Amber Hinson knew the popular saying: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” but that phrase took on a whole new meaning when the critters crawled on her son.
Hinson said she noticed Cody, 2 ½, scratching a lot, mostly on his legs and arms.
“The bites became infected,” she said.
Hinson, her boyfriend and Cody believe they picked up the bed bugs at a motel while vacationing in Tennessee. Since then, they've thrown out their old mattress and called in pest control. They often sleep elsewhere.
"About four years ago, we saw no bed bugs at all. Since then, we've seen a steady increase. We see anywhere from one-to-two a month,” said Jamie Smith, a pest control provider.
The state of North Carolina does not keep records on the number of bed bug infestations, but a nation-wide survey shows pest control providers are seeing a dramatic increase.
Bed bugs can be smaller than Lincoln’s head on a penny.
U.S populations are reportedly up some 500 percent in the past few years. The reason, according to experts, is the use of less noxious pesticides and an increase in travel.
Travelers can pick up bed bugs at hotels and motels, and bring them home in their luggage.
“I never ever thought I would be going through such a thing as this,” Hinson said. “It's disrupted our lives a little bit."
Hinson said she wants the public to know that bed bugs are not an economic or cleanliness issue. It's more about bringing home an unwanted souvenir from a trip that was supposed to be fun.
“If I can get them, anyone can get them,” she said.
So how can you protect yourself? When you go to a hotel or motel, check for bedbugs in the places they like to hide: carpet edges, mattress seams and pillow case linings.
Some of the signs you might find: eggs, droppings, tiny bloodstains and even the bugs themselves in folds and seams.
Experts also say not to leave clothing on a bed or sofa that could be infested. They suggest using hangers or hooks to keep clothing elevated from the floor or bed.
It is also important to elevate luggage from the floor. Luggage can be placed on a table or luggage stand. Suitcases should be closed when not in use.
If you find a bed bug, collect it and show it to the hotel or motel manager.
Since bed bugs are most active an hour before dawn, a technique for finding them is to have a flashlight in your room. Without turning on any room lights, use it to inspect your mattress at that hour.
If you do have bed bugs, experts say call a professional to get rid of them.
Smith uses steam to kill the insects and the eggs. Targeted insecticide is also a common part of the treatment process.
Since bedding cannot be sprayed, infested mattresses sometimes have to be thrown out.