NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - One in five Americans has either had an experience with bedbugs themselves or knows someone who has and a majority say the tiny blood-suckers are a source of worry for them, according to a new survey.
Seventy eight percent of respondents were most concerned about infested hotels, while others said they were wary of picking them up at work, at the doctor's, at the movie theater or on public transportation.
"I was surprised just how pervasive the problem is," said Missy Henriksen, a vice president at the National Pest Management Association, which commissioned the online survey of 504 adults.
Bedbugs, which are about the size of a grain of rice and flat-shaped, like to nestle in furniture and bedding upholstery and are notoriously difficult to get rid of.
Exterminators use powerful chemicals to rid apartments of bugs, an invasive process that forces tenants to temporarily move out.
Young renters who live in cities are most vulnerable to bedbugs, the survey showed.
Some respondents said they changed their routines to minimize the likelihood of encountering the bug.
A quarter of respondents have checked a hotel room for bedbugs and 12 percent have changed or canceled travel plans for fear of the pest. Others said they checked second-hand furniture and store dressing rooms.
Having a bedbug infested home can also hurt people's social lives. A third of respondents said they would not invite friends who had the infestation into their homes, as people can carry bedbugs around on their clothing.
But the poll also found wide-spread misinformation about bedbugs. Nearly half believed, incorrectly, that bedbugs transmit disease to humans and more than a quarter thought they are more common in lower income households and dirty homes.
"The truth is that bedbugs do not discriminate in regard to cleanliness, nor do they prefer one socio-economic class to another," Henriksen said.
"Bedbugs are found in penthouses and five-star hotels as well as in low-income housing and budget motels."