Read an Excerpt
The Bed Bug Survival GuideThe Only Book You Need to Eliminate or Avoid This Pest Now
By Eisenberg, Jeff
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2011 Eisenberg, Jeff
All right reserved.
First Things First
What Are Bed Bugs and Do You Have Them?
Once upon a time, though this is no fairy tale, I got a phone call from a woman living in New York City. She frantically told me how she had never even heard of bed bugs outside of a nursery rhyme until suddenly the newspapers, the nightly TV news, and the Internet were full of stories about them. So as soon as she suspected there was a problem, she sprang into action and called the landlord. In turn, the landlord called the building’s regular exterminator, who treated the problem like it was a roach job. The poor woman on the phone explained to me that she thought everything was fine once the exterminators left—until she had new bites a few weeks later. And so did her nanny. And her daughter’s best friend, who had come for a sleepover. A month later her coworkers did, too. She thought she had solved the problem, but instead it was getting worse. And so, months after the problem first began, she called me.
Here’s the happier ending this woman, like so many that I talk to every day, could have had: a few hundred dollars spent to confirm there was a problem, followed by a pest management professional that would have cost less than $1,500, all wrapped up in a matter of weeks.
What’s the lesson here? When it comes to bed bugs, you and your pocketbook cannot afford to play the “I don’t want to think about it” card or the “I’m just going to trust someone else to handle it” one. They may be “disgusting” and “gross” and make you uncomfortable to consider, but refusing to face up to bed bugs and not seeking out an expert will cost you money, time, and a lot of sleep. The good news: you are in some control—a good deal, actually. So instead of popping Valium or burying your head in the sand, fight back!
Your best line of defense? Know thy enemy! Bed bugs are nothing new. They’re the same creatures that plagued the ancient Egyptians, the royal family of England, and former residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—so you’re actually in good company. With that in mind, we answer a few of your Top Bed Bug 101 questions here:
What the #@!% Is a Bed Bug?
The scientific name for bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, is Latin for “lounging bug” or “bug of the bed.” More facts:
A bed bug is a wingless insect, a parasite that likes to rest during the day and come out when its food source is at rest or motionless (which is usually, but not always, at night).
They are not known to spread disease.
Bed bugs have six life stages and must go through five nymphal stages before becoming an adult (and capable of reproduction). In order for bed bugs to get from one stage to the next they must feed on blood (yours, your pets’, or other mammals’). They are almost impossible to see in the first few stages without proper magnification (the tiny translucent or white eggs grow to be flat, oval, and with a short head) until they reach adulthood, when they grow to be about the size of an apple seed and turn a reddish brown (because they’re now filled with your blood).
The female can lay up to four eggs a day, in secluded locations (like the zipper of your handbag or your briefcase). Typically she can lay five to ten a week and up to five hundred in her lifetime.
They can fit into any crack the width of a business card.
The tip of the female’s abdomen is rounded and that of the male’s abdomen is pointed. Though you probably don’t ever want to get close enough to tell, this is useful information to an exterminator.
They’re attracted to carbon dioxide, which we breathe out, as well as to our body heat.
They have been known to live up to eighteen months without a blood meal, under ideal conditions. Typically it is not more than ten months.
They typically spend five to ten minutes at a time feeding.
They prefer to eat in the dark (more privacy, less chance of you being awake and moving), but they will contentedly chow down during the day if that’s when their host is available.
The hungrier they are, the bolder they will be in their hunt for a meal. Luckily, their recklessness increases the chance of you spotting them as they come into more visible places.
They live for up to one and a half years, but sometimes longer.
Quiz: How Bed Bug Proof Are You?
When it comes to bed bugs, you are only as safe as your lifestyle. Before I start with the checklists and dos and don’ts, let’s take a look at your current habits with a little quiz. For better or worse, it’ll help you get a handle on just how safe you really are, and give you something on which to build.
