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Our tiny sleeping partner: (And two million more are lurking in the bed); WEEKEND: At Home:.

Byline: WITH ANN EVANS

GOOD night, sleep tight, hope the bugs don't bite - although chances are that some almost invisible little critter will be having a nibble during the small hours.

Apart from the occasional spider in the bath, we tend not see the majority of the creepy-crawlies living in our homes - and it's just as well.

Scientists tell us that we share our beds with about two million dust mites. These microscopic creatures feed on the dead skin that falls off the bodies of humans and animals and other organic matter.

They live in bedding, couches, carpets, stuffed toys and old clothing. It's worth remembering, as you snuggle down into your pillow tonight, that dead dust mites and their droppings may account for 10 per cent of the weight of a two-year-old pillow.

It was microscope inventor Anton van Leeuwenhoek who in 1694 first discovered the existence of dust mites. What is not recorded is his reaction when he peered down his invention to find these tiny and ugly little bugs looking back up at him.

These little mites, which aren't visible to the naked eye, cause all kinds of allergic reactions, from itchy noses and eyes to severe asthma attacks. Dust mites are second only to pollen as a cause of allergic reactions.

More than 3.4million people in the UK suffer from asthma and one of the main triggers is the house dust mite. As these mites grow, they shed their skin. This shed skin and droppings are what cause allergic reactions in people.

Other irritating little bedfellows, less common than mites, are bed bugs. The common bed bug (Cimex Lectularius), a small brownish, flattened insect, lives off human blood and has been around since ancient times. Thanks to improvements in hygiene most modern householders have never seen one.

Spiders are something that we all see, however. The house spider (Tegenaria gigantea/domestica) can grow in body size to just over half an inch (15mm) and that does not include the leg span which can reach up to 2[thorn] inches (70mm).

Scientists have yet to discover why the biggest, hairiest, scariest ones show themselves only when there's no brave member of the household around to deal with them. So they lie in the bath, sink or on the ceiling until someone less of a wimp comes home to deal with it.

Your home can also be invaded by woodlice, woodworm, silverfish, earwings and cockroaches.

Fleas are another nuisance, which can be blamed on the dog or cat - or better still on someone else's pet.

Fleas (siphonaptera) are small, wingless, blood-feeding insects. Cats and dogs are indeed their primary hosts, but they will make do with living on humans, and happily lay their eggs around the bedding or soft furnishings.

A female can lay 25 eggs per day. And these little bugs can jump up to 20cm vertically and 41cm horizontally.

So, beware - it's not just Big Brother watching us - it's millions of little creatures, eager to bite us or scare us to death.

Sleep tight - but mind the bed bugs don't bite.

FIGHTING BACK IN BATTLE OF THE BUGS HERE are steps you can take to reduce contact with dust mites:

ENCLOSE mattresses, box springs and pillows in zippered allergen- and dustproof covers.

WASH bedding materials, including pillow cases, sheets, blankets and mattress pads every other week in hot water (60C).

ELIMINATE or reduce fabric wall hangings such as tapestries or pennants.

BUY stuffed toys that are machine washable. Soft toys should regularly be placed in the freezer for about four hours, then thoroughly washed.

AVOID using curtains, drapes or blinds on windows. Use plastic shades instead.

REMOVE carpets from the bedroom of any allergic person and replace it with tile or wooden floors.

REPLACE upholstered furniture with wooden or plastic makes.

VACUUM carpets daily ideally using a HEPA filter. Throw away vacuum bags after use. Vacuum curtains, fabrics and three-piece suites three times a week.

STEAM cleaning is very effective. Vacuum afterwards totally to remove dead mites and allergen.

DAMPEN dust to stop particles becoming airborne.

HOUSE dust mites need a temperature of 25C/77F to survive, so a temperature below this will reduce the number in your home.

CAPTION(S):

CREEPY... The spider is an all-too-visible invader of our homes. ODD BEDFELLOWS...An electron micrograph of a microsopic dust mite, which feeds off the dead skin of humans and animals. NUISANCE... Fleas lay their eggs around beds or furnishings. HIDDEN RISK... Even the mist luxurious bed can harbour dust mites.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 21, 2006
Words:756
Previous Article:Court In Brief.
Next Article:Pet SOS; WEEKEND.
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