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The Pandemic May Spare Us From Another Plague: Bedbugs

A friend, whose suitcase became a bedbug vector apparently during storage in the luggage room of a high-end hotel in upstate New York, found one crawling on her when she donned nightclothes and sat down to read shortly after arriving home in Brooklyn. She spent $1,300 to get the house fumigated, and now routinely quarantines her luggage and its contents out in the freezing cold after a trip to minimize the risk of a repeat invasion.

What my friend didn’t know, however, is that bedbugs can live for many months without feeding on human blood, so waiting even weeks to unpack may not help. Brooklyn backyards and even home freezers may not be cold enough to kill them: Experts recommend minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

As an Orkin entomologist, Chelle Hartzer, warned about bedbugs, “They are excellent hitchhikers and they reproduce quickly, which make it nearly impossible to prevent bedbugs.” Increases in both domestic and international travel in recent decades contributed greatly to their current ubiquity. Complicating control efforts, they’ve become resistant to most commonly used insecticides, including pyrethroids.

No one, not the most fastidious among us, is immune to a bedbug infestation. They can be found just about any place where people sit or sleep — cinemas, offices, schools, churches, hospitals, buses, trains, cruise ships and airplanes, as well as in hotels and homes. According to a lengthy report by Australian scientists in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, an entire building’s infestation can start with only a few bedbugs or, possibly, even a single female.

One impregnated female can lay two to five eggs a day.

And the bugs can be devilishly difficult to detect. The eggs of this flightless insect are pearly white and the size of a pinhead; adults are brown or reddish brown (if they had a recent blood meal) and the size of an apple seed, about a quarter-inch long. Two French doctors, writing in The New England Journal of Medicine in June, reported that “between blood meals, bedbugs hide in dark places, such as household cracks and crevices, walls, luggage, bedclothes, mattresses, bedsprings, bed frames, spaces under baseboards, loose or peeling wallpaper, electrical switch plates and conduits for electrical cables.”

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