Bedbugs are making news again this summer, after showing up in at least a couple of high-profile places: the New York City subway system and United Airlines’ headquarters in Chicago.
Yet while you don’t want to bring these blood-sucking critters home with you, there are plenty of pests more common – and more hazardous to your health and home – than bedbugs, experts say.
“Bedbugs do get the lion’s share of attention because they’ve made such a resurgence,” said Missy Henriksen, the National Pest Management Association’s vice president of public affairs.
For a long time, exterminators received relatively few calls from people dealing with bedbug infestations. But in 2010, the insects began to get increased attention as more incidents popped up –and in places other than homes and hotels, including retail stores, movie theaters and even the Empire State Building.
The reason they strike fear into the hearts of most Americans: Bedbugs feed on your blood in places where you’re supposed to be most the comfortable and relaxed, said Paul Curtis, board certified entomologist and manager of commercial service with Terminix. They might choose to feast while you’re sleeping in bed or enjoying TV on your easy chair. People have varying reactions to bites, but most will get itchy bumps.
The best way to avoid a bedbug infestation is to take appropriate steps while in hot spots. At hotels, keep your suitcases off the floor and the bed – or even better, in a tiled bathroom where the bugs are less likely to venture. Check the sheets, mattress and headboard for any sign of them, and alert management if you find something suspicious. Before walking into your home after being at a movie theater, check your shoes, clothing and purse for signs a bedbug has hitched a ride, Curtis said.
Then, take some comfort in knowing that bedbugs are still not among the most common home pests. They’re not even the bugs that put your health or home most at risk. Those honors go to the pests below.
Most common pests
Ants take the prize for most common house pests, Curtis said. They’re also some of the hardest to remove from a home, and if not treated properly, they’ll keep coming back.
“There’s a consensus that ants, due to the fact that there are so many of them, they are probably by far the most common pest that puts pressure on a home in America,” Curtis said. “Anywhere [in the country] they’re going to be, there’s going to be multiple species and a lot of different biologies that impact why they’re coming into the home and why they’re difficult to get rid of.”
Carpenter ants, for instance, could have a primary colony in your neighbor’s yard; when you destroy the colony in your home, they could invade again, he said. With pharaoh ants, if a member doesn’t come back to the colony (after, perhaps, you smashed one on the counter), they can fracture their colony, splitting up into two locations as a survival strategy, he added.
Rodents are also high on this list, and as the fall approaches and it gets colder, they begin looking for a place to take shelter-your attics, garages, basements, kitchens and walls being some of their most preferred spots. Also very common are roaches, which often hide under appliances and sinks.
Most difficult pests to remove
Ants are hard to remove because of their sheer numbers and survival strategies.
From a safety standpoint, black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders and stinging insects, such as wasps and bees, can also be difficult to remove from a home, Curtis said. A bite from a black widow or brown recluse spider will land you in the emergency room; getting stung by wasps or bees also can be dangerous. That’s why removing these pests are often left to the professionals.
Pests most hazardous to your health
While mosquitoes are often considered outside pests, they can carry some serious pathogens and viruses, including the West Nile virus and, recently, the Chikungunya virus. Ticks, also typically found in the outdoors, can be carriers for some serious diseases as well, including Lyme disease.
Inside the house, rats and mice can spread more than 35 diseases, Curtis said, and can trigger allergies and asthma attacks.
Along with the ability to carry E. coli and salmonella, cockroaches also can contribute to childhood asthma and allergies, Henriksen said. And 78% to 98% of urban households have cockroaches, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. If one roach is seen in the basement or kitchen, you can pretty much assume that at least 800 roaches are hidden in places such as under the kitchen sink or in closets, according to an informational piece on the foundation’s website.
Pest most hazardous to your home
Termites infest 1 in 30 U.S. homes every year, causing an average of $8,184 in damage and repairs not covered by homeowners insurance, Curtis said. They’ll eat wood, cardboard, wallpaper, carpet backing and drywall – anything with cellulose in it, he said. They need only 1/32nd of an inch to enter your home.
Even worse, “typically a homeowner doesn’t know they’re having a problem until there is visible damage,” Curtis said.
With most pests, it’s best to eliminate their access to sources of food, water and shelter, keeping countertops clear and sinks free of dirty dishes, Henriksen said. Also, pay attention to your home’s envelope, eliminating cracks where they can enter. If you can slip a piece of paper under the door, a spider can crawl underneath it; if a tree branch or a stack of firewood is touching your home’s outside wall, you’re inviting termites, Henriksen said.