NPMA battles bedbugs with media offensive

DUNN LORING, VA: Bedbugs, the blood-suckers that live in mattresses, under wallpaper, and in a variety of other cracks and crevices, are the target of a campaign being undertaken by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

DUNN LORING, VA: Bedbugs, the blood-suckers that live in mattresses, under wallpaper, and in a variety of other cracks and crevices, are the target of a campaign being undertaken by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

For a few weeks, the non-profit organization for the pest-control industry and its member companies have been pushing a media-relations offensive that has landed the subjects of bedbugs' recent resurgence on ABC's Primetime Thursday, the Chicago Tribune, and Newsday.

The campaign's main goals are to educate consumers by communicating steps they can take to avoid infestations and encouraging them to call pest-control experts to get rid of bedbugs, according to Cindy Mannes, director of public affairs for the NPMA.

Mannes said that journalists "have been intrigued by something they thought was gone."

"The mythical nature of the bedbug has helped," said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, president of FCF Schmidt Public Relations, the association's AOR. "It propelled the insect into the public's eye."

The last rise in the bedbug population came after World War II, when returning soldiers brought hitchhiking insects home. There's no single explanation for the recent rise that's based on evidence from companies, like Orkin, that have noticed an uptick in the number of customer calls about bedbugs. The NPMA entomology department also noticed a heightened interest in the subject.

Mannes lauded the industry for its help on the campaign. "We're out in front of this issue, but this isn't something we could do without the industry's support," she said.

From the outset, the campaign faced a few challenges that issued from misperceptions about a creature that is perhaps best known from a nursery rhyme. First, bedbugs don't only reside in beds. Second, bedbug infestations aren't related to sanitary conditions.

"An infestation can happen in a one-star hotel or a five-star hotel," Mannes said.

Classified as an ectoparasite, bedbugs inject an anesthetic before biting their victims. Then they gorge on the blood. Though they don't carry disease, they do leave itchy, red, circular welts. Bedbugs' presence can be ruinous to hotels and the pests also find their way into private homes.

There's no single explanation for their recent resurgence, but experts are attributing it to travel and more targeted approaches to killing pests that may have bypassed the bedbugs in recent years.

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