September 15, 2010

Researcher Offers Bedbug Advice

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From lockouts to “sexiling,” the perils of dorm life are numerous. However, a Cornell entomologist hopes that information and vigilance will keep one dreaded dorm-room pest at bay: bedbugs.

Tuesday, as part of the monthly “Inside Cornell” series — which features professors speaking to reporters and other interested parties on current issues —  Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, senior extension associate at Cornell’s Integrated Pest Management program, discussed the spreading scourge of bedbugs, which are ever-present at colleges, but also invading offices, retailers and other businesses. The audience contained many hotel industry entrepreneurs, concerned about how to protect patrons from the biting insects.

“It’s always been an issue in dorms and hotels, but now anyone can get bedbugs. It’s always been a problem, but now people are noticing it,” Gangloff-Kaufmann said, attributing the media’s recent bedbug coverage to this summer’s infestation in New York City, where some of the most popular tourist and shopping attractions became home to bedbugs. The insects were found in such well-known establishments as the AMC Movie Theatre in Times Square and branches of Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria’s Secret.

At a university like Cornell, Gangloff-Kaufmann said, bedbugs are always a problem that students should take precautions to avoid.

“I don’t know of a campus that hasn’t had it,” she said, noting that the University had a particular bedbug problem about three years ago.

One of the main carriers of bedbugs is used furniture, Gangloff-Kaufmann said. When a house or dorm becomes infested, residents often quickly dispose of mattresses, couches and chairs. If a bargain-hunter picks such items up from a rummage sale or garbage heap and brings them home, he or she also unwittingly brings the infestation, she said.

Gangloff-Kaufmann said that residents should frequently wash home furnishings and always be alert to the first signs that bedbugs have moved in. These signs can include small fecal stains on blankets or carpets or red bites on the skin that itch and look similar to mosquito bites.

Bedbug bites do not transmit disease, Gangloff-Kaufmann emphasized, and about 70 percent of people have no reaction to them. However, some people become drowsy or anxious and develop painful blisters, she said.

Even careful cleaning and vigilance may fail to protect a home from the bugs.

“Even if you take precautions, there’s no guarantee that you will avoid them,” Gangloff-Kaufmann said.

However, there are several steps people living in infested residences can take to return their home to a bug-free state.

Instead of discarding a mattress, Gangloff-Kaufmann said, it is better to encase it in a vinyl protector, which will trap and eventually kill the pests. Thoroughly wash blankets and pillows and if the problem doesn’t improve, call a professional exterminator.

Gangloff-Kaufmann said she hopes that she and her colleagues will soon come up with better methods of prevention and extermination, but for the moment, these remain “the million dollar questions.”

“If we knew all the answers, we wouldn’t still have this problem,” she said.

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie