US officials are on the warpath against a new plague pouncing on unsuspecting Americans from cellphones, keyboards and mattresses -- the humble bed bug now staging a comeback after two decades.
The tiny blood-suckers had all but vanished over the past 20 years, but now pose "the most difficult, challenging pest problem of our generation," entomologist Mike Potter from the University of Kentucky told a conference.
"In my opinion, we are not going to get out of this thing" until we "allow the pest-control industry to go to war," he warned.
The two-day meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, dubbed the first National Bed Bug Summit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), heard the insects are spreading rapidly, infesting all kinds of public buildings and spaces.
"We've never seen anything like this," agreed Mike Deutsch, an entomologist with Arrow Exterminating, saying bed bug colonies were being found in lamp bases, clock radios, televisions as well as snuggled up in the pages of books.
"We certainly know that bed bugs are not restricted to beds and upholstered furniture, but now we're finding them in places even we never thought possible."
The talks aim to "identify ideas and options for bed bug prevention, control, and management; create strategies for outreach and education; and develop recommendations for action," the EPA said in a statement.
Infestations are being recorded in hotels and restaurants, and are now considered a major problem around the United States.
As their name suggests, bed bugs are primarily found in mattresses and become active at night when they gorge on the blood of sleeping humans who are blissfully unaware that they are providing an impromptu midnight feast.
Until the next morning that is, when red welts show up on the victim's skin.
According to the American Medical Association, the flat, oval, brownish-red creatures, which measure about five millimeters, do not transmit any diseases.
But they leave traces of blood and feces on the pillows and sheets, and an infested room can have a unpleasant, pungent smell.
Now though the tiny vampires are swarming out of the bedroom and into other places including pictures and cuddly toys. And no one can escape, with bed bugs as likely to invade luxury hotels as shelters for the homeless.
"Five million dollar homes on the north shore of Long Island to homeless shelters in New York City are experiencing problems," said Deutsch.
Frequent international travel and hotel stays have helped bed bugs stage their comeback after near extinction in the US, hitching a ride back into the country in suitcases.
The bugs' dramatic reappearance also coincides with the withdrawal from the market of powerful chemicals such as DDT, which killed the insects but were harmful for the environment.
Few of the remaining chemicals have proved as effective against the tiny invaders, and some kinds have even developed a resistance to them.
One Democratic lawmaker now plans to throw the full force of the Congress against the itchy little pests, with plans to reintroduce the "Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008."
That bill failed to get passed last year, but it aims to provide funding for public housing authorities to exterminate the unwanted visitors hidden in their midst.