Bedbugs are the ultimate hitchhikers, traveling from country to country, place to place via clothing, luggage, used furniture and bedding.
And they're back in the Tri-Cities, keeping pest control companies busy.
"The calls are coming from home owners, hotels, apartments," said Mike Hart, owner of Rose Hart Pest Control in Kennewick. "We average a minimum of two a day."
They're tiny. Adults measure just a quarter inch, and are so flat they can be found between the pages of a book.
They're invisible by day, hiding in cracks and crevices, along the bed rail, even in wall sockets. At night they creep out, join you in bed and -- like tiny vampires -- feast on your blood.
"The only good thing about bedbugs is they're not a health concern. They don't carry diseases," said Mike Bush, an entomologist with the Washington State University Extension in Yakima.
"But I've had people tell me insomnia -- from just knowing they're in the house -- is as bad as disease," Bush said.
The first clue they've moved in is usually blood spots on the sheets. They feed for three to 10 minutes, injecting an anticoagulant so you continue to ooze blood for a while afterwards. Some people are more allergic to it -- and the anesthesia they also inject -- than others and develop red, itchy lesions from the bites.
The best way to avoid an infestation is to be aware of the problem and take steps, said Raymond VanderLouw, a certified pest management consultant with Pointe Pest Control in Benton City.
"When you buy clothes at a garage sale or thrift store immediately wash, then dry them for 20 minutes," VanderLouw said. "Most dryers reach 155 to 180 degrees, plenty hot enough to kill them."
Heating the house and its contents is another way to kill the pests. Pointe uses large portable heaters, then fans to distribute the heat to all corners and cracks of a home. They maintain the temperature at 135-140 degrees for three to five hours.
Cost for the heat treatment is about $2,500 for a house and about $1,000 to $1,500 for an apartment. Usually only one heat treatment is necessary.
"Heat's a very effective tool for bedbugs. In extreme cases we'll supplement with chemical products," VanderLouw said.
Hart prefers to use pesticides. Over the years he's experimented and found an effective combination that works well on bedbugs, he said.
"You have to know where to put it. Basically the bedrooms are what need to be treated," Hart said.
He charges $300 and applies the pesticide in three treatments. After the first application he'll return in 10 days to two weeks to kill any bedbugs that have hatched from eggs, then once more.
Bedbugs have been around for thousands of years, and people simply learned how to manage them, Hart said. He remembers his grandmother setting the feet of her bedposts on coasters filled with soapy water or petroleum oil. Instead of climbing the bedposts to the mattress and sleeping humans, the insects fall in and drown.
"Since the advent of pesticides we've gotten away from protecting ourselves from this nuisance," Bush said.
If bedbugs do move in, Bush recommends letting the professionals deal with them.
"And do shop around, talk to two, three companies. Check with the Better Business Bureau, ask your friends who they recommend," Bush said.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org