1. You’re having dinner with friends. You sit down and put your bag a. in your lap. b. on the back of your chair. c. on the floor near your feet. 2. You have houseguests a. maybe once a year. b. once a season or so. c. there’s a friend of a friend here every week—it’s party central! 3. The flight attendant offers you a pillow and blanket. You a. decline—ick, you’d rather not. b. decline—you brought your own. c. grab ’em and snuggle up. 4. You’re heading to the gym after work. Your duffel bag is a. hanging in your cubby. b. on the floor under your desk. c. in the random gym locker where you left it yesterday. 5. You’re waiting for the bus. You a. stand off to the side—the bus stops up there anyway. b. stake out a spot on the bench. c. stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone else, jockeying for prime position. 6. The temperature in your office fluctuates like your mom’s did when she was going through the change. You keep a sweater a. hanging on your coat rack. b. on the back of your desk chair. c. in your guest chair. 7. You just checked into a swanky hotel. You a. stash your suitcase in the bathroom. b. put your suitcase on the luggage stand. c. drop your suitcase on the bed. 8. The seat next to you on the train is empty. You a. breathe a sigh of relief that you won’t have to share. b. grab the woman you met in line so she can sit with you and talk some more. c. think “Score!” and spread out your stuff for easy access. 9. You vacuum a. every week, of course. b. when your in-laws come over. c. um, never. 10. You’re headed to the coffee shop on the corner to soak up the free wireless. You a. pick a chair by the window and put your laptop bag on the table where you can see it. b. sit in a corner booth and toss your bag at your feet. c. grab some space on the comfy couch—it’s never free! 11. Your six-year-old just walked in from school, dragging his backpack behind him. You a. hang it on a hook by the door. b. stash it in the front hall closet. c. toss it on his bed. 12. A cab, finally! You a. hop in and hold your bags in your lap. b. toss your stuff in the trunk. c. hop in and start going over your day’s haul, dropping items on the seat one at a time. 13. You’re shopping for work clothes. You a. head to the dressing room and hang your stuff on a hook. b. head to the dressing room and leave your clothes on the floor while you try on the new stuff. c. just try on the new stuff over your clothes—who has time to head to the dressing room? 14. You’re flying to Aunt Shirley’s house. You a. take whatever will fit in your carry-on. b. carry on what you can and check your extra bag. c. check, like, five bags—you need options! 15. When it comes to vintage stores, there is a. no way you’d be caught dead there. b. nothing wrong with picking up a few knickknacks. c. no better place to buy furniture to round out your décor. 16.You dispose of your vacuum bag a. every time you vacuum. b. when it’s full. c. never—mine is bagless.
Scoring the Results
Mostly As—Bug Hunter: Maybe you’re just super-suspicious—or even a little obsessive-compulsive—but you’re already on the right track. You understand that you have tons of control over your life, and your established good habits will make it easier to keep these teeny bloodsuckers at a safe distance. What you learn on these pages will sharpen your instincts and give you hard-core bed bug–fighting chops that you can put to good use to protect your home and your loved ones. (Maybe you’ll even be inspired to give vintage stores a try—the smart way!)
Mostly Bs—Bugged Out: Not bad, not bad at all. You don’t always make the best decisions, but that’s just because you don’t know any better. The good news is, you’re already rectifying that with the very book you hold in your hands. Soon, you’ll know how to prepare for—and clean up after—houseguests, why dumping your stuff on a hotel bed is a no-no, and why that furniture from the vintage store might not be such a great deal after all.
Mostly Cs—Bug Food: No, I’m not saying you want bed bugs to feast on your bod at night (hey, I won’t judge if you’re into that sort of thing), but it’s almost like you’ve intentionally hung a neon sign around your neck that says The Kitchen Is Open! But don’t worry, this book will help you revamp your habits, from teaching you where to put your stuff (hint: never on the floor), to where you probably shouldn’t sit (that well-worn coffee shop couch? Not so much), and why the right vacuum, used regularly, can be one of the most useful tools in your arsenal.
THE TOP SIX MYTHS ABOUT BED BUGS
You wouldn’t feel embarrassed to tell your friends if you went for a hike and got bitten up by mosquitoes. You wouldn’t feel ashamed to confess that your dog brought in fleas. And you probably couldn’t stop complaining if you found out your house had termites. Yet imagine saying to your coworkers, “Hey, I have bed bugs!” (I know, I know—you’re mortified just thinking about it.) The myths are so widespread that even though they’re not true, they make bed bugs a problem of stigma and shame. Let’s start fighting them here! It’s not true that…
Bed bugs are only in your bed. They’re not picky about where they hang out—you’ll find them in boardrooms, classrooms, the dentist’s office, Broadway theaters, and five-star hotels. Oh, and your study, TV room, living room, and…
Bed bugs love a good mess. Your home or office can be so clean it shines, but bed bugs are just as happy in a spotless place as a dirty one.
