In the early 20th century, deadly pesticides like DDT nearly eradicated, or at least brought under reasonable control, a number of voracious and deadly insects in the United States. The mosquitoes that spread malaria, for instance. And America's clean little secret: bedbugs.
We chose clean rather than dirty little secret because bedbugs infest tidy mansions as well as filthy slum dwellings.
And they're making a huge comeback across the country, to the point that New York City health officials use the word epidemic to describe the recent 34-percent jump in reported bedbug infestations. New York has even created an entire Bed Bug Advisory Board to try to figure out how to attack these pests.
Nocturnal bloodsuckers, the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Mastony called the tiny brown bugs, which are about half the size of your index fingernail. Chicago, too, appears to be overrun with bedbugs, and in Boston, Mastony reports, health workers are driving around the city slapping stickers on discarded furniture. The stickers read: CAUTION: THIS MAY CONTAIN BEDBUGS!
Bedbugs hide in places you would expect, such as crumpled sheets and the crevice between mattresses. But they also lurk in lamps, dresser drawers, shoes and the slippers next to your bed. They crawl out, hungry, at night, and administer tiny bites - not just to you but also to your pets. The bites soon itch terribly and easily become infected when scratched.
Lacking sure killing sprays like DDT, exterminators often lose the battle to eradicate bedbugs. Traditional fogging mists miss many of the hidden insects, and it can take several expensive visits, plus wholesale laundering of all your linens and clothing, to get rid of them. Then, to be sure the bugs don't come right back, you must store all these things in sealed plastic bags.
And here are some discouraging words for homeowners, renters and health officials. Hidden bedbugs can live for a year or more without eating! And when they finally come out, you really don't want to be their first meal!
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.