When there’s a bed bug problem anywhere in Reno, Nev., Saum is on the case. An environmental health specialist with the Washoe County Health District Department, Saum doesn’t back down to the reddish brown, quarter-inch-long, flat-as-a-credit-card critters. In her purse, she carries a flashlight and a magnifying glass, and she means business.
At a Monday afternoon meeting session about the persistent pests, Saum told public health nurses that the bugs happily hitchhike from place to place on clothing, used furniture, shoes, backpacks, pillows and luggage, to name a few of their most popular forms of transportation.
The common bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, is no stranger to the United States and in fact was a common problem before World War II. Through the use of the insecticide DDT in the 1940s and 1950s, bed bugs were nearly eradicated, but in the 1990s they began making a comeback because of increased mobility and travel and greater resistance to insecticides. But the good news is that while 28 different pathogens have been cultured from bed bugs, no studies to date indicate that they are capable of vectoring disease.
It’s been estimated that at least 50 percent of hotels and motels in Las Vegas have bed bug problems, Saum said, and humans generally don’t feel it when this insect bites them.
“You wake up in the morning and you have welts,” says Saum, who herself has had the memorable displeasure of cohabitating in a bed infested with them. “I recall feeling a very strange sensation in the middle of the night, like a feather passing over my body.”
It seems these nasty creatures have some sort of anesthesia in their saliva, so their victims don’t feel pain at first bite. Bed bugs are active at night, Saum says, when they leave their daytime resting places deep inside cracks and crevices to seek out a bloody meal.
If you think you have a bed bug infestation, call a licensed pest control professional, Saum says. A steam cleaner is useful for killing nymphs and eggs, and clothes can be washed in hot water and dried on the hot cycle. After treatment, mattresses and box springs should be encased in a zippered cover that’s bed-bug proof.
Despite the concerns, Saum managed to put things in perspective through her parting take-home message to session participants: “Don’t lose sleep over this.”