Monday, 16 August 2010

don't let the bed bugs bite

my parents used to say that to me when i was going to sleep. just like "sleep tight" (which is a reference to how people used to sleep on hay that they would bind and recently tightened beds were more comfy) i just thought it was something people said. it wasn't until i was in college that i realized that bed bugs were bugs that bit you when you were in bed.

i had never seen them nor heard of anyone having them until the night before i left for colombia. that's when i discovered that i had bed bugs and had been letting them bite me for awhile. this made for a few nights without sleep . . . i was just SO creeped out!

had i not journeyed into hardcore denialville, i would have known 3 weeks earlier when i first noticed little pin-head sized blood spots on my sheets and the odd, itchy string of bites on my arms.

during my denial phase, Aly (who is a fellow that worked with me for the last 6 months AND who study with a bed bug specialist at Harvard) said, "i wonder if you have bed bugs" after i showed her the strange set of bites on my arm. i just laughed. i thought, how could i have bed bugs, i'm clean . . . plus i didn't think that they existed anymore. i had seen a red bug the size of a pin head on my bed, but just figured it was some weird dc thing.

without denial, i would have look at photos of bed bugs and tried to figure out if i had them. instead i avoid the topic of bed bugs like the plague. i often do that. sometimes, when a task is daunting or it is new territory i can procrastinate or deny reality with the best of them. this is a testimony to me of the power of denial. it was so obvious that i had bed bugs, but i did not want to believe it, so i kept my head in the sand for a LONG time. once i actually saw the bugs crawling on my bed that night, the denial cracked open, and i realized i had them for a LONG time.

denial is powerful!

i figure i should share my bed bug epiphany with all of my readers (all 10 of you). . . there is a bed bug infestation taking place in the US. some are calling it an epidemic, but that word is for illnesses, bugs infest! NYC is super infested and it is moving throughout the eastern seaboard. all 50 states and the territories have reported bed bugs. calls to exterminators for bed bugs have increased about 70% across the US.

we are a people on the move, and we are taking our bed bugs with us. they travel in our clothes and suitcases and can hibernate for a really long time.

it is important to check any hotel bed you are going to sleep in for bed bugs before you lay down. i will explain how:

signs of bed bugs:
  • pin head sized brown or red spots on your sheets. (they bite you at night and then they poop the rest of the day.
  • brown spots or casings of bed bugs in the folds of your mattress, box springs or along the wooden walls near your bed.
  • bites on uncovered parts of your body. the bites are usually in a string or circle of bites
bed bugs do bite but only at night, when you are asleep. they inject anesthetics and anticoagulants via their saliva under your skin that creates a numbness, many people can't feel when they are being bit. i never did. during one 10-minute feeding they will suck down 2-3 times their body weight in your blood.

some people won't react for 14 days or more. so check your sheets, that will be the best way to know if you have them.

during the day bed bugs hide themselves in the folds of your mattress. they need to feel hidden. they often will all glob together to hide (they aren't the smartest bugs). just so long as 2/3 of their body is covered they think they are hidden. they will usually be near where their food sleeps (you are their food), so look under your sheets, bed skirt, mattress, and box springs near the side of the bed you sleep on.

gary the exterminator took this photo
this is post-extermination
this is the underside of my box spring

each female bed bug will lay 6 eggs a day. this is not a typo. from an op-ed in the NYT last week:
Because the female bedbug has no genital opening, the male inseminates her by using his hardened, sharpened genitalia to punch a hole through her abdomen. With no elaborate courtship ritual, males in a frenzied pursuit of sexual congress often blunder into and puncture the bodies of other males, occasionally inflicting fatal wounds.
this rate of reproduction is staggering when you consider just how long it could take to be completely infested. when they are young they are so small they just look like little red dots moving. below is the life cycle of a bed bug:

the adults are about the size of a lady bug, but flat and not cute at all!

this is just a photo from the internet, but should help you get a feel for their size
if you want more info on this, check out this bed bug site
i can't look at it for long without getting the creeps and feeling itchy all over.

you can also tell that you have bed bugs by the "sweet musky" smell of their oderants -- which is how they communicate. if you are smelling this sweet musky smell, you probably have a bunch of bed bugs.

bed bugs mutate incredibly fast, which makes complete eradication tricky. NYC has been battling bed bugs for over 5 years. the city, they believe, is infested. fancy hotels and shops along park avenue have been shut down because of bed bugs. some believe that NYC's environmental policies are making it impossible to kill the bed bugs off. because they mutate so quickly, it is important that if you use pesticide, you do at least two treatments and change the mixture of insecticide so that they don't become immune.

