Long relegated to the realm of childhood fears and playful parental goodnights, the bedbug has of late made a comeback.
“There’s no doubt that bedbugs have become resurgent and spread considerably,” wrote entomologist and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researcher Richard J. Pollack, a noted expert on bedbugs and lice, in an e-mail.
The upturn in bedbugs has been particularly magnified in the Boston area, and researchers, pest-control outfits, and news outlets nationwide have been taking note.
In 2003, infestation in Allston-Brighton—together with other reported cases in and around Boston—provided much of the narrative substance for an ABC News report about an increase in bedbug populations up and down the east coast.
More recently, regional managers from Terminix, an international pest-control operation with branches in 45 states, said that the Boston area now produces more than three times the bedbug infestations reported in the previous year.
College campuses in Boston are particularly subject to risk factors because they are highly-frequented areas, says a spokesman for Terminix.
“Any area that is a high traffic area—hotels, airplanes, cruise ships,
dormitories—any area that has a high turnover in occupancy, that’s where you see problems,” Clint Briscoe, the spokesman, said. “Because there are so many people and so many belongings passing through these areas, there is a much higher likelihood that bedbugs will be brought in.”
While the bedbug—known by scientists as Cimex lectularius—is not charged with the transmission of any diseases, it is hardly a polite guest. Victims of bedbug bites have reported symptoms ranging from the relatively pedestrian (itchy, red spots) to the far more frightening (sickly sweet odors, sheets speckled with blood in the morning). And while finding and killing the culprits can be difficult, keeping them down can be even worse.
“Bedbugs are very resilient,” Briscoe said. “They can survive extreme temperatures, they can go months without eating. They’re pretty hardy pests.”
If students aren’t concerned about the crawling, the itching, or the blood-letting, then it is the bugs’ fortitude for travel that should give them pause. Nothing riles a parent more than when college-age offspring bring unwanted guests home in their suitcases.
“Most parents would probably prefer if the laundry (collecting on the floor for weeks or more) gets appropriately washed/dried before the trip home,” Pollack wrote. “I’ve fielded many questions from distraught parents (some of Harvard students) who seem to have acquired bed bugs in this manner.”