MELROSE PARK, Ill. - A national pest control company this week said it did more business in Chicago for bedbugs last year than any other city. But one Chicago doctor isn't biting.
"As a major city with a large, diverse population and many international visitors, Chicago does have its bedbug problems, but I still tend to think New York ranks higher," said Joseph Leija, MD, who performs the Gottlieb Allergy Count for Loyola University Health System. New York was ranked 10th on the list.
Dr. Leija does readily admit that he has treated his share of patients who came in complaining of itching. “A family came in covered in bedbug bites from infested ‘free’ furniture they found in an abandoned apartment,” Leija said.
“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. Dr. Leija also has cared for patients with bedbug bites traced back to clothing purchased at neighborhood garage sales and resale stores.
“Bedbugs are insidious survivors that travel well. They hide in cracks in the wood and in the weave of cloth,” said Dr. 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."
Bedbugs have a set of pinchers. They use one to pierce the skin and inject saliva that contains anticoagulants and a numbing solution, while the other pincher sucks the blood of its host, Dr. Leija said. “The male bedbug also uses the pincher to pierce the abdomen of the female during reproduction, and bedbugs reproduce rapidly,” he said.
Bedbugs find their prey by seeking the carbon dioxide or warmth of warm-blooded animals.
“The bites can result in a skin rash or even large, weeping blisters due to allergic reaction,” Dr. Leija said. “But for many, the psychological damage is greater than what they suffer physically."
Here are Dr. Leija’s top five tips to maintaining the upper hand on bedbugs:
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,” Dr. Leija said.
Paint or seal any newly acquired used furniture. “Bedbugs are so tiny they have been known to hide in screwholes,” Dr. Leija said.
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,” Dr. Leija said.
When you travel, check the mattress before bedding down. ‘If you see tiny brown specks, move yourself and your clothing and your luggage out immediately,” Dr. Leija said. “And tell the hotel manager or your hosts what you have discovered to prevent further infiltration."
If you are bitten by a bedbug, Dr. 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.