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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
Bedbugs making a comeback
Bedbugs can cause itching and rashes
Bedbugs appear to be making a comeback after years of decline, researchers have found.

In 1998 specimens from just one bedbug infestation were submitted to the Brighton Public Health Laboratory Service - the first in four years.

However, in 1999 four infestations were reported to the same lab within the space of nine months.

Unless you think of bedbugs and ask patients to make a special search in the middle of the night you cannot make the diagnosis

Dr John Paul, Public Health Laboratory Service

In all four cases, the bedbugs were apparently transferred in luggage and furnishings brought over from overseas, including the United States and Australia.

One of the cases concerned a healthcare worker whose home became infested.

The worker had not travelled recently, nor bought furniture, nor been in close proximity to a source of infestation in the local vicinity.

The bugs were successfully killed off with insecticides, but three months later the worker's parents, who lived elsewhere, were also bitten, suggesting that the bugs had been transferred in personal effects, say the authors.

Shy bugs

Bedbugs can survive for up to six months without food.

The authors say that many doctors do not recognise bedbugs, and so might misdiagnose patients who have itchy bites and rashes acquired during the night.

Generally, bedbug bites are little more than a nuisance, although some people may develop blotchy reactions.

The bugs, which look like lentils, are rather shy, feeding on their unsuspecting victims during the night and going into hiding during the day.

They can hide in the seams of sofas and stuffed chairs, in the lining of wallpaper or cracks in floorboards - anywhere which is warm and dark.

The researchers suggest that the increase in international trade and travel may be responsible for the reported increase.

Wider risk

Researcher Dr John Paul said the number of bedbug infestations had declined throughout the 20th Century as a result of better housing conditions.

However, he told BBC News Online that the recent cases were all of people in the higher socio-economic classes, suggesting that everybody may now be at risk.

He said: "The point of the letter is to make doctors think of the possibility of bedbugs when patients come to them complaining of bites that don't quite fit the usual patterns.

"Unless you think of bedbugs and ask patients to make a special search in the middle of the night you cannot make the diagnosis."

Once an infestation is discovered it must be treated with insecticide.

The research was published in the British Medical Journal.

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