Don't Let the Bed Bugs bite

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Posted by Manisha Pandit

Good night!
Sleep tight!
Don't let the bed bugs bite!

How many times have you said that without really thinking about it? Or heard it said to you? Do you know what a bed bug is? Do you know what a bed bug bite feels like? Do you know what it means for you?

I do.

And once you have been through what I went through, you won't find that bedtime rhyme cute anymore.

My next article was supposed to focus on pure strategy board games but I had to take an unscheduled digression to discuss this awful epidemic that is spreading across the travel and tourism industry and in urban housing complexes across the United States.

Yes, bed bugs.

Bed bugs were as good as eliminated by the 1970s through indiscriminate use of the pesticide known as DDT. As the world became smaller and international travel cheaper, the rest of the temperate world took its revenge on the United States for sharing the roach with them - according to me, that is - and gave the bed bug in return. Changes in pest control practices such as the banning of DDT have possibly also contributed to the problem. But I like the first reason more!

Adult bedbugs are a reddish brown, flattened, oval, and wingless, with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. A common misconception is that they are not visible to the naked eye. Adults grow to 4 to 5 mm (one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch) in length and do not move quickly enough to escape the notice of an attentive observer. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and continue to become browner and moult as they reach maturity. When it comes to size, they are often compared to lentils or appleseeds.


Bed bugs are nocturnal, becoming active just before dawn. They are wingless and therefore do not fly. They scamper quickly over floors, walls, and even ceilings. They are known to jump from one surface to another below it, like for instance from the bunk bed on the top to the one below it. Their tiny flattened bodies make it possible for them to hide in crevices and cracks. They hide near the seams of mattresses and box springs, in cracks on the wooden trims along a floor, underneath the edge of carpets, and even under nightstands.

They are attracted by the warmth of our bodies and by the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. Typically, they feed once every 3-5 days. They have two 'tubes or 'beaks'; they use one to anesthetize the area they will feed on and they use the other to suck the blood of ...well, you and me. They can live as long as 18 months without feeding and the lifespan of a well-fed bed bug is, on an average, 8-9 months.

The female bedbug can lay up to five eggs a day, and several hundred over its lifetime. At room temperature, the sticky clumps of eggs hatch in 7 to 14 days into tiny nymphs no bigger than a speck of dust. The nymphs go through five life stages, taking a blood meal each time, before molting one last time into adulthood.


There is no pesticide that you or I can buy in the market that can kill bed bugs although they say pyrethroids, if properly used, can do the job. In the event of an infestation, they can only be commercially removed. Interestingly enough, dogs can smell bed bugs and are used by pest control companies and exterminators to sniff for bed bugs!

The cabin
We almost called in the exterminators ourselves. You see, we had camped in the cutest log cabin in Mesa Verde, Colorado on our summer vacation and we loved it so much that we stayed an extra day. I was being bitten from the first night itself but I brushed it off as mosquito bites. It only got worse the next night by which time I was sure it was something in the wood. The third night was sheer torture. Next, we camped out in the open in the Sand Dunes and my bites worsened. Yes, we had carried them with us in our sleeping bags. Bed bugs bites are usually linear and in groups of three bites: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

168/366: Bitten

When we returned home, I had bites on my scalp, my face, my neck, my belly, my back, my arms and my legs. Everywhere. The itch was sheer torture. It is good to know that bed bugs are not carriers of any disease but if you scratch the bites and draw blood, the open wounds could get infected. Our body releases histamines in response to insect bites and there is often an allergic reaction to the bites that looks very much like a bite itself! It's a good idea to start on over-the-counter anti-histamines or get a prescription as soon as possible. Cold compress or ice wrapped in soft cotton is the best topical antidote. Mild steroidal hydrocortisone also helps reduce the itch but remember that I am not a doctor, so always seek advice from a professional in these matters.

I washed every single thing that could be washed, in very hot water. That which could not be washed was bundled up and loaded back into the van. Luckily for us, it was the dog days in Colorado. A heat wave and for once, I was really very happy about it. The van stood in the sun and if there were any bed bugs, they were cooked as temperatures inside the van soared to 110F-120F. Yes, cook them! And then vacuum, vacuum, vacuum your house and then do it all over again, especially the crevices, cracks and areas that could potentially serve as good hiding places.

