published Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Bedbugs bite

by Emily Bregel
  • photo
    This 2006 photograph depicted a frontal view of an adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius, as it was in the process of ingesting a blood meal from the arm of a “voluntary” human host.

    Bed bugs are not vectors in nature of any known human disease. Although some disease organisms have been recovered from bed bugs under laboratory conditions, none have been shown to be transmitted by bed bugs outside of the laboratory. Bed bug bites are difficult to diagnose due to the variability in bite response between people, and due to the change in skin reaction for the same person over time. It is best to collect and identify bed bugs to confirm bites. Bed bugs are responsible for loss of sleep, discomfort, disfiguring from numerous bites and occasionally bites may become infected. The common bed bug C. lectularius is a wingless, red-brown, blood-sucking insect that grows up to 7 mm in length and has a lifespan from 4 months up to 1 year. Bed bugs hide in cracks and crevices in beds, wooden furniture, floors, and walls during the daytime and emerge at night to feed on their preferred host, humans.

    Bed bug bites can result in clinical manifestations; the most common are small clusters of extremely pruritic, erythematous papules or wheals that represent repeated feedings by a single bed bug. Less common but more severe manifestations include grouped vesicles, giant urticaria, and hemorrhagic bullous eruptions. Bites should be managed symptomatically with topical emollients, topical corticosteroids, oral antihistamines, or some combination of these treatments.

Scott Settles of Middle Valley hasn’t had a good night’s sleep for two weeks since his war against the bedbugs began.

The self-employed contractor still wakes in the middle of the night to a creepy, itchy feeling, even after spending $1,200 for a multiroom bedbug treatment from Terminex and $800 for a new mattress.

“I’ll jump up with a flashlight, jerk the covers back and there hasn’t been anything there. It might be in my head,” he said. “It’s been awful.”

Poison ivy-like welts popped up a month ago on Settles’ legs and arms, but it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that he woke up itching, pulled back the covers and saw bedbugs crawling around his sheets.

“I freaked out,” he said.

Settles immediately went online and started researching what the insects could be. He didn’t go back to sleep.


Bedbug FACTS

* Adult bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed. They are flat and light brown to tan before they feed, then turn reddish after they feed.

* They can live in cracks and crevices, behind electrical outlets, in mattresses, box springs, luggage, upholstery and bed posts or other furniture.

* Bedbugs have not been proven to transmit disease, but their bites can leave itchy welts. Fear of the insects can cause insomnia and anxiety.

Source: Orkin

Bedbug TIPS

* Before bringing your suitcase into a hotel room, inspect the mattress and headboard for signs of bedbugs, including reddish blood stains or ink-colored fecal matter stains on the sheets and mattress.

* Elevate your luggage, storing it on the hotel’s luggage rack or in the bathroom instead of in drawers. Avoid putting clothes on the bed.

* Examine your luggage when returning home. Some recommend unpacking your bag in your garage or utility room.

* In your home, vacuum carpets and wash sheets regularly, and keep clutter to a minimum.

Source: Orkin, local exterminators

“It’s been a two-week battle from that night,” he said.

After five decades of a relatively bedbug-free existence, Americans are facing an “alarming resurgence” of bedbugs, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Possible explanations include resistance to modern pesticides, the replacement of spray pesticides with bait traps (which don’t kill bedbugs), a rise in worldwide travel that allows the insects to move easily and lack of public awareness, experts say.

The blood-feeding, nocturnal bedbugs were virtually wiped out in the United States after World War II with the widespread use of spray pesticides. They have re-emerged over the past decade, starting in major population centers such as New York City.

But some local exterminators say reports of bedbugs have flared up in Chattanooga over the last year.

“This past year, they’ve just kind of exploded,” said Jeff Clark, exterminator with Jody Millard Pest Control in Hixson

Clark, 37, said he first started getting calls about the pests four years ago.

The Terminex branch in Hixson has handled almost one bedbug case a day in recent weeks, said branch manager Mike Jones.

“Especially during the course of 2010, the upsurge has been the biggest upsurge of any bug I’ve seen, in terms of rapid rate of reports,” he said. “I think we’re probably seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

But Oliver Mayfield of Mayfield Brothers Pest Control in Hixson, said he believes the reports of infestations are overblown and are sometimes cases of mistaken identity.

