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Travel, warm weather brings in bed bugs

ALBANY, Ga. -- They do not discriminate based on socioeconomic status or hotel class.

Bed bugs, small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded creatures, are most likely to be found in the crevices of a bedstead in the early stages of an infestation -- and later found in tufts, seams and folds of mattresses as well as bed covers.

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CDC - Blaine Mathison

Adult bed bugs are on average 5 mm long, oval-shaped and dorso-ventrally flattened. Like other members of the order, Hemiptera, they possess piercing-sucking mouthparts. Adults are brachypterous; the hindwings are nearly absent and the forewings are reduced to small, leathery pads. As you can see here, nymphs look like smaller, paler versions of the adults.This image depicts a dorsal view of an adult, Cimex lectularius bed bug.Adult bed bugs are on average 5 mm long, oval-shaped and dorso-ventrally flattened. Like other members of the order, Hemiptera, they possess piercing-sucking mouthparts. Adults are brachypterous; the hindwings are nearly absent and the forewings are reduced to small, leathery pads. As you can see here, nymphs look like smaller, paler versions of the adults.

They are not known to spread disease, but the nocturnal creatures will leave red, itchy welts on exposed skin from where they have been feeding.

"There is a numbing agent in the saliva, and they will suck blood," said Dewayne Tanner, environmental health director with the Southwest Public Health District. "The worst thing you have is welts.

"There haven't been cases were they have spread disease. They are just a nuisance."

The critters are most commonly seen in high-traffic facilities with a large number of people -- such as hotels or college dormitories -- that may also see more people traveling from out of town, as it is common for the bugs to attach to suitcases.

"The more people travel, the more reports we see," Tanner said. "They like warm weather as well."

While there have not been any recently reported cases in area hotels, Tanner said, there has been at least one Albany facility with some recent activity -- Hudson Malone Towers.

Dan McCarthy, executive director of the Albany Housing Authority, confirmed that there had been such reports at that facility -- and that steps have been taken to eradicate the problem.

"Our plan when a problem is identified is to work with the tenant to get personal items disinfected as well as the apartment itself," McCarthy said. "We are working with our pest control company.

"(It functions as) a partnership situation with the tenant. As far as I know, it (the infestation) is under control."

Bed bugs are particularly hard to get rid of when an infestation does occur, which means special steps have to be taken to address it -- and that more than one treatment will often be necessary.

"I would recommend to people, once you know you have them, to call a pest control specialist," Tanner said. "Bug bombs and (at-home) pesticides don't work."

As a means to control the spread of bed bugs, McCarthy said housing authority officials are trying to encourage residents to be careful when it comes to used furniture -- particularly used mattresses -- and at the same time are working to increase awareness on the appropriate precautionary measures the residents, and their visitors, can take.

He said that the first reported case of bed bugs at Malone Towers was three or four months ago, with cases happening sporadically over the last month or so. There have been some cases in which furniture has had to be thrown out, and residents have been asked to stay with someone else temporarily.

"Depending on how bad it is, we will relocate," McCarthy said.

Public health officials say they have gotten inquires from facilities ranging from college dorms to military installation barracks on how to get rid of the bugs.

"It occurs in the most expensive to least expensive hotels," Tanner said.

The bugs like to hide in dark, concealed areas. A strong indicator of their presence will be blood stains around the edges and seams of a mattresses as well as behind a picture frame on a wall, Tanner said.

Getting rid of the bugs -- aside from calling a pest control company -- will typically require washing and drying bedding and clothing at the hottest setting the fabric can withstand, thoroughly vacuuming infested areas, eliminating clutter to reduce hiding places and repairing cracks and crevices.

A mature bed bug is oval-bodied, brown to red-brown in color -- and can survive up to 550 days without food. They live about 10 months, and there can be up to three or four generations within a year, public health officials say.