Bed bugs are just a poor people’s problem. Tell that to the actor who makes millions per movie but still had to call me.
Bed bugs are the immigrants’ fault! It used to be that bed bugs hitchhiked over the border (and the royal families of Europe, immigrants, and international businessmen all made excellent transports), but now we’re passing them on among ourselves.
Bed bugs are only fans of cheap motels. Believe it if you want, but you’re just as likely to be bitten at a five-star hotel as you are at a place that rents rooms by the hour.
Bed bugs are just a city problem. Some bed bugs love the bright lights of the big city, but their country bumpkin cousins could be waiting for you on your next trip to the ’burbs or the countryside.
How Do I “Get” Bed Bugs?
Actually, the better question is how do they “get” you and your stuff? You get them because the egg or an actual bug hitchhiked onto your clothes or stuff and made its way into your home—and then laid more eggs.
Bed bugs attach themselves to your clothes, luggage, laptops, cell phones, briefcases, coats, and car seats and car trunks as you go about trying to live a normal life. Even if they don’t nab you outdoors, they may get in by crawling between the space under doors or through light sockets if your neighbor, coworker, or hotel next-door neighbor has them. Or maybe they were brought in by a deliveryman, the mailman, the housekeeper, a guest, the nanny, a nurse’s aide, your kids, your pet, or even a newly checked-out library book.
Recently I learned about them setting up shop in a very unexpected way. A couple had ordered cabinets for their condo from a national home-improvement chain. When they arrived, I got a call from the building’s super asking me to come over ASAP to identify the crawlers that were in the box. I was doubtful that it could be bed bugs, but I was wrong—the cabinets were covered. Luckily, I was called in immediately and we were able to eradicate the problem fairly quickly because the super had been educated about bed bugs through his previous experience with us.
What Do They Look Like?
Behold, the bed bug in all of its various stages of development, magnified about fifty times from its normal size:
As you know, they are not the only creatures that can take up residence in your house. Any quick Internet search will turn up full-color pictures of other common insects like roaches, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, book lice, spider beetles, and carpet beetles to help you tell the difference between them.
Places They May Be Living
Use this rule of thumb: if it’s large enough to insert something the thickness of a business card, a bed bug can fit inside it, lay eggs, and lie in wait until they can get to you for food. That includes:
a bed, with headboard, footboard, box spring, and frame included
in the seams, legs, inside of and under the cushions of a sofa
a dining room or an office chair
your bookshelves, books, or magazines (though make sure you are not confusing them with book lice, which are small, colorless bugs that feed on mold and love books)
clothes (even new ones!)
a child’s borrowed toy
a bathroom vent
between wooden floorboards
in wall cracks and crevices
under and in carpeting
in the seams of wood furniture, including sofa legs, arms, and bed frames
under loose edges of wallpaper
behind peeling paint
Yes, bed bugs are hard to look at. Disgusting, in fact. The best thing I can tell you: your chances of seeing a bed bug in your home are slim, as they range from teeny-tiny to the size of an apple seed. How hard? Well, first off, they hide in seams, bed frames, box springs, mattresses, and other hard-to-get-into places, explaining why more than 90 percent of people with smaller infestations never see them. Not even I bother to invest serious time visually inspecting my own home, because I know how hard it is to spot them. Fortunately, there are other ways to detect the presence of bedbugs.
How Do I Know if I Have Them!?
The Big(-ish) 3 signs that you have them: (1) you develop bites, (2) you see bloodstains on your sheets or mattress, or (3) you see their fecal matter on your mattress, box spring, or headboard.
Ask anyone what they know about a bed bug and even the most uninformed person will tell you, “They live in your bed and they bite you.” Which is actually not true. Yes, they do live in your bed. But they don’t bite. They suck, both literally and figuratively.
