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Originally published August 10, 2009 at 12:22 AM | Page modified August 10, 2009 at 3:31 AM

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Advice on dealing with bedbugs

How to avoid bedbugs and what to do if they move into your home

McClatchy Newspapers

Is it bigger than a bedbug? If it is, lucky you, I guess; but if it is as big as a bedbug, you'd better know something about the problem you may be facing. Here are some things to ponder and actions to take with the assistance of Terminix and the National Pest Management Association.

• What are bedbugs? They are insects that lurk in the crevices of mattresses, box springs, and furniture. They emerge at night to feed on the blood of their sleeping victims. While their bites are generally painless, they can leave behind red, itchy welts similar to a mosquito bite.

• Why are they making a comeback? Encounters with bedbugs used to be rare in this country, but not anymore, thanks to increased international travel.

• Do they fly coach? They can travel by crawling into luggage or attaching to clothing, furniture, or mattresses. Really. They can even crawl into the cuff of your trousers for a free trip home.

• Are they really "bed" bugs? Yes, they are typically found in and around the bed, including mattresses and box springs. They also live in headboards, night stands, lamps, baseboards and electrical outlets.

• If I have them, am I a lousy housekeeper? Bedbugs have been found in even the nicest homes, but cluttered environments do provide more locations for these pests to hide.

Do they prefer one region over another? No. They are everywhere. Bedbugs are found in every state, even the hot-weather ones (although temperatures higher than 113 degrees can kill the creatures and cause their eggs to explode).

How do I get rid of them? They are even more tenacious than squirrels. They hide in hard-to-reach locations, making them difficult to eradicate. The only solution is to hire a pest-control expert to treat the infestation.

What should you do when you find them? Bedbugs cannot be effectively eliminated with do-it-yourself approaches such as washing all the bedclothes. Quarantine the infested items, since moving items out of one room and into another may spread the infestation. Tenants who have bedbugs should contact the landlord or property manager. Bedbug populations can grow quickly, allowing them to spread to other rooms of the home or neighboring units.

Ounces of prevention

This is what you can do to protect yourself, the experts say:

• Inspect vintage furniture, antiques, and used appliances or consignment items for signs of bedbugs before bringing them into the home.

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• Never pick up used mattresses or furniture left curbside. They were probably discarded for a reason.

• Inspect and wash (in warm water) previously worn clothing that has been donated or purchased.

• Use zippered encasements on mattresses and box springs. This will help keep these items from becoming infested and will trap the bedbugs inside if bedbugs are already present.

• If you suspect you have bedbugs, have your home inspected by a trained professional. Controlling bedbugs will require the assistance of a pest-control pro.

Tips for travelers

If you are traveling, here's what you should do while there to minimize the risk:

• Check headboards, mattresses and box springs for bedbugs and the dark blood spots they leave behind.

• Hang clothing. Leave nothing lying on the bed or furniture.

• Avoid unpacking clothes and storing them in the hotel's furniture drawers.

• Don't allow your baggage to sit on the floor. Store it on a luggage rack as far from the bed as possible.

• If you notice evidence of bedbugs, request another room or change hotels.

• When returning home, leave luggage in the garage or basement until you are able to thoroughly inspect it for bedbugs.

• Vacuum suitcases upon returning from trips, and immediately wash clothing in hot water.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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