“The (pest control) industry has become more knowledgeable. They’re making a big hoopla out of (bedbugs) so they can make more revenue,” he said.

But Mayfield said that when the pests do invade, they are tough to wipe out. Residents must be willing to trash couches and beds, launder every single item of clothing and ruthlessly cut through clutter, he said.

“It changes their lifestyle. Never will it be the same if you get bedbugs in your home,” he said. “The next time you stay in a hotel or motel, you’re going to look at it differently.”


Bedbugs can be found in hotels, motels, college dormitories, public housing and apartment complexes. Bedbugs can also proliferate in homes for the elderly because seniors tend not to have a telltale allergic reaction to their bites, said Karen Vail, entomology professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

About 30 percent of people don’t react to bedbug bites, according to a survey from the University of Kentucky published in Pest Control Technology magazine this year.

Public health officials in Chattanooga and North Georgia said they’ve worked with local hotels to deal with bedbug complaints.

And a five-star hotel is just a susceptible as a run-down apartment, experts say.

“Bedbugs have nothing to do at all with hygiene,” Clark said. “They are blood feeders. They can live just as well in a house that’s immaculate as they can in one that’s filthy.”

Raymond King, district environmental health director for the North Georgia Public Health District, emphasized that bedbugs can live in vacuum cleaner bags and can survive for months without a blood meal.

The website allows travelers to anonymously report incidents of bedbug infestation at hotels and motels.

Within the hotel industry, bedbugs have always been on the radar and the level of activity in hotels statewide hasn’t changed in recent years, said Greg Adkins, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association. He said the association doesn’t track how many hotels are dealing with bed bugs, but the increase in media coverage prompted the group to remind its members to be proactive and train staff to identify the signs of the bedbugs.

“Because it does affect their botton line business, our members are very concerned about it and want the best possible stay for their customers,” he said. “It’s not an epidemic in our industry and the reason is because we are very good about treating it.”


The good news is that bedbugs have not been proven to transmit diseases, said Bonnie Deakins, environmental health services director at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

“But that bite of the bedbug can cause irritation, itching, that type of thing. ... You just don’t want bugs where you’re sleeping,” she said.

In rare cases, people have severe allergic reactions to the bites. More commonly, insomnia and anxiety accompany the creepy-crawly sensation of having — or imagining — parasites crawling around one’s sheets and pillows, experts said.

Today’s bedbug-sheltered generation faces a likely return to the early 20th century levels, when the advice “sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite” was dispensed in earnest, experts predict.

Better strategies to battle the bugs are being explored, including heat treatments and bedbug-sniffing dogs, Vail said.

Extreme heat is the bugs’ “Achilles heel” and may end up being the preferred treatment, Vail said.

Settles said he suspects a trip to Cincinnati four months ago brought hitchhiking bedbugs into his home. He hopes to sleep tight again soon, now that the battle is presumably over.

“It pretty much put my life on hold before I got it taken care of. It’s been a pretty bad experience,” he said.

Contact Emily Bregel at or (423) 757-6467.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Have you ever had problems with bedbugs?

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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acerigger said...

is there any insecticide to use against them? how do you avoid having them "hitchhike" home with you?

September 11, 2010 at 3:33 a.m.
EaTn said...

acerigger- don't have 'em and don't want 'em. Googled and found some good info, particularly this site: "doyourownpestcontrol".

September 11, 2010 at 5:34 a.m.

ARE YOU KIDDING??......."Bedbugs" are so important that they're the lead story ontop of the front page on a somber & historic day like Sept. 11th ??

What were you thinking?? I'm not only disappointed, but appalled at your American values and moral priorities!!

To think that American blood & lives have been lost, to give freedom to people like you that don't even appreciate it!!


American Made, Roger W. Gray

September 11, 2010 at 8:37 a.m.

Americanmade; you're right, many of us will mourn (and do the rest of the year too) with the families of our friends and relatives who were brutally and systematically killed by Terrorists on planes that day. This day should never be forgotten and glossed over or lied about. Our beautiful, brave folks who fought valiantly and died horribly are our heroes. And they would tell us to live every moment as if it were our last. Never forget. Teach your children and your children's children the truth in all things.

