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Bugged by Bedbugs? TRICARE Has Answers

Sharon Foster, TRICARE Management Activity

Photo from BedBugs.org

TRICARE - September 29, 2010 Many insects that invade military barracks or family homes can cause painful bites and skin rashes but there is one bug grabbing headlines for its blood sucking abilities - bedbugs. Once a huge problem in homeless shelters and rundown apartments, bedbugs have upgraded their living quarters to upscale hotels, posh homes and military installations.

Wherever these pests may hide out, TRICARE officials would like to remind beneficiaries, although bedbugs are a nuisance, they are not known to spread disease and they do not present any significant health risk.

“As with other non-urgent conditions, such as colds, minor injuries or rashes, bedbug bites do not require a trip to the emergency room,” said U.S. Public Health Service Cmdr. Aileen Buckler, M.D., population health physician analyst at TRICARE Management Activity. “Most bedbug bites can be treated in the same way that you would treat a mosquito bite - antihistamines or corticosteroids to reduce itching and allergic symptoms and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.”

Begbugs, which belong to the Cimicidae insect family, are non-flying, oval shaped parasitic insects, about the size of apple seeds. They feed by sucking blood from animals and humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bedbugs can live in any area of the home and can reside in tiny cracks in furniture. They tend to be most common in areas where people sleep and generally concentrate in beds, including mattresses, box springs and bed frames. Other sites where bedbugs often reside include curtains, edges of carpet, corners inside dressers and cracks in wallpaper.

Bedbugs are most active at night. Their bites will feel itchy. Bedbug bites look like little red bumps (similar to mosquito bites) and they can sometimes occur in a line on the body.

Beneficiaries who think they’ve been bitten by a bedbug should wash the bites with soap and water. Calamine lotion or anti-itch creams normally help with the itching. Ice and antihistamine may help relieve the discomfort as well.

Beneficiaries are warned not to scratch the bites too much because this can make them become infected.

“Rarely a person may have a very severe whole body allergic reaction to a bedbug bite and, if that occurs, emergency treatment may be needed,” said Buckler.

Although treating a bedbug rash isn't difficult, getting rid of the blood sucking pest is another story and a professional exterminator may be needed.

To keep bedbugs away, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends:

  • check secondhand furniture before bringing it home
  • get rid of clutter, especially around a child's bed, toys, clothing and stuffed animals
  • don't let sheets or blankets touch the floor
  • examine beds and hotel rooms when you travel
  • keep luggage off the floor when you travel

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