Do You Have Bed Bugs? Don’t Bring Them Home!
There is nothing more disturbing to find out one has bed bugs. An image of a tick-like, incubus insect feeding on your own blood while you peacefully dream of sugarplums in your warm bed is too much for most to bear.
The reality is too disturbing, too intimate, and Seattleites are waking up to a real big bed bug problem.
[Heat Does Not Work! The bed bugs run and hide. Bed bugs can remain dormant for 18 months and still reproduce without feeding. According to a new study by Virginia Tech and New Mexico State University – the chemicals used to kill bed bug infestations are no longer working.
Recent Harvard study links pesticide use in the home to childhood cancer – chemicals and pesticides are poisons. ~A. Steiner~]
The Environmental Protection Agency and Center for Disease and Prevention have addressed a bedbug national rise that hasn’t been seen since the early 1950s, a time that hatched the phrase “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The creepy crawler has made it to the EPA’s Lists of Pests of Significant Public Health Importance, among other critters and insects like cockroaches, ticks, lice and mosquitos.
The insect nuisance is not a new one; the bed bugs have been biting for a long, long time.
Scientists believe the bugs have been feeding on humans as primates evolved and started living in caves. A study published in “Molecular Ecology, ” in February of 2015 reports findings that bed bugs fed on bats in caves before they started feeding on humans as they moved into cave dwellings. In time the bugs evolved characteristics to match and elude their new hosts.
There’s early historic record of the bugs, too. According to Bedbug.org the bugs were discussed by Aristotle and documented in Pliny’s Natural History as a cure for different ailments. More recent history is clustered with the bug-scourge and depicts them as a common nuisance.
That was the case until the advent of DDT for domestic use in the late 1940s. Because of the widespread application of the chemical in industrial countries bed bugs and many other pests were eradicated.
But what was cost?
After harmful human side effects were attributed to DDT (cancer, birth defects) in the early 1970s the use was banned, and the bugs slowly climbed back into bed.
Bed Bug Infestations On The Rise
Since the late 1990s higher rates of bed bug infestations were reported in gateway cities like Miami, New York and Los Angeles. This was attributed to the bugs hiding in suitcases as travelers stayed in infested hotels while abroad. Since the 2000s there has been a growing number of bed bug cases with numbers comparing to those in the1950s in the U.S.
Right now, even as citizens read this very article – perhaps while lying in bed – the bed bug bane has become a pandemic and has come to a head (literally) with blankets, mattresses and box springs being treated in every state in the Union according to a survey conducted by Orkin Pest Control.
Also, according to an annual report on the pest control industry, Americans spent $446 million to get rid of bed bugs in 2013. That’s compared to $70 million in 2004.
One in five Americans has had bed bugs or at least knows someone who has according to Pestworld.org.
In addition, according to a 2015 Bugs Without Borders survey (carried out by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky), U.S. bed bug infestations are climbing. 99.6 percent of survey respondents reported being treated for bed bugs in the past year. 15 years ago only 25 percent of respondents reported treatments for bed bugs.
How are the bugs making their way back into bed? Experts say it’s a combination of factors.
One is urban density, which enables the bugs to move easily from host to host while evading pest control. Also, some pesticides have become ineffective because the bugs have grown resistant to the chemicals.
Another contributing factor is that the bugs can quickly reproduce while the host remains unaware of the infestation. 40 percent of victims do not react to the bites, and once one sees bugs on the bed there is more than likely an infestation. This is because each female is fertilized by up to five males. A single female produces 50 eggs per cycle. The eggs hatch within two weeks during the winter and within one week during the summer. Offspring can become mature adults within a month, depending on feeding: the availability of a host.
Bed Bugs in Seattle
The Pacific Northwest is waking up on the same side of the infested bed as the rest of the country. Seattle/Tacoma ranked 15th in Orkin Pest Control’s 2014 Bed Bug Cities List. The region was ranked 18th the year before.
The bugs are in Ballard, too.
The Ballard News-Tribune spoke with a Ballard couple who said they had a bed bug incident last year. They asked to not be named.
“It’s really the worst feeling in the world. You feel like, like disgusted by your own bed,” one reluctantly said. “Even when they’re hopefully gone after being treated, I still itch.”
