How to Identify a Bed Bug and What to Do About Them

2ac602b0-0b5b-4c28-8c11-d0d400516b06_zpsa8ee4a0fEverything’s in bags except for my coffee and cleaning supplies.  I’m trying to focus on the positive, give myself a few places around my apt where my eyes can rest on something beautiful, something lovely, but I can’t pretend it’s not an effort.  I have four more days of living like this before the exterminator comes back for the second treatment.  OMG you guys, DO NOT GET BED BUGS.

Sadly, this fate is not so easy to avoid.  Think it can’t happen to you?  I’ve got some sobering news for you.

Because they’re spreading like wildfire in the US.  Seriously, the bed bug population has exploded by 500% in the past few years.  500%  Think about that.  There’s a lot of reasons why this might be so, including building resistance to pesticides, increased air travel, and the high cost of treatment (up to $1,200 for a small one bedroom apt!).  Bed bugs are singularly impervious to any kind of DIY treatments, unfortunately.  Chemicals are largely ineffective because the eggs can only be killed by heat or cold, which takes special equipment, you see.

In addition to that, bed bugs can live for 18 months without feeding!!  So they are perfectly happy to be bagged up in plastic for a very long time before being re-released into the wild.  Cool, huh?  If you like horror movies.

But one of the biggest problems – and the one that we can actually do something about – is probably lack of public awareness about treatment and a few persistent myths about how bed bugs populate and spread.  If you think it has something to do with sanitary conditions, you are WRONG, so keeping a clean hearth and home is no guarantee against infestation.  If you think this is something that only effects the lower classes than you are, guess what?  Wrong again!  While it’s true that impoverished communities are adversely affected by the phenomena, this is largely to do with the high cost of treatment.  The fact is that prior to 2006 the highest incident rate of bed bugs was found in luxury upscale hotels.

Bed bugs were a common phenomena prior to the 40’s and 50’s and everyone pretty much knew how to look out for them.  DDT eradicated them in the states, but that crap’s been outlawed and now they’re proliferating again.  This time without people knowing what to look for.

So, I’m using this transit of Venus conjunct Pluto (and my natal Sun!) squaring Uranus as an opportunity to deliver a public service announcement!

To whit:  sanitary conditions have NOTHING to do with bed bugs, as long as you persist in thinking that you are putting yourself at risk, I’m afraid.  Ignorance is bliss until it isn’t.  In fact, if you are a traveler who stays in hotels than you are at significantly more risk than most.  Especially if you go to NYC.  Sorry, NY, but you are teeeeeming with the vermin and you know it.

So how can you avoid my fate?  The truest answer is that there is no guarantee that you can.  Sorry, but it’s true.  The sooner we all accept that the better off we’ll be in terms of identifying this scourge and keeping it at bay.  However, there are some preventative tips to take that we should all know about.

HOTELS:

1.  If you stay in hotels do NOT put your clothes in the closet or dressers.  My exterminator recommends putting your suitcase on the metal rack and leaving it there for the duration, only taking out clothes as needed.

2.  Inspect your bed and mattress / box spring / headboard carefully for signs of current or past infestation.  Pay special attention to the seams of the mattress.  Also inspect the baseboards and drawers.  If you find anything request a different room at once and repeat the process.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

1.  I didn’t know what to look for.  If I had known what bed bugs actually looked like I would have called the exterminator a week earlier.  They’re small, flat, and brown.  In short, they’re rather innocuous looking bugs that you wouldn’t think WERE SUCKING YOUR BLOOD WHILE YOU SLEEP.  But they are.  Oh yes, they are.  Unfortunately you may not know it because you might be one of the “lucky” ones who isn’t affected by the bites.  I’m not affected by the bites, but I’ve found a few FULL OF MY BLOOD in the middle of the night anyway.  OMG IT’S SO GROOOSSS!!!

So look at the pictures above, and if you ever see any of those little things – or their babies, which are so tiny and transparent that you wouldn’t even notice them at all UNLESS THEY’RE FULL OF YOUR BLOOD in which case they turn red, well then, call an exterminator immediately.  Alternatively go blind reading a bunch of stuff on the internets which is totally un-reassuring and not at all what you want to hear.

TREATMENT:

I’m so far from being able to answer this effectively as yet.  There’s a lot of different answers on out there on the web and as many success stories as horror stories.  So far the most useful site has been bedbugger.com, which has a great FAQ page and active forum.  University of Kentucky has a great page describing the history and living habits of the critters, (did you know they’ve been plaguing humans since Aristotle?!), and a writer at The Awl gave me hope that I may actually survive this infestation successfully and live to tell about it.

The two most important things I’ve come across so far run totally counter to intuition so I’m going to post them here and hope it saves somebody somewhere this miserable experience:

1.  DO NOT THROW YOUR INFESTED THINGS AWAY WITHOUT TREATING THEM.  This is, it may be obvious, a very easy way for the damned things to spread.  Likewise, do not buy things second hand without carefully inspecting them.  This goes for books as well as furniture.  (Libraries are reporting higher instances of BB infestations, FYI.)

2.  DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BED AND MOVE TO ANOTHER BED/SOFA.  The bugs will FOLLOW you and you will spread your infestation.  Sorry, but for as long as it takes to treat the infestation you are now BAIT.  Make like Fay Wray and put on a brave face.

3.  If you use 91-100% alcohol in a spray bottle to kill the fuckers please know that you are also increasing your chances of going up in flames in the event of any kind of fire.  Is that really the way you want to go?

I’ve still got some questions about treatment, like what should I use instead of alcohol and is freezing or heating the most effective treatment, but as I’m not sure yet, I’ll just keep plowing through it till I have more information.  I’ll post more at some point later on when I’ve actually got to the other side of this.  I am going to get to the other side of this, right?  RIGHT.

Right.  I’m sure it’ll be just fine….

UPDATED: What worked in the end was my apartment management firing the first exterminator and hiring Isotech. Those guys came in, treated FORTY-ONE units in a ninety-eight unit building, heated all our clothes in a truck outside, and freeze treated our furniture. I couldn’t have paid for that, it was the apartment building that ended up doing it FINALLY. I’m one of the lucky ones, I only got the little buggers at the very end, some people had them YEARS. Can you imagine?!

I tried every folk remedy out there, and honestly, I just don’t think there’s anything for it but paying a shit ton of money to get them treated and treated right. Isotech did the job on my unit, but I prepped like a madwoman for it, and did every last thing they told me to. I’ll never forget it. I’ve been bed bug free for over two years now and it still haunts me.

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