In the meantime, we are dealing with terrorists and their cells on our own soil, a government who is weak and ineffective and appeases/apologizes for them and numerous other, disturbing issues around the country. Forgive me for answering the question above, but Bedbugs are quite the disturbance to the living and we don't have to put up with them either. I will post other facts about 9-11 and the American-hating mosque builder elsewhere on this site. God bless you, your family and if you served in the military, your service to your country.

September 11, 2010 at 10 a.m.

Good site Eatn but many, allergic, sensitive types and those with pets (who are extremely affected too by many insecticides/pesticides) would not be able to use many of those products. There are scientists, lay people, vets and doctors around the globe who have discovered what I did decades ago. Many insect repellants can be found in nature and in the knowledge of what our ancestors gathered, used and effectively dealt with in ancient times.

Mr. Mayfield gave the most useful and balanced information, the bugs are really like any pest that's pesky. No one likes bugs but there are others, like spiders we should not kill because they eat enormous amounts of insects in and out of the house. Most spiders and many other good bugs are not poisonous and won't bite us. We're nasty to them. Attracting a variety of birds in your yard beats the 'Terminator' and is cheaper over time. Look up these old ways, there are many solutions.

Now we're armed with more info on where Bedbugs mostly are and like to go-remember when you travel (especially to large, crowded cities with multitudes of migrants from third world countries, like LA, New York, etc. The politically correct folks don't mention this of course, yet in recent decades, with the explosion of illegal immigration, we have a comeback of previously eradicated diseases like TB and parasites of all kinds); check the room first before you pay. Insist on it, it will save you misery down the road. Pull all the linen off the bed (best to bring your own nowadays-even 4-5 star places get bugs). Check the mattress all over, underneath and under the bed with a flashlight. Check all of the room and in cupboards, etc. If you notice you're itching or see any bugs the first night, check out or insist on another room, this isn't the time to be Mr. Nice Guy. When you leave, make sure your suitcase and other bags, etc, are thoroughly examined-I spray the inside of my bags too. This may sound like a hassle-I had a pretty easy-going youth, now we have to be 'on' everything these days-but it will protect you and yours so it's worth it.

September 11, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

We bring our own homemade, very effective citronella spray (with essential oils) and spray down every surface that can take it. In all these years, I've never found a bug, inside or out that likes citronella and certain other essential oils like eucalyptus, menthol, orange, lemon/lime, tea tree, cedar, fir, etc. These are all extremely potent and have properties that are 'designed' to keep pests of all kinds away. The good thing is they can be sprayed around you, little kids and pets (cedar/fir oil sprays even keep fleas off dogs and cats), many plants and they're all safe.

I also carry small, extra bottles of eucalyptus, rosemary and tea tree oil when I travel because they keep mosquitos, fleas, chiggers off me and can be used for sores, achy muscles, itches of any kind, etc. Get creative, mix an essential oil with a pure ointment or cream, like baby cream or unscented pure lotion. I make an oily spray (with a little water and the oil) to use as a bug-off spray in the summer. These are all cost effective, very inexpensive and can be used for a host of medicinal uses as well.

There are also good products out there for when you get bitten and don't want to scratch and infect the site. Mitigator (, is the best, even the Army uses it now in the field. I first used it in CA when a relative heard about it and started selling it (it's made with crushed walnut shells-tribes in the Amazon, etc. made similar products for themselves). It works amazingly fast and the swelling/itchiness goes away almost immediately.

The above are preventatives, but once you get bedbugs, you literally have to do what Mr. Mayfield suggested and it is alot of work. Best to realize we live in a world of pests and predators. Learn how to repel them, get rid of them and also create a balance in your living environment where other creatures that were specifically designed to be your 'helpers' will deal with the rest. Now we have the internet (the Lord help us), it's not as difficult as in my day when we had to do a whole lot of footwork, hard work and homework. But then, today, our worst enemies aren't the insect kind. They're more likely to be the human pest or predator of our own species..and we know who those ones are, don't we? @>

September 11, 2010 at 10:47 a.m.
whatever said...

Anybody ever seen the episode of Northern Exposure where Maggie develops an allergy to some sort of micro-pest?

Don't act like her.

September 11, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.
harrystatel said...

What's the differece between bedbugs and the Common Politician? Bedbugs won't kill you.

Harry Statel

September 12, 2010 at 12:15 p.m.
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