The couple said that they live in a small apartment complex and that every unit had to be treated by a professional exterminator.
What can we do?
The pest is problematic, but Seattleites have no need to bug-out just yet.
One regional company is taking action against bed bugs. Northwest K9 Bed Bug Detectives has been fighting off the bugs for over four years. Owner, Susan Canizales was earning a master’s degree in social work when she decided to try something new. She started out in the bug business with her brother only inspecting bed bug sites with a K9 named Magic. However, it wasn’t long before she started in on the treatment side of the business. These days she said she’s busier than she has ever been.
“There is no silver bullet for these things. There needs to be a combination of treatments to match the infestation. Get that wrong and your going to be fighting them for a long time,” said Canizales.
The most effective treatment against the menacing bugs, according to Canizales, is heat and lots of it. Her team cooks entire rooms to around 130 to 150 degrees. Walls, floors, beds — everything in the room is blasted to the seventh circle of bug hell.
Anything too delicate for the heat (candles, oil paintings, ect.) can be treated with chemicals and other pesticide products. “Clutter” items like books and small electronics are placed in airtight plastic bins or heavy-duty contractor bags to be treated with strips of pesticides that release a gas for two weeks. 14 days, Canizales says, is enough time for the gas to have effect on any larvae that may have hatched and remain trapped, festering inside the noxious darkness.
In addition, Canizales said the treatments are heavily involved and require the residents’ complete compliance and patience; otherwise the treatments won’t be effective. She also said variation in building design; the extent of the infestation and how well a victim prepares their home makes all the difference to a successful kill off.
Another issue is the kinds of things people have in their home.
“The bugs love books.”
Ironically, the pages of Proulx, Neruda, Vonnegut, Woolf, Seuss and Whitman literary become ways for the beasties to travel to different places.
Cardboard is another material the bugs can hide in; the corrugated shape provides ample area to evade total extermination.
“Sometimes you think this is going to be a breeze after only seeing a few bugs, but it turns out to be never ending; then other times we see clumps of bed bugs and we knock them all out.”
Canizales also said simply knowing what to look for and being diligent could save you from an infestation and a huge hassle. Red, itchy welts are one symptom of the bugs feeding. Also, the bugs produce tiny bloodstains on the sheets from their bites. They leave behind pinhead sized fecal material. Vacuuming carpets and cleaning bedframes with 99 percent ethyl propyl alcohol is a good start to getting rid of the bugs. Also, washing and drying bedding is a must with the addition of bug-proof mattress and pillow encasements. One might also consider that 99 percent ethyl propyl alcohol kills adult bugs on contact, and clothing steamers can kill off the eggs.
[Encasements Do Not Work! Bed bugs just eat you up. ~A. Steiner~]
Still, Canizales contends a professional heat treatment, though the most expensive, is the most effective way to terminate an infestation.
“I’ll walk away from jobs if people don’t want to do heat and if they insist on chemical treatments. That’s why I try to educate people. The heat works because you can’t ever know where they (bed bugs) all are.”
Hotels and Bed Bugs
Despite a pandemic, not many people are aware of the problem, or at least they aren’t talking about it. Many people may not even know that they are infested until they see a six-millimeter, dark brown, hungry adult bed bug scurry across the freshly washed white pillowcase.
“People think that just because they don’t see red bumps there aren’t any bugs, but most of the time you can’t see the bugs until they’ve been feeding on you for a long time.”
As mentioned, the major way of one taking home a bug is traveling and staying in infested hotels. Incidentally, there are now websites devoted to reporting hotels and apartment complexes that have been or are infested.
The results may shock some readers.
According to bedbugregistry.com, popular Seattle hotels like The Edgewater, Hotel Max, Seattle Hotel, Sixth Avenue Inn, Warwick Seattle Hotel, Inn at Virginia Mason, Marco Polo Motel and W Seattle (to name a few) all had guests who after a visit reported signs of bed bugs, which included bite welts and/or actually observing bugs.
“Even when you do the best job you can, sometimes you just can’t get all the suckers all the time. …People don’t want to hear that, but if you keep at it you will eventually get them.”