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You are in: Inside Out > London > Bed bugs

Bed bug c/o Richard Naylor

Bed bug - irritating night time visitor.

Bed bugs

Just when you thought it was safe to have a good night's sleep, the bed bug is making a comeback. These unwelcome visitors are finding their way into Londoners' beds with unpleasant consequences.

Bed Bugs

* Bed bugs live exclusively on blood. They are different to mites which are harmless and microscopic - they can be seen with the naked eye. They turn red when they taste human blood.

* They feed by injecting their saliva into your skin then sucking out blood for up to 10 minutes.

* Bed bugs grow up to half a centimetre in length - about the size of a fingernail.

* One female bed bug could lead to around 3,000 creatures in three months.

* Bed bugs can survive for up to six months without a meal.

* They were almost wiped out after the Second World War when the chemical DDT was used to eradicate them. However DDT was banned in the 1980s and they've been on the increase since then.

* Their re-emergence is partly attributed to the increase in cheap travel and experts say they are most often found in cheap backpacker accommodation and hotels in big cities.

* Symptoms of attacks include sleepless nights, itchy blotches and hard white swellings of the skin.

In the 1930’s a third of homes had extra unwelcome lodgers in their bed posts - bed bugs.

Strong pesticides saw them off and the little mites were largely forgotten, but now they are making a comeback.

Infestations in London are increasing at an alarming rate year on year- as bed bugs become more immune to poison - and find places to breed while we sleep.

Pest controllers are faced with a new foe - many councils are faced with the challenge of rooting out the unwelcome insects and eradicating them.

Bugged off

Inside Out visited a group of students in North London whose home had become badly infested with the creatures.

The bugs had settled in the tops of the curtains, in the settee and in the bedrooms.

The residents had noticed rashes, bites and a sickly sweet smell in parts of the flat.

They contacted pest controller David Cain who specialises exclusively in eradicating bed bugs.

David said the residents would have been suffering considerable discomfort:

"I suspect we are probably talking about 40 to 50 bites per day. That’s very serious blood loss."

His first recce to the property revealed that there were 50 or 60 bugs living in every couple of inches on the tabs under the curtain rail.

Bed bugs like to live high up - out of reach, and then when they detect carbon monoxide in the breath of a sleeping human, they crawl down and feed on the blood. 

Bed bugs

Bed bugs - making an unwelcome comeback

The main signs of an infestation are blood-spots on the bed linen.

After instructing the residents on how to avoid cross-contamination, David Cain put down poison around the flat designed to kill the bugs over a couple of weeks.

He then returned to make sure the bugs were no longer around.

Resistant bugs

The London Boroughs have become so alarmed by the 25% year on year increase in infestations in the capital that they have commissioned research into finding out how the bugs have evolved, at Sheffield University.

Clive Boase is a consultant working on the project: "When the London bugs were tested there were a few things that surprised us… all of the London strains showed widespread resistance and what surprised us was how uniform this resistance was.

Bed bugs

Evidence of bed bugs on a curtain rail.

"What we thought when we started was that it wasn’t widespread, but then it dawned on us that it actually was very widespread and happening quite a long time before this work here at Sheffield."

Richard Naylor has been studying bed bugs in Sheffield for six years:

"It’s a problem that’s growing year on year… There has been quite a lot of work to see if they transmit hepatitis or aids.

"Research so far suggests that bed bugs do not transmit diseases."

Although that is good news, the beg bug invasion continues to worry pest controllers and householders alike.

So how do you sleep tight and stop the bed bug's bite?

Experts recommend checking your home every few weeks for signs of these creatures - blood spots, egg residue, minute particles of bed bug carcass and the creepy crawlies themselves. The bugs live in clean as well as dirty homes.

And if you do fear the worst, call in pest control if you think you've experienced an invasion. 

last updated: 11/08/2008 at 12:25
created: 18/02/2008

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