Tuesday, 6 December 2011

bed bugs repost ... still (not) biting after all these years

this is a repost. i get a bunch of people each day finding this post via searching for images of bed. i do want to say, that since this time, i have not had ANY bed bugs. i have sprayed with a synthetic pesticide, which made me feel really guilty, but no bed bugs. it cost $400 total. the exterminator, gary, told me about "Do Your Own Pest Control's" bed bug kit. it got it and more problems. but just in case ...

i do public health. the only way to end an epidemic is to talk about it ...

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.

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