I’m no expert, but I learned a lot about bed bugs through an unfortunate first-hand experience. I identified some red flags that indicate that you may have a bed bug issue, and then how to deal with it!
Red Flag #1: Rash-like red bumps, particularly on the arms
It all started with a rash. I kept waking up with them on my arms and began to think that I was having some sort of allergic reaction to the carpet in my apartment. It seemed like an innocent enough explanation!
I am a college student at the University of Florida, and I had graduated from dorm life to apartment life. Looking back, unfortunately I don’t know which one was worse. At least the dorms were pest-free!
Anyway, my temporary solution to the rash problem was to just get a rug for the carpet. But the rash didn’t go away. Instead it transformed into a series of red itchy bumps.
(Warning, gross!) Red Flag #2: Fecal spots
Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the nastiness! After bed bugs digest the blood they drink, they dump it off (no pun intended) in a trail. I found black spots in the corners of the room where the wall meets the ceiling, but I would also check along the baseboards where the carpet touches the wall.
Red Flag #3: You travel often or have recently stayed at a hotel
Bed bugs like to travel. So you are at higher risk of accidentally transporting the little hitch-hikers if you frequently stay in hotels. One thing you can do while traveling is pack all your clothes in trash bags and tie them off tightly before putting them in luggage. This prevents potential bed bugs from clinging to your apparel. If you do happen to travel and then you start to notice red bumps or black spots, then you have reason to be concerned.
When it was happening to me, I didn’t know to look for any of those red flags. After a brief internet search, I identified the culprit as a Cimex lectularius, more commonly known as a bed bug.
I learned more than I would ever want to know about these creatures. According to a 2011 study by the National Pest Management Association, one out of five Americans has had a bed bug problem in their home or knows someone who has found them. Bed bugs exist almost equally in all 50 states. They can live for months without eating, and can lay more than 500 eggs in a lifetime. Finally, they are not an indication of a dirty home; they live just as often in clean homes!
With these horrifying facts in mind, I went down to the office of the complex’s manager, and after a strongly-worded discussion about negligence on the part of the management, they agreed to call a pest control company that specializes in bed bugs to eliminate the problem, on their dime. In addition, they gave us a month of free electricity, and agreed to pay for the cost of dry-cleaning our bedspreads. I guess they really wanted to avoid a lawsuit!
Once your house has been ‘diagnosed’ with bed bugs, there are some steps you should take on your own to start the de-infestation process: Put all your clothes and linens in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes (this kills any bed bugs and eggs that might be crawling in them). Then toss all those newly-baked items into trash bags and tie them off tightly to prevent new bugs from clinging to them. Remove everything from all closets and drawers, and then pull all furniture away from the walls so that the exterminators can access every nook and cranny. Finally, throw away your mattress pads because you never know if bugs or eggs might be buried somewhere inside them – another fun fact: hatchlings are so small they can actually fit between threads in a mattress!
It’s a major pain, but it’s better to catch them early so that hopefully you don’t have to replace all your furniture.
As it turned out, I had caught the problem early, and so I only had to live in my post-apocalyptic place for one or two treatments before the apartment was certified “Bed Bug Free” by pest control. Lucky me.
This experience gave a whole new meaning to the rhyme “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
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