Easterners Battle Bloodsucking Bedbugs

Residents of Boston's Allston-Brighton section have been waking up with itchy red welts, blood spots on their bedding and sometimes a "sickly sweet" smell in their homes.

As the quaint, old-fashioned saying goes, "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Except it doesn't seem quaint any more to the Allston-Brighton residents who brought a bowl holding 30 to 40 dead bedbugs to a recent community meeting, witnesses said.

"So many people were making faces and … were reluctant to look at them," said Juan Gonzalez, director of community organizing for the Allston-Brighton Community Development Corp. "It was an itchy reaction. As soon as people saw that, the reaction was like that: 'I don't want to have those things. I don't want to imagine how they can affect me.' "

Bedbugs — which emerge from cracks and crevices at night to feast on human blood while victims sleep — were largely wiped out in the United States back when exterminators used pesticides such as DDT, which was banned after it was linked to environmental problems.

But over the past decade — with increased world travel that might allow bedbugs to hitch rides in suitcases and furniture joints — the creepy tick-sized critters are staging a comeback, exterminators say.

"It really uproots your entire life," said Matt Brown, a 31-year-old Brighton neighborhood resident who hasn't been able to sleep tight since February. "Once you've had bedbugs, every tiny little itch makes you jump up, get out of your sheets and turn on the lights."

Bedbugs Everywhere

In recent years, bedbugs began showing up even in expensive hotels frequented by jet-set travelers.

"You can find them in the flop hotel downtown and you can find them in some of the most expensive hotels," said Richard Kramer, director of technical services for American Pest Management in Takoma Park, Md. "Sanitation really doesn't have anything to do with it. I think it has more to do with traveling."

And now, exterminators say they are getting more and more calls about bedbug problems in private homes.

"We've probably been doing at least one [bedbug extermination] a month," said Kramer, whose company mostly operates in Washington, D.C. "Up until about two years ago, I don't think we'd done a bedbug job for 10 years, and if we did, it was a rare occasion."

New York City and Florida are among numerous hot spots up and down the East Coast, in the Upper Midwest and Texas, exterminators say.

Though published reports also have placed cases in San Diego and San Francisco, exterminators belonging to the National Pest Management Association in Dunn Loring, Va., have not seen the same degree of problems on the West Coast, said Greg Baumann, the NPMA's technical director.

"The people that are traveling into L.A. are from a different part of the world," where bedbugs may be less prevalent, said Baumann, whose group has reported bedbugs in at least 18 states and the District of Columbia in recent years.

Federal health officials do not track bedbug populations because there is no effective mechanism set up to monitor them, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Bedbugs are not known to transmit any disease, though they are believed to harbor several, including hepatitis, according to entomologists and scientific studies.

Flee the Castle

On the other hand, bedbugs, also known by the scientific name Cimex lectularius, have been a major American nuisance as far back as Colonial times.

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