Bed Bugs May Hitch a Ride on Previously Owned Items

Think twice before combing the alleyways and resale stores for a bargain one mans trash may be more than a treasure, as several Chicagoans recently discovered.

"A family came in covered in bedbug bites from infested free furniture they found in an abandoned apartment," says Dr. Jospeh Leija, an allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System.

"The couple had only taken the wooden headboards and baseboards of the beds not the mattresses because they knew that would be unsanitary as well as a table and chairs. The bugs were found in the tiny crevices," he said. Leija has also recently cared for patients with bed bug bites traced back to clothing purchased at neighborhood garage sales and resale stores.

"Bed bugs are insidious survivors who travel well they hide in cracks in wood and in the weave of cloth," says Leija of the parasite known scientifically as Cimex lectularius. "They are vampires they are dormant during the day but come out at night and feed on human blood."

Bed bugs have a set of pinchers: they use one to pierce the skin and inject saliva which contains anticoagulants and a numbing solution, while the other pincher sucks the blood of its host, Leija says. "The male bed bug also uses the pincher to pierce the abdomen of the female during reproduction, and bed bugs reproduce rapidly," he said.

Bed bugs find their prey by seeking carbon dioxide or warmth, to indicate a warm-blooded animal.

"The bites can result in a skin rash or even large weeping blisters due to allergic reaction," says Leija. "But for many, the psychological damage is greater than what they suffer physically."

Here are Leijas top five tips to maintaining the upperhand on bed bugs:

- If you buy used clothing, keep them in the plastic bag before washing immediately in hot water. "Use the dryer at high heat to make sure all parasites are killed," says Leija.

- Paint or seal any newly acquired used furniture. "Bedbugs are so tiny they have been known to hide in screwholes," Leija says.

- Spray insecticide and vacuum bedding and furniture thoroughly and throw the vacuum cleaner bag outside in the trash after each sweeping. "Keep spraying the insecticide and vacuuming daily; check for tiny brown bugs or pieces that may be part of the bug," says Leija.

- As you travel this holiday, check the mattress before bedding down. If you see tiny brown specks, move yourself and your clothing and your luggage out immediately," says Leija. "And tell the hotel manager or your hosts what you have discovered to prevent further infiltration."

- If you are bitten by a bed bug, Leija recommends, "Wash the area carefully with soap and water, drying thoroughly. Apply anti-itch cream, such as calamine lotion, to prevent irritation and limit scratching." If the bite area becomes warm to the touch, swells or hurts, go to the doctor for prescription medication.

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