Bug Out: How to treat bedbug infestations

They only feed on blood. They come out at night to devour their host. They can number in thousands and can hide in any crack or crevice. As flat as a credit card and as small as an apple seed, they smell of rotting raspberries and leave dark, rusty stains of excrement in their path. They pierce their victims’ skin and drink for up to 10 minutes straight until they are engorged with blood and crawl away. They may lay 1-5 eggs per day and 200-500 in their lifetimes, usually 6-12 months. They can survive without feeding for that length of time. And they’re quite difficult to kill.

This is not the plot to a horror film. (Though if this movie somehow isn’t already in the works, Hollywood can give us a call.) This is the parasitic reality of Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug. A reality with which you or your loved ones may be all too familiar.

Many of us have been plagued by their kind. A 2013 survey estimated that 99.6 percent of exterminators got calls about bedbugs that year. And they leave their mark, not only in brown stains on furniture and red swellings on skin, but psychologically as well: insomnia, anxiety, and emotional distress are common following an infestation. How could you sleep knowing these demons are vandalizing your home and your body?

Though they plague you silently and oftentimes mysteriously (30 percent of people don’t react to their bites at all, and many who do don’t show signs until subsequent bloodsuckings), there are of course telltale signs bedbugs have made their way into your sleep environment. You may see the bugs themselves, in which case you should take the opportunity to capture one in a pill bottle for an expert to analyze. You may find their shedded skins, defecation and stains (about this size: •) littering your mattress, a truly upsetting proposition. You may discover blood stains on sheets and pillowcases, and itchy welts on your exposed skin. And you can expect to hear nauseated screams from yourself upon discovering any of the above. It’s only natural.

There is good news, albeit modest: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all consider bedbugs a public health pest, but unlike most, bedbugs are not known to transmit or spread disease. So, sleep easy knowing they don’t want to kill you, they just want your blood. The bad news? They are increasing and unlikely to go away anytime soon. According to the EPA, experts believe their recent rise in the U.S. may be due to “more travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance of bedbugs to pesticides, and ineffective pest control practices.” You can pick them up nearly anywhere – hotels, gyms, offices – traveling in your luggage, briefcases, or even your clothing, making their way to your bedframes, mattress seams, furniture, and electrical outlets. They are sneaky, they are cunning, and they are out for your blood. Cue chills.

Though the challenge posed by confronting bedbugs is significant, it is certainly not insurmountable. Breathe easy, as there’s no reason to whip out the flamethrower just yet. Without a doubt, the best defense against these little vampires is a professional offense; there’s no beating a pest control operator’s expertise and knowledge. However, in this do-it-yourself age, it may be tempting to be proactive in eliminating this new threat from your home yourself. If so, here are some steps you can take today:

1) Remove clutter. Clean up your living space to more easily find the bugs. But be careful not to deliver the bugs to new rooms in the process.

2) Wash and dry your linens at the hottest temperature. Bedbugs generally do not survive through extreme heat. In fact, a professional is likely to utilize a heat treatment as an opening strike. Items that can’t be washed can just be dried for a limited time instead.

3) Vacuum frequently. And immediately empty the bag and its contents in a trash can outside your home.

4) Address aging walls. Fill in cracks with plaster and glue peeling wallpaper back up to remove some of their preferred hiding spots.

5) Inspect your mattress. Scrubbing your mattress prior to vacuuming may surface some long dormant hideaways. Once you’ve done so, visit a Sleep Outfitters near you to invest in a mattress protector to both lock down their home base from all future bedbug activity and entomb those remaining in their living graves. Is your mattress too far gone? Consider upgrading to a new mattress altogether, but take care to remove the former and treat the room before moving the new bed in.

6) Avoid easy solutions! Unfortunately, there is no single cure-all that will instantly kill off every bedbug hiding in your room. Pest control bombs and miracle fixes won’t do the trick. Bedbugs can grow resistant to many solutions and easily avoid many others. It takes many simultaneous, strategic approaches to defeat them. You must fight this war on all fronts.

Good luck.

Further Reading:

Bed Bug - Wikipedia

Bed-Bug Madness: The Psychological Toll of the Blood Suckers – The Atlantic

Bed Bugs: How to Get Rid of Bedbugs - Orkin

How to Get Rid of and Kill Bed Bugs Yourself – Do My Own Pest Control

Bed Bug Confidential: An Expert Explains How to Defend against the Dreaded Pests – Scientific American

Bedbugs – WebMD

Introduction to Bed Bugs – EPA


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