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You may think that bedbugs, whose bites can cause red, itchy welts, are found only in unsavory hotel rooms and apartment buildings. But they've been spotted on trains and airplanes, in movie theater seats, offices, schools, libraries — even restaurants.
That's according to a 2015 survey of 236 pest-control professionals nationwide, conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky.
However, experts say you don't really have to worry too much about the bugs — which usually live within eight feet of where people sleep — hitching a ride home with you when you're out and about.
"They can show up just about anywhere imaginable," says bedbug researcher Michael Potter, a professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky. But "it's probably unlikely people will transport them home when numbers are low and it's a 'non-bed' environment."
A few places may warrant watchfulness, though. Here, where it's wise to be on the alert.
Pest professionals' encounters with bedbugs in nursing homes are up more than 50 percent since 2010, putting them first on the NPMA survey list. In fact, 58 percent of those surveyed said they'd been asked to handle an outbreak in an eldercare facility.
The communal living of nursing homes makes it easy for residents and staff to inadvertently transport bugs. Older adults are less likely to experience itchy welts after bites — thanks to less reactive immune systems — and so may fail to notice a problem. Elderly people may also have difficulty seeing bugs, says Dini Miller, a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech.
But it's unclear how common these bedbug problems are. The NPMA's findings "do not mean that, for example, 58 percent of nursing homes have bedbugs — just that 58 percent of pest-control companies found bedbugs in the nursing homes they serviced that year," says Potter.
In the NPMA survey, office buildings were the third-most-common spot cited, just below homeless shelters. College dorms were fourth, schools and day cares fifth, and hospitals and medical facilities sixth.
However, true infestations seem to be rare, especially in schools, day cares and workplaces, Potter says.
They may be more likely in dorms, where students sleep and spend time in each other's rooms and in communal areas. But "usually the universities will spend all the money needed to get that taken care of," Miller notes.
Bedbug sightings, but not necessarily infestations, do appear to be on the rise in hospital emergency rooms and waiting rooms.
●Know what to look for. These small, disk-shaped, reddish-brown bugs and their fecal matter (peppercorn-size black spots) can be seen with the naked eye.
●Be attentive where it's warranted. It's reasonable to look for signs in places where people live and/or sleep — especially those that receive many visitors — and in public lounging areas such as sofas in libraries, waiting rooms and transportation settings, says Potter.
●Protect your belongings. If you suspect a problem in your office, school or another location, store items that go home with you, such as coats and handbags, away from other people's belongings.
●Treat with heat. Concerned that you or your child may have carried a stray bedbug home? Toss the clothes you or your child wore, and blankets and plush toys from school in a hot dryer for 30 minutes.
●Stay calm. If you spot a bedbug, remember: One bug does not an infestation make. Ask who handles these issues, and report it. Management should alert those in the building, determine whether it's a sign of bigger problems, and deal with an infestation promptly.
●Be vigilant at nursing homes. "If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you should be inspecting his or her bed regularly, not relying on people there to do it," Miller says. Examine the mattress and headboard (and wheelchair, if applicable) at each visit, and check your relative for bites. Consider encasing your relative's mattress and box spring with bug-proof covers, and reduce clutter.
●Call in experts if need be. "When in doubt, have an experienced pest-control person come to your home and perform a detailed inspection," Potter says.
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