“It can make it difficult to sleep. They feel a social stigma,” says Jon Kieckhefer, an an entomologist and extension agronomy educator with South Dakota State University.

But the presence of bedbugs has nothing to do with good hygiene. They’ve been found in lavish hotels and swanky apartments.

Bedbugs are hitchhikers. They’re found all over the world and prefer to live in dark areas. They’ll make their home in such places as carpet edges, baseboards, behind wall switch plates, in clothes, bed frames, cracks, behind wall paper, in sleeping bags, even in clock radios and phones, according to the website

The bugs are flat, brown, wingless and about 3/8 of an inch long. They have six legs and are shiny reddish-brown, but after a meal of blood, they appear dark brown and swollen.

The insects can live up to a year and a half without drinking a drop of blood and the nymphs can go for months without feeding, says Kieckhefer. Often people don’t feel the insect piercing their skin but may wake up with bug bites on their arms, hands, neck and face, according to a Mayo Clinic website.

Adults take about 15 minutes to fill up. When a food sources is available, the bugs feed about every three days.

Bites are arranged in line or a cluster. Some people experience severe itching, blisters or hives, with welts that can persist for an extended period of time, Kieckhefer says. Others have no reaction at all.

When bedbugs are found early, they’re easily controlled, experts say. Unfortunately, they’re difficult to discover unless there’s a massive infestation.

Prevention is a non-issue. “You can’t put bedbugs and prevention in the same sentence,” Olson says. “There’s not much out there a person can do.”

When the chemical DDT was widely used, the insect was nearly eradicated. But when DDT was outlawed and people started using more earth-friendly chemicals, the bedbug population soared.

But even if DDT was used today, Kieckhefer says, it wouldn’t affect bedbugs because they developed a resistance to the chemical.

A fairly effective way to treat for bedbugs is rigorous vacuuming and heat from a dryer, says Denise Van Roekel, health program coordinator for the Sioux Falls Department of Health. “Do thorough cleaning for two to three weeks” to eliminate the insects in both the adult stage and the nymph stage.

Kill adults by vacuuming, cleaning and washing sheets, bedding and mattress pads. “Anything you can put in the washer and dryer, wash and dry and anything you can vacuum, vacuum,” Van Roekel says. Repeat the process for two to three weeks to eliminate the nymphs as well.

For severe infestation, experts recommend hiring an exterminator and getting two treatments – one to kill the adults the second to kill the nymphs.

After your home is as bug free as can be, use encasements on your mattress and box spring.

Olson sells cloth encasements with a zipper made for mattresses, box springs and couches. A set of encasements for a box spring and mattress sell for $50 to $75 and come in every size, including for cribs.

The most common type of cockroach in South Dakota homes is the German cockroach, Olson says. Unlike bedbugs, they spread disease through contamination of food and utensils. They carry diseases such as salmonella and E. Coli, which can cause diarrhea and food poisoning.

They can destroy paper and fabric, create stains on surfaces and will secrete a noxious odor. The detritus from infestation, such as saliva, feces and cast skins can irritate allergies and asthma in people, especially children.

They are nocturnal organisms, becoming more active at night. They like to live in corners, cracks and crevices.

The insect is a 1/4 inch to 1 inch long and is a two-tone brown, Olson says. “They’re looking for food, warmth and moisture” and are usually found in the kitchen and bathroom.

Known as pantry pests, cockroaches will eat most anything humans eat, Kieckhefer says. But they also feed on glue, leather, book bindings and bar soap.

A “cockroach can survive a week on a greasy fingerprint,” Kieckhefer says.

The good news is, cockroaches are the one pest homeowners can be successful in controlling, Kieckhefer says. It’s all about sanitation and removing their food source.

“Exclude them from the food by storing food in sealed plastic containers. That will go a long ways toward eliminating them,” Kieckhefer says.

Get rid of corrugated cardboard boxes, don’t leave dirty dishes around and take out the trash daily.

Olson uses bait products to exterminate them. “They think it’s a food, but it has an insecticide and is effective.” The gel is injected into cracks, they eat it and die quickly. “It creates a domino effect because they’ll eat one another and die” from eating a contaminated cockroach. Or they’ll eat their feces and die.

Termites are one of the most common insects on earth and have been around for 250 million years. They cause more damage to American homes than tornadoes, hurricanes, wind and hail storms combined, according to

They don’t care about food or people. They like wood.

Homeowners can tell if they have termites by the accumulation of sheet rock dust, dirt or mud left as termites decompose wood, paper, ceilings and floors in basements and crawl spaces, Olson says.

Unfortunately, termites can be active for years without leaving many obvious signs. “They live underground and build long tunnels to the home. If you find termites, contact a pest control service,” Kieckhefer says.

“Treatment can take place year around,” Olson adds.

Reach Dorene Weinstein at 331-2315.

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