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What’s bugging you in bed?

By on January 27, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

In the past decade there seems to have been a resurgence in bed bug issues. 

Some have suggested it is an epidemic. 

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that live on human blood. They are small, round, reddish brown insects that live on the blood of animals and humans. They do not fly but move quickly over floors, walls and ceilings. 

Female bed bugs lay hundreds of eggs about the size of a speck of dust. 

Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to cause or spread disease. Yet they are both a public health and economic issue. 

Bed bugs are a worldwide problem and are found in crowded conditions and in hotels, both budget and expensive ones. They have been found in thrift stores, cruise ships, dormitories, trains and buses and anywhere there is a high turnover of occupants. 

They enter our homes in luggage, clothing, used beds, couches and other items even including library books. 

Not long ago in a Midwestern city bed bugs were found in books returned to a library. As a result the librarians now annually inspect the 2.7 million returned books in their eight branches looking for bed bugs. If found the books are bagged in garbage bags and frozen for four days at zero degrees. 

Every three months, certified K2 bed bug detection dogs patrol the aisles at all eight library branches. These specialized dogs are also being used in hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, fire stations and city buses. 

Bed bugs are not a sign of dirtiness. They are not lured by dirty sheets or pillowcases. They are lured by warm beds, sweat, and moisture. 

Once in our beds, the insects wait until the hours before dawn to start feeding on our blood, mainly on our backs. They poke their snout into our skin, inject a form of anesthetic and fill their bellies. 

In the AM we might feel some itchiness with our body’s inflammatory reaction to these bites. The bites show as red spots, frequently in a cluster or a row. 

Some might wonder if they are fleabites, but fleas typically bite the lower extremities and behind knees not on backs. 

So how do we deal with these bed bugs? 

First of all we attack where they spend most of their time, our beds. Bed linens, especially pillowcases, should be changed every three days. 

In a study, swabs of pillowcases unwashed for a week carried 17,000 more colonies of bacteria than from toilet seats — just a reminder to change those pillowcases frequently. 

When we wake up, often we quickly make our beds. It has been suggested to pull back the blankets and give your sheets time to get dried out. Many sweat while sleeping at night which is attractive to bed bugs. 

Sleeping in the nude exposes you even more to these critters. Also sleeping with your dog or cat in your bed is risky from a health standpoint. 

We should wash and change our sheets every week. A survey of Americans suggests that on average most people go 25 days between sheet washings. 

The sheets should be washed in the hottest water allowed by the label and use germ killing bleach. Your mattress pad should be washed every three to six months and the mattress itself vacuumed at the same time. 

Another disgusting thing in our beds are dust mites. We spend a third of our lives in bed on average. We humans each shed 500 million skin cells a day (not a typo). These skin cells pile up on our sheets and provide a gourmet meal for dust mites. 

They live in our pillows and beds in the millions, eating dead skin and hair. Fortunately, they don’t cause disease, bite or sting, but four out of five homes in the U.S. have dust mites. 

Unfortunately their excrements contain proteins that are allergens that can cause or aggravate allergies, worsening asthma, particularly in children and the elderly. Ten per cent of us are allergic to dust mites. 

The 500 million skin cells we shed can support a million dust mites. Since we can’t see them, we can try to avoid them. There are commercially available mattress and pillow covers that are impervious to dust mites and bed bugs. 

These might be a good idea to consider. After proofreading this article, my wife, Lynn, immediately bought them on Amazon. They arrived two days later. 

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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