11:37 PM PDT on Sunday, April 18, 2010
By SARAH BURGE
Bedbugs have made a nationwide comeback in recent years, turning up in suburban homes, ritzy hotels, movie theaters, day care centers, hospitals and even a Southern California restaurant.
But if you think bedbugs might be biting in your home, you don’t have to tear the place apart to find them.
Several area companies are using specially trained dogs that sniff out the blood-sucking pests not just inside mattresses and box springs but in upholstered furniture, behind wallpaper, even in electrical outlets and clock radios.
The dogs — typically beagles — can cover a home in minutes, whereas a human inspector might take hours to complete a visual inspection. Handlers say the animals are 95 percent accurate, outperforming humans. When they smell live bugs or eggs, the dogs “alert” by sitting and pointing with their nose or pawing at the location.
Greg Baumann, vice president and senior scientist for the National Pest Management Association, a pest control trade group, said termite-sniffing dogs have been in use for two decades, but the demand for bedbug dogs is new.
Using dogs makes sense because bedbugs are elusive and small, Baumann said. Adults are about the size of an apple seed.
Dogs are especially helpful for ruling out bedbugs before moving into a new home, he said. Still, consumers should understand the limitations — dogs can’t tell how long an infestation has been around or how many bugs there are, he said.
Southern California companies that offer canine bedbug inspections say much of their business comes from hotels and furniture-rental warehouses.
“They’re bringing them in before they have a problem,” said Karen Olsen, owner of Certified K-9 Inspections in San Diego County.
Although bedbugs do not pose a health hazard, they are difficult to exterminate and about 60 percent of people have an allergic reaction to their bites, leaving them with red, itchy welts. Experts cite decreased use of pesticides as a likely factor in the bedbug resurgence.
Finding bedbugs in your home can be quite traumatizing, said Mike Masterson, who is well-attuned to the human drama that accompanies insect infestations. His Covina-based company, ISOTECH Pest Management, was featured on a Discovery Channel series about exterminators.
“It’s just an emotional roller coaster once you get bedbugs,” he said. “You become a blood donor all night long.”
~Bed bugs are persistent. Killing an infestation requires persistence and time.
~Bed bugs can hide in extremely small cracks and crevices. They can travel under a crevice the height of a credit card.
~Bedbugs are rarely seen in daylight. They prefer to feed at night, but will bite during the day.
~Bed bugs can live a year or longer without food (blood).
~Bed bugs hatch from eggs in aproximately 10 days. Temperature can affect egg hatching time.
~After feeding five times, a female bed bug can begin laying eggs. She can lay 3-5 eggs every day for months without another meal. A newly hatched bed bug is ready for its first meal.
~After being bitten by bed bugs, you may experience the phantom sensations of bugs crawling on and biting your skin.