Q: How can I tell if my apartment is infested with bedbugs? A friend has just gone through a nightmare experience trying to get rid of them. She had to throw out her mattress, couch and other furniture, have the whole place fumigated and everything dry-cleaned. It cost thousands of dollars.
I saw a bug the other night in my bedding, and the next night I had a bite. I am totally freaked out. I can't afford an exterminator to find out.
A: Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) were once rare in the U.S. but are now making a dramatic resurgence. The bites can cause intense itching.
These pests are very hard to eradicate, but researchers at Rutgers University have come up with an easy and inexpensive way to detect them (Science News, Jan. 16, 2010). Put 2.5 pounds of dry ice in a one-third-gallon jug, such as a Coleman cooler with a flip-up spout. The spout should be left slightly open, so the carbon dioxide can leak out.
Place the cooler in a plastic pet-food dish and tape a piece of paper to the outside of the dish as a gangplank for the bedbugs to climb. To make the plastic even more slippery, dust the dish with talcum powder. Within 12 hours, the carbon dioxide will lure bedbugs to the trap, and you will see them in the bottom of the plastic dish if you have any.
Q: I have been haunted with RLS (restless leg syndrome) for years. I took the drug Mirapex, only to get all the side effects: gambling, overeating and obsessing about sex. The drug totally ruined my life. What can you tell me about nondrug approaches?
A: Mirapex (pramipexole) can ease RLS symptoms but side effects such as compulsive eating, shopping and gambling, as well as hypersexuality, have been reported. Some people may fall asleep while driving.
Many readers tell us that minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium can help RLS as well as leg cramps. Some also find soap under the sheet helpful.
Q: I take atenolol for high blood pressure. I would like to take something to help me lose weight, and I have seen that I can buy Meridia online.
When I looked for more information, I read it should not be taken if you have high blood pressure. Since I take atenolol, my blood pressure is under control. Does that mean it would be safe for me to take this weight-loss pill?
A: Meridia (sibutramine) is a controlled prescription diet pill. It should only be taken under careful medical supervision, as there are a number of potentially serious side effects and drug interactions to watch out for.
Although there are Web sites that offer to sell Meridia without a prescription, this is a dangerous plan. Sites that sell controlled substances without requiring a bona fide prescription might have few scruples about selling you counterfeit medicine.
What is more, the Food and Drug Administration notified doctors in November 2009 that it is evaluating whether Meridia puts patients at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes. Your doctor will know if your blood pressure is controlled well enough for this risk.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via their Web site, peoplespharmacy.com.