DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - For years, North Texas parents have put their children to bed saying "Don't let the bed bugs bite." But that phrase, meant as a joke, has become a strange reality for many across the region.
Sandy Mayberry says her short home video taken at a recent camping trip proved to be scarier than any story she heard around the campfire.
After going to sleep, she felt something biting her.
They were bed bugs, and they were coming right out of her bunk bed. "Bugs in your bed is pretty scary. When they're in your pajamas, when they're in your clothes, and they're biting you, and you see the blood, and when you're smacking them, it's just horrifying."
Mike Merchant is an entomologist at Texas A&M's Agrilife Research & Extension Center in North Dallas, where he studies bed bugs. "They feed on human blood.... They've figured out a strategy where they can live places near where people sleep, and get their meals at night."
Despite his knowledge of bed bugs, he says a family member recently had a run-in with bed bugs. "I think what's surprising is that even people that know a little about bed bugs, most of us don't really think it's going to happen to us... It's not a sanitation-related pest. You can live in the cleanest house and get a bed infestation."
In his relative's case, they had as many as 300 bed bugs on their mattress, sheets, and even on the wood below the mattress.
Merchant has a dozen of his own bed bugs he keeps at his lab. When the critters get hungry, he even willingly becomes their meal ticket. "It's not the most pleasant thing in the world, but for science and education. I'm willing to do it."
At the lab, they're trying to find more effective ways to make bed bugs a thing of the past. They thought they eradicated the insects 50 years ago.
But it turns out more and more people here in North Texas are having a horrifying experience with bed bugs.
Orkin Pest Control says last year, the DFW area ranked seventh in the nation when it comes to number of bed bug complaints.
That's a dramatic rise from 2010, when it ranked 50th.
"Realistically, when you start looking at what's going on, with the airport here, with the amount of travel that comes, it doesn't surprise me," says Ron Walter with Orkin.
Bed bugs started hitching a ride to the U.S. on international flights eight or nine years ago, signaling an unwelcome comeback.
"Bed bugs are resilient," says Merchant. "They've been able to adapt to a lot of our insectisides to control them."
Merchant says bed bugs often crawl into your luggage when you check out of a hotel.
So to avoid the Ceepy Crawlies -- here's what experts suggest - Don't put your clothes in the dresser when you stay in a hotel. Just keep them in your suitcase. And keep that suitcase up on the luggage rack.
Also - spray bug repellant on your suitcase, as it will last 24 hours. And check the hotel's mattress for stains bed bugs leave behind. Merchant said it will look like processed blood and feces.
Experts say people can also buy bed bug mattress covers. And pest control companies suggest lining dishes with talcum powder and put them under the bed posts. The bed bugs will be able to climb in, but won't be able to climb back out.;"
Another way to prevent bed bugs is when you get home from a trip. Experts say don't put your clothes in the washer right away. Instead, put them into the dryer on high heat for about 20 minutes. The heat will kill them.
Luckily for Sandy Mayberry, her bed bugs didn't follow her home. But because of her experience, she checks her mattress often.
Experts say bed bugs can also come home with your children from school.
Janet Hurley at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension Center says, "A bed bug can hitch a ride on a backpack, go to school with a child, and may sit in a locker or the bottom of a desk."
She suggests parents regularly go through their child's backpack.
Hurley says there haven't been any major issues at North Texas school districts.
Experts say if you do contract bed bugs in your home, you should immediately contact a pest control professional.
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