Beyond that, there are a number of other vital bits of misinformation floating around about bed bug bites. And most of it is on the Internet. Here are the facts you need to know:
Everyone with bed bugs does not get itchy bed bug bites. To say it another way: you can have bed bugs, but not react to the bites.
Who are these lucky people? The physical appearance of an itchy bite has to do with how allergic you are. So just as one mosquito bite may leave you itching like mad and the other may not itch at all, no two bed bug bites have to be the same. Also, their intensity varies from person to person.
Men are affected less than women by bites. Based on my research, I’ve determined that nine out of ten men don’t manifest allergic reactions to the bites, even though they have been bitten. It sounds unbelievable, but often with couples who share a bed, the woman will be covered and miserable and the man will have nary a bite—even if a professional inspection shows that more of the bugs are hanging out on his side of the mattress. Not only do women tend to be more allergic to bites, but they also happen to be the favored food source. Bed bugs are more attracted to women because of their higher body temperature (warmer bodies represent a blood meal) due to ovulation. Sorry, ladies!
All bed bug bites do not look alike. If you do have a bite, you may attempt to search online for photos that confirm whether or not it is from a bed bug. Unfortunately, there is no standard-looking bite. Depending where on your body they attack, how long they fed, or how much blood was extracted, there can be anything from tiny red marks, to ball-shaped blisters, to big puffy welts. Welts are typically seen on the torso. Smaller bites will appear on arms and legs.
You cannot tell the moment you get bitten. When a bed bug bites you, it simultaneously injects an anesthetic, so you feel nothing. For most people, it takes three to twelve hours for a bite to develop, if one develops at all. When a mosquito bites you, you typically know right away. So that itchy feeling you get, the one you may have had the entire time you’re reading this, it’s not a bed bug—it’s your mind.
Bed bug bites appear in close proximity to each other (groups of two or three in small areas of the body). The classic pattern is a line of three. This is often referred to as the breakfast-lunch-dinner formation. Yet it is not the only way bites will appear. Often people have a bite on their leg, one on their stomach, and another on their neck, and they think it can’t be bed bugs because they are scattered. Wrong. If you roll over in the night and dislodge the bug while it’s feeding, it doesn’t give up and go home, it latches on to a new area.
You may have bed bugs and no bites because you have pets. What does your dog have to do with it? Bed bugs like dogs, cats, and other mammals just as much as they like you. And your pet is home more than you are. And often not doing much moving around. That makes them prime targets for hungry bed bugs. So while you may never suspect you have a problem because you have not received a single bite, your pooch may be taking the brunt (or all) of them. Don’t bother checking your pet (they don’t manifest the bites or scratch), and forget using monthly tick applications or giving it a flea bath—these remedies have no effect on bed bugs.
Dermatologists are practically useless. Common sense would tell you to go to a dermatologist. Yet today’s dermatologists didn’t spend time in medical school learning about bed bugs or reading about them in their textbooks. That said, a dermatologist can help you reduce the itch of a bite by prescribing a topical corticosteroid to ease itching and reduce redness. For a DIY remedy to reduce itching, apply a warm compress directly to the bite. Beware of any dermatologist who wants to biopsy a bite—there is no method of extracting the salivary protein to determine whether it’s a bed bug or not.
Bed bugs take a break between meals. Bed bugs feed every seven to fourteen days. So if you are getting bites every night, that means that a different bug is paying you a visit from the one that bit you the night before. Daily bites mean a very large infestation. Don’t wait until you are getting bitten daily to call an exterminator. Early detection is best.
Tip: Use a high-powered flashlight once a week to examine your mattress (both sides), box spring, and headboard for blood stains and fecal matter.
In a perfect world, smears or specks of your blood on a mattress would indicate that you rolled over on the creatures and crushed them when they were in your bed. And in some cases, you’d be right. It could also mean that they gorged themselves on you and a little blood spilled out (yes, like crumbs).
3. Fecal Matter
Yes, we’re talking about poop. Bed bug poop, which looks like pepper spots on your mattress, box spring (especially in and around the cheesecloth covering), or headboard.
Now that you’ve been forced to consider bed bugs burping up your blood or pooping on your bed, I hate to add that more often than not you can have a bed bug infestation and never see any of these signs. Which is why you need the following additional tools.
