MU Extension horticulturist tells how to ditch the itch of bedbugs

Little hearts might skip a beat when Mom whispers, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Once rare in American homes, bedbugs have been on the rise over the last decade. Holiday travel gives these bloodsuckers an opportunity to hitch a ride, but University of Missouri Extension horticulturist and entomologist Tamra Reall says you can ditch the itch with a few precautions.

First, check the area where you set your luggage. Don’t put luggage on the bedding or on the floor. “I put my luggage in the bathroom while I inspect everything with a strong flashlight, including beds, drawers, closet, luggage rack and behind the headboard, if possible,” Reall said.

Check your bedding before you settle in for the night. Pull back the covers and look closely for small, reddish-brown bugs. Adults are about the size of an apple seed. They leave dark stains on sheets. The stains are fecal matter made from blood sucked from humans and pets.

Reall recommends checking your luggage when you get home. “Your luggage can pick up bugs from other luggage or cargo holds on airplanes. Running clothes through the dryer on high for 45 minutes will kill any bugs you missed.”

Bedbugs come out at night to feed. During the day, their hiding places might include your favorite comfortable spots — your recliner, couch and bed. Temperatures 70 degrees and higher provide the best conditions for bedbugs to lay eggs for quick hatching.

Bedbugs are patient. They survive in vacant buildings and can live up to one year without feeding.

Be careful when buying used furniture and bedding, Reall says. You might get bugs with your bargain. The bedbug ignores social and economic class and will happily infest even the cleanest and most uncluttered homes. If your college student is home for the holiday, check laundry closely. Dormitories and apartment buildings are smorgasbords for bugs.

If you do find bedbugs in your own home, contact a pest control service for the most effective removal of bedbugs.