having bed bugs doesn't mean anything about the cleanliness of your house or office. though bed bugs do like to hide in clutter and prefer paper and other wood products to any other substance. so i had a bunch of books next to my bed and some bookbinding papers under my bed. they were living in them. in a raging fit of lazy i had also shoved my winter down comforter under my bed -- i didn't want to have to find a bag to put it in before storing it in the attic -- they were in it too.

bed bugs can't survive extreme temperatures. the best way to kill them is to expose them to really cold or hot. i ended up washing just about every piece of cloth i owned in a extra hot cycle in my washing machine.

you can also freeze them to death, which might be a cool way of killing them in the winter.

i put all my books in a garbage bag and sprayed insecticide on the books and in the bag and sealed it. gary, my exterminator, said that would for sure kill all of them.

you can also suffocate/starve them. this is time consuming. a bed bug can live for up to a year without food. so, the stuff that wasn't super important is in the attic waiting for a year to come back down. i may end up just throwing it away, because if i don't need it for a full year, i probably don't need it.

michigan has provide its citizens with this super helpful guide: don't let the bed bugs bite if you are looking for more information.


Amiee said...

i am totally horrified!!!!!!!!

Alena Byers said...

I think I may have bed bugs because every night I go to sleep and in the morning wake up with a new bite and it just started this week I am extremely scared to look under my sheets. I just recently changed my room around and took the mattress and box spring of my bed to move it but didn't see any bugs, I also vaccumed the cracks and crevices of my bed where dust and other things had collected and seen no bugs but I am terrified of looking underneath my sheets and in between the matress.. please help.

teabelly said...

i feel your pain, but i promise it feels way better to know and get it taken care of than being trapped by the fear.

remember though, they are yucky but they can't hurt you. and they reproduce exponentially, so the earlier you get rid of them the less of a problem you have.

exterminators said...

When you sleep at night, you may not be aware that bed bugs are already feeding themselves on your blood. In less time you will notice a mark on your skin which can be itchy and irritating. Because it is not that easy to eradicate this type of pest, bed bug exterminators in New Jersey is something for you to consider. They know best on how to handle the situation because they have experience it many times. It is not new to them to kill those bed bugs and other insects you have at home.

Jennifer Bruno said...

Hello there! This article was very informative! I too was one of the unlucky ones chosen by these horrible little insects! It was an absolute nightmare, the stress that comes along with having these is incredible! I live on the 3rd floor of an apartment with my fiancé and two children. We were noticing that we would wake up with bites, but like you, I've never seen one in my entire life, or knew anyone who had any, so bed bugs never even crossed our mind! At first we thought that they were spider bites. But then it got worse and didn't stop, at that point we still didn't know, but we had a tiny bit of thought that MAYBE that's what it was. Us being in complete denial about bed bugs we continued on.. Until one night I walked into my bedroom, where my 2 year old son had fallen asleep and I see this bug, crawling right near his head!! I BUGGED! Literally! Lol I thought it was a tick, because I still had never seen one! Until I googled what bed bugs look like- sure enough it was an adult bed bug, it was flat, which means it hadn't eaten yet, which is why it was near my sons head- because it was getting ready to suck my baby dry! Complete and utter nightmare! We got an exterminator to come out- and it's been 3 weeks since we've had any problems! But I had to completely empty out my ENTIRE house! Every piece of article of clothing had to be dried on high heat in the dryer and put straight into bags. We couldn't find anything to wear every single day for about 3 weeks!! Every picture frame had to be taken down, our bed had to be completely taken apart, our couches, that cost us over a thousand dollars had to be thrown out! Bed bugs are by far the worst possible thing that has ever happened to us! I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy!!!! I pray to God that they are gone, and gone forever! Because I refuse to ever deal with that again! My house was completely empty, it looked as if though we had moved out! But if this happens again, we are 100% gone! And we hope to never encounter them again! I wish everyone who has the same problem all the luck in the world!!!! If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask! My email address is - I would be more than happy to help however I can!!! :o)

Sincerely, Jenn

Jennifer Bruno said...

Ps. Like the author of this article has said, you don't get bed bugs if you're too dirty or too clean! Bed bugs do not discriminate against anyone! As long as you have blood flowing through your body, you are a perfect candidate for them! So please, when you hear about someone having them- don't make fun, and think that their dirty people. As much as it is embarrassing to admit you have them, it's not because of anything other than you have blood flowing throughout your body. B4 I had bed bugs, if I ever heard of someone knowing about someone else having them, I would think in my head that they must be the nastiest and dirtiest ppl. UNTRUE!!!!!! Not to toot my own horn, but I am far from dirty. I love having my house clean and organized... Yet, I was affected by this epidemic! Please don't judge anyone for having bed bugs, or for any reason at all!!! You'll never know until you're in their shoes! Trust me!!!!