GOOD night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite. It’s an old-fashioned saying, but the warning has more relevance in today’s society than some might realise, as the bed bug population is seeing a huge resurgence.

New York has been hit by the worst infestation in more than a decade, but the blood-sucking parasites, scientific name Cimex lectularius, are also striking much closer to home.

Mark Paine, area manager for Ringwood-based pest control company Rokill, said: “When I first started this job 13 years ago we very rarely did bed bugs.

“In Bournemouth we might get one case a month. But I know a couple of teams have got four or five on the go at the moment across the south of England.”

Bed bugs have been around for hundreds of years but, despite practically disappearing in the 1960s, have now reinvented themselves for the modern age.

Unsuccessful attempts to deal with infestations with mild, off-the-shelf products, and a ban on many more powerful insecticides mean the parasites are creeping back into our lives.

And, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just beds that the creatures inhabit.

“They’re in the changing rooms of shops, in hotels and they get transferred around with things, for example if people buy second-hand furniture,” said Mark.

“We’ve had them living behind wallpaper, in the folds of curtains. Anywhere you’ve got humans there’s a risk that you could get bed bugs.”

Once you’ve got them, getting rid of bed bugs is no easy task.

Bedding must be washed at a temperature of at least 40 degrees to kill off adult bugs and eggs, while smaller items such as cuddly toys should be bagged and placed in a freezer for a few days.

Treating an infestation at a residential home can take up to three hours as beds need to be taken apart to target bugs hiding behind screws or under wooden slats.

“Because of the life cycle of the insect you have to go back,” explained Mark.

“Some of the jobs we’ve done in the past have lasted a few months. You go in once a month and do really thorough treatments.”

Bed bugs are generally about the size of a little fingernail and usually bite around the neck and shoulders – the areas exposed while people are sleeping.

But good hygiene and regular vacuuming – and emptying of the vacuum – can help to keep them at bay.

Rokill, which covers the whole of the south of England, is also often called out to deal with rats, mice and squirrels. But other pests becoming increasingly problematic are birds.

“We’ve got a dedicated bird division which spends every day dealing with pigeons,” said Mark.

“They carry diseases, they’re associated with bird mites and their droppings carry spores which can carry ornithosis, or pigeon fancier’s lung.

“Seagulls are also becoming an issue. They’re very aggressive when they have their young.”

Mark always advises calling a professional to deal with pests, but the most important advice is to report any sightings either to a pest control company or the local authority.

“People are so used to seeing pests that they just ignore it,” he said. “But if it’s not dealt with, that’s when it becomes a problem.”