According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of bedbug populations. In addition to being found in private residences, such as apartments and single-family homes, bedbugs are increasingly affecting restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and schools and day care centers.
"Although bedbugs don't usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights," said board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Plano, Texas and serves as clinical assistant professor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "The most common sign of bedbugs is having bite marks on your body, which can sometimes turn into itchy welts."
To help find bedbugs before they find you (and your belongings), Dr. Desai recommends looking for the following signs near places where you sleep:
1. A sweet, musty odor: If you notice a sweet, musty odor in your hotel room, cruise ship cabin, or other sleeping area, there may be a heavy bedbug infestation in the room. Bedbugs produce chemicals to help them communicate, although not everyone will notice the smell.
2. Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture: Look carefully at your blankets, sheets and mattress pads, and then check the mattress and box spring. Are there specks of blood anywhere, especially near the seams? If so, there could be a bedbug infestation. You should also check for specks of blood on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.
3. Exoskeletons: Bedbugs have an outer shell that they shed and leave behind. Do you see shell-like remains on the mattress, mattress pad or beneath couch cushions?
4. Tiny, blackish specks: If you see blackish specks on the bedding, mattress, or headboard, it could be bedbug excrement.
5. Eggs: After mating, female bedbugs lay white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. Keep in mind that these will be small, as a bedbug is only about the size of an apple seed.
"Most people who get bedbugs do so while traveling, making it critical to keep an eye out for infestations," said Dr. Desai. "If you do get bedbugs and have many bites or a bite that looks infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat an infection and help relieve the itch."
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