Other Ways to Know if You Have Bed Bugs
Cups and catchers. For about twenty dollars you can purchase a device called ClimbUp Interceptors that looks like a cup. You place the legs of your bed or sofa in the middle of the cup. The bugs crawl into it and can’t get out. You’re left with physical specimens that you can take to a professional pest control operator (PCO) to positively identify and begin the process for bed bug eradication. When this works it’s a great tool (cheap and easy to use), but it’s far from foolproof and should be one of many tools in your arsenal.
CO2 detectors. Bed bugs are attracted to CO2 (which humans and pets emit), and these devices give off CO2 to attract bed bugs. The bugs get trapped, giving you or a professional evidence of an infestation. There are a number of these devices on the market, ranging in cost from $50 to $450. However, they require weekly maintenance in the form of CO2 capsules or canisters, which can cost $10 to $50 a week per monitor. A few caveats: the presence of a house pet can throw off the effectiveness of this machine. And like the ClimbUp Interceptors, it’s a useful tool, but far from foolproof.
K-9 detectives. By now maybe you’ve seen cute commercials during the morning news or read about dogs specially trained to detect bed bugs. In fact, certain canines can be a wonderful weapon in determining if you have a problem (with an 85–90 percent accuracy rate)—and in giving you peace of mind. If you have bites, if you have been exposed to bed bugs, or you have reason to believe you may have bed bugs with or without any other telltale signs, get a dog in ASAP. Many homeowners, condos, and co-ops bring in these dogs on an ongoing basis every three to six months, or whatever is affordable. Yes, $250 to $400 per visit isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than full-on bed bug extermination. And the earlier you catch them, the cheaper and easier it is to get rid of them. The United States is the leader in successfully using dogs to fight this epidemic. Europe has been slow to utilize them due to quarantine restrictions and slow transport.
These dogs needs to be professionally retrained and tested daily. This means that there’s a risk of the dog not getting the individual attention it needs in an extermination company. Yet having a class A dog enables independent trainers to make money, so they are less likely to skimp on keeping their dogs in top form.
It is best to get a dog that is independent of the exterminator you want to hire to cure your possible problem. Why? Independent companies have no vested interest in telling you that your problem is small or big, as they are not making any money on solving it. Extermination companies, however, can make money by exaggerating the findings of their dogs.
You want one who has had the best of the best training. These dogs didn’t just teach themselves how to find bed bugs. So check if the dog and its handler have NESDCA (National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association) accreditation. Nesdca.com also lists certified dog-handler teams.
If a dog picks up the scent of bed bugs in a certain area in your home, make sure the dog revisits that space two or three times before the inspection is over and see if it has the same reaction. Rechecking the area will significantly reduce the chances of a “false positive.”
If the trainer says it’s a packed day for his pooch and suggests another, listen to him. You don’t want the dog coming over when it’s too tired to focus on finding bed bugs.
Ask the company to hide a vial containing a bed bug somewhere in your home, so you can see the dog at work. It also shows that the company has confidence in their dog.
Find out how the dog reacts when it detects bed bugs. Trust me, you’re going to be nervous when he’s in your home—why make it worse having a mini panic attack every time the dog barks if its barking has nothing to do with bed bugs at all?
The 7 Things You Must Know About Bed Bug-Detection Dogs
Find someone to watch your pet or put them outside.
Don’t leave food lying around.
Leave the dog alone, meaning do not try to bond with it, play with it, or distract it from doing its job.
Do not cook or bake when the dog is there. They need to smell bed bugs, not chocolate chip cookies.
De-clutter your home so the dog can really get its nose into closets and other spaces. Take down boxes and organize closets.
Close the windows and turn off fans and air-conditioning at least thirty minutes before the dog’s arrival.
What Should I Do Before the Dog Comes?
If it’s determined that you have bed bugs, read chapter 2 followed by chapters 6 and 7.
If you don’t, proceed directly to part one, chapters 2 through 5, to learn how to protect yourself ASAP.
Excerpted from The Bed Bug Survival Guide by Eisenberg, Jeff Copyright © 2011 by Eisenberg, Jeff. Excerpted by permission.
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