Sleeping at night became a pipe dream, a thing of the past. We were not being bitten anymore but we started imagining that we were. Yes, serious mental anguish and paranoia ensued! We read that if you think you are being bitten, then it is best not to turn on the lights as the bed bugs will simply move back to their hiding places very quickly. Instead, keep a flashlight by your side and use that to look for them. We had flashing lights in our bedroom for many many sleepless nights.

So what does kill them? I guess there are commercial pesticides that can be used only after evacuating the home. There is one more thing that is said to work: diatomeceous earth (DE). It is finely ground shells that feels almost like talcum powder to us but has jagged edges for those monsters bugs. If the bugs walk across a sprinkling of DE, their outer waxy coating is sliced or cut in places, leading to dehydration and death over a period of 4-5 days. DE could take up to 10 days to work. But it is organic and does not contain pesticides.

We found DE at the local hardware store and nursery and sprinkled it liberally all over the house, including our mattresses. In the van, too. After a few more days of paranoia, we were able to finally get some rest at night again and focus on our work and lives during the day.

Bed bugs are the worst nightmare anyone could have. And you literally sleep through their bites. Some precautions you could take when you travel include:
- removing all bedding from the mattress and inspecting the mattress for dark tell-tale stains of their feces. You should look for molted skin, eggs, eggshells, dead bugs and live bugs, too. If you see anything like this, ask for another room immediately. The hotel industry is currently in denial and will strongly refute the existence of bugs on their property.
- do not place your bags on the beds. Instead use the luggage racks and move them away from the walls.
- do not keep your clothes on the beds. Put them up on hangers instead.
- keep your bags closed at all times so that bed bugs do not crawl into them and hitch a ride home.

Other precautions include:
- avoid picking up mattresses left on the curbside
- if you buy anything secondhand - even a desk - inspect it for tell-tale signs of bed bugs

I know most of you will be grossed out by this information and my story. If it makes you more aware of the problem, I think it is well worth the nausea that you might be experiencing just now.




Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: thedailytiffin@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Manisha of Indian Food Rocks


19 comments:

Manisha - I thought after chatting with you a few days ago got me itching everywhere - but this is making me freak! Your ordeal with these monsters was incredible but a fight you guys won in the end.

A few years ago we were in Italy and Tom came back home with bites everywhere too - at first we thought they were mosquito bites but in actual fact they were sand lice!! That was nothing compared to what you have described here though.

While the post still makes me itch, I think it comes at a good time to make people aware and take the required precautions.

Meeta said...
July 24, 2008 at 9:05:00 AM GMT+2  

sand lice? i've never heard of those. we do have thousands of mosquito bites here though. i thik if there was a record for the most bites gotten by one person, i would break it.

sonali said...
July 24, 2008 at 2:41:00 PM GMT+2  

Yikes I am itching allover just reading this. (and I hate sand lice, especially when they crawl under the toenails *shiver*).

Manisha, I am glad you won the bug wars!

Petra said...
July 24, 2008 at 3:18:00 PM GMT+2  

Yup, becoming a major problem in hotels, even the 4 star ones. I travel for business at least 2 weeks a month and have noticed a huge increase in problems. I typically have to switch rooms at least once a trip because of them.

I check for them by leaving my luggage in the hallway and pulling the sheets and mattress pad off the bed to inspect the mattress. If I see any little black specs of matter (bed bug droppings) or tell tale signs of little spots of dried blood on the mattress or mattress pad, I change rooms immediately.

Another precaution I use is I take two of the 30 gallon trash bags with me. (they take up no room in my bag). I wrap my suitcase in one, even on the luggage rack because most of the luggage racks are stored in closets when not in use and have fabric webbing.

The other I use to cover my clothes hanging in the closet.

I also travel with a silk sleep pouch that I sleep in instead of directly on the sheets of the bed and a silk pillow cover.

So far, knock on wood, traveling all over the world using these precautions, I haven't brought any unwanted travelers home with me.

On final caution, if you are getting a new mattress for your home, ask the store how they handle the picked up old mattresses. There is an increasing number of incidents of new mattresses being infected because they are sharing the same delivery truck with bedbug infested old mattresses. The mattress delivery company should be encasing the old mattresses in plastic before putting them in the truck with all the nice new mattresses being delivered.

OK, now I'm itching....

Breadchick Mary said...
July 24, 2008 at 4:32:00 PM GMT+2  

Manisha, thanlfully i have not yet encountