It is highly likely that when children were tucked into bed in ancient Greece, parents said something like, “Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” But the bedbugs did bite, and they kept biting. We know from historic writings that bedbugs bit the Germans in the 11th century, the French in the 13th century, and the English in the 17th century. In the Middle Ages, people tried to repel bedbugs by sprinkling their beds with black pepper, wild mint, and even turpentine. In the 19th century, the Scottish lit peat fires—inside their homes—to fumigate against bed bugs. By the 20th century, the U.S. military was using dangerous chemicals and cyanide to bomb bed bug infestations on military bases.
More than 2,400 years after the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about bedbugs, they’re still biting us. After World War II the use of new kinds of pesticides helped kill off quite a bit of the bedbug population; however, in the early 2000s, the itchy, scratchy biting pests have made a major comeback. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), the number of reported incidents of bedbugs has skyrocketed in recent years. In the cleverly named “Bugs without Borders” survey, the NPMA found that only 25% of U.S. pest management professionals encountered bedbug infestations in 2000. In 2012 that number increased to 99.6%.
Seriously, bedbug infestations have reached pandemic proportions in the U.S. and globally, a cause for great concern. The reddish-brown, wingless insects come out at night to suck victim’s blood, leaving behind flat, red welts on the face, neck, arms and hands. The parasitic bloodsuckers are also notorious hitchhikers – helping them spread near and far. The critters move from clothing store dressing rooms, hospitals, and hotels to homes, snuggled in luggage and clothing. They sleep all day in mattresses, bedding, and furniture, and come out at night to feed, attracted by the warmth of human bodies and the carbon dioxide in breath.
The good news is that more people are aware of the bedbug problem and are taking measures to slow the spread of the unwanted visitors. If you travel, check for bed bugs in your hotel room, your clothing, and luggage. When you return home, wash and dry clothes on the highest settings the fabrics can endure. And perhaps it is best to be philosophical. Bed bugs will make you itch, and might drive you a little crazy, but they don’t kill. Exterminators are working overtime to get rid of the critters and if you see spots of blood on your sheets or mattresses, or start scratching those maddening bites, it’s definitely time to call in the professionals.