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What’s all this buzz about bed bugs? Every time I turn on the news, there are more and more reports of creepy bedbug infestations, even in places where you’d never expect. The two reported incidents of bedbug strikes on at the world famous, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city particularly scared the crap out of me. This place is known for it’s prestigious clientele – royalty, heads-of-state, celebrities, and a $700-a-night price tag. Not even the finest lodgings have been immune from bedbug infestations, which has struck swanky stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, and even the offices of Elle magazine.

Umm… so what exactly are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects, which are insects that prefer to feed on human blood. They are usually flat, oval and light tan to rusty brown, and about the size and shape of a tomato seed. They hide in crevices of beds, bedding, photo frames, behind baseboards and under carpets. Most bedbugs harbor their bodies on the bed itself or within five feet of it. Even if the actual bugs aren’t found by inspecting mattress seams or cracks in the furniture, they leave behind clues: blood-speckled sheets, or brown or black spots on bedclothes—bedbug droppings.

Bedbugs can’t fly, but they’re good climbers: they will scale a wall in order to drop from the ceiling onto their sleeping prey! Their bites are itchy welts, often in lines on the skin from one bug biting repeatedly.  The bites can cause an allergic reaction, but aren’t dangerous to health. Some people don’t react to the bites, however, and may only notice blood on the sheets.

How many people have been treated for a bed bug attacks?

Last year, a global study conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) found that 95 percent of pest-control professionals had treated a bedbug infestation in the past year — and of the nearly 1,000 respondents, 76 percent agreed that bedbugs were the most difficult pests to treat. That report called today’s infestations, up nearly 75 percent from a decade ago, a “bedbug pandemic.” NPMA members are not only treating bedbugs in homes and hotels, but restaurants, hospitals, subways, buses, taxis, movie theaters, libraries, and offices.

So how can you protect yourself from bed bugs?

* Consider getting hard-sided luggage and luggage liners, to reduce nooks or crannies for bedbugs to hide. Never place your suitcase on the bed in a hotel room. Leave it near the door and inspect mattress seams, corners, the bed frame and nearby furniture, baseboards and artwork.

* Upon returning home, inspect and vacuum suitcases before you bring them into the house. Wash all clothes in hot water, or take them directly to a dry cleaner, whether you wore them or not.

* Before you book a hotel room or a cruise, check the Bed Bug Registry. If you browse the list of recent reports from travelers, you’re likely to find a few unpleasant surprises.

* If you suspect that you’ve been around bedbugs, wash and dry clothing on hot settings or place it in a sealed plastic bag until you can launder or dry clean the garments.

* Sealing cracks and crevices in your home, particularly in baseboards, with caulk helps prevent bedbugs and other pests from getting in.

To learn more information about bed bugs, visit the National Pest Management Association.

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