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Eric Shackle Writes: Bugging The World

Our intrepid reporter Eric Shackle confronts an itchy public health problem which is multiplying worldwide.

Hordes of foreign travelers visiting Sydney for World Youth Day and Beijing for the 2008 Olympics are being warned they may be bitten by bloodsucking bed bugs, which are breeding in plague numbers worldwide.

Ironically, the travelers themselves are part of the problem, since bed bugs are expert hitchikers, hiding in their clothes and luggage. Perhaps the bugs should be renamed Itch-hikers. And tourists can truly say they've been bitten by the Travel Bug.

But it's no laughing matter. In the US, five congressmen have co-sponsored a Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-6068 which proposes to provide $200 million over four years in grants to states to fight bed bugs in hotel rooms.

"Right now the bill's prospects don't look great, but the anti-bed bug netroots is mobilizing its membership to lobby for the legislation, so it could be a real dogfight," Josh Patashnik comments in The New Republic. http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2008/07/08/your-federal-government-at-work.aspx

In Sydney, the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital has launched a special Bed Bug web site. http://medent.usyd.edu.au/bedbug/ "Bed Bugs during the early part of the 21st Century have undergone a massive resurgence and there has been a notable lack of quality information available on this re-emerging public health pest," it says.

The problem was wiped out in Australia during the 1950s with the aid of the now banned chemical DDT, Westmead Hospital entomologist Stephen Doggett wrote. He said international travellers had been unwittingly carrying the insects into Australia for the past two decades and current pest control measures were failing to eradicate them.

Bedbugs are reddish-brown insects that, when bloated with human blood, are the size of apple seeds. Drawn by body heat, they attack at night and inject an anesthetic that makes them difficult to detect while they're filling up. A hungry bed bug can consume its body weight in blood in five minutes. Next morning its victim will scratch at an irritating itch, and perhaps see tiny spots of blood on the sheets.

Chinese authorities have spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate bed bugs and other "harms" before the 2008 Olympics begin on August 8.

"In front of Bird's Nest, the National Stadium, fully-armed workers launched a new war on Friday against the capital's rats, flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches," Xinhua news agency writer Li Huizi reported from Beijing on June 20, adding:

Such pests were dubbed the "Four Harms" in 1950s by late Chairman Mao Zedong, and later turned into a long-term national campaign to enhance public awareness of disease prevention.

In the 1950s, Chairman Mao launched the Four Harms Eradication campaign to get rid of pests, which originally were rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. In the absence of sparrows, locusts consumed many crops, which later became disastrous.

Mao instructed in 1960 that sparrows should not be included in the kill list, which, instead, changed one of the four harms to bed bugs.

Sydney and Beijing have no more bed bugs than most other parts of the world. For a really vivid account from a Canadian travel advisor who had stayed in a bug-infested Parisian hotel, you should read a review headed “Yikes ! Bed bugs galore!”



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