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Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Return of the bed bug
bed bugs
Small, flat, oval ... and stronger than before
The bed bug is making its way back into domestic life throughout the UK.

The blood-sucking pest - commonly thought to have been eradicated at about the same time as Dickensian slums - is now being reported in increasing numbers of homes around the country.

And new research suggests that the bugs are not just back - they are also stronger, having developed a resistance to the most commonly used pesticides.

antique bed
Old furniture may harbour bugs
Tests on the oval-shaped creatures were carried out entomologists at Cambridge University after an outbreak in the city.

Residents in a small block of flats complained to council pest controllers, who in turn brought in the insect experts.

Ian Burgess, who works at the university's entomology centre, believes the upturn in infestations is largely a consequence of the increased popularity of car boot and second hand furniture sales.

He estimated that reports of bed bug infestation had risen from about 600 a year a decade ago, to about 1,500-2,000 per annum in recent times.

Car boot sales

He said: "To some extent, this increase is to do with the second hand trade in furniture.

"Antiques, things from car boot sales and second hand furniture shops are more fashionable now.

"They hide in the cracks and crevices in furniture, in the joints and seams.

bed bug
Bugs, by preference, live on human blood
"They could even live quite happily in tear in wallpaper.

"They come out at night and drink blood - several times their own weight in blood. Then because they have to get rid of a large volume of water, they defecate, leaving black deposits which are hard to remove from surfaces and have a musty odour."

Cimex lectularius, as the experts call the bug, bites its victims leaving itchy red spots.

In severe cases, sufferers develop wheals - and eventually in some cases, immunity, so that they may show no reaction at all to being bitten.

Mr Burgess' tests have identified some less commonly used pesticides, which the bugs are still sensitive to.

But he says the bed bug is still destined to become a more frequent sight.

He said: "If people do think they have an infestation, they should seek professional help immediately.

"They can be got rid of, but I certainly wouldn't recommend splashing pesticides around willy nilly on furniture. Leave that to people who know what they are doing."

  • Bed bugs grow by moulting several times and the nymphs look like small adults. A large one is about 4-6mm long.

    They have a life span of about four months.

  • Female bed bugs deposit 10-50 eggs at a time. A total of 200-500 eggs can be produced per female. The eggs hatch in 1-3 weeks.

  • Gentlemen travellers in the 19th Century would often take a pig with them when staying at strange hotels. They would put the pig in bed first, to satisfy the bugs' blood lust, before risking retiring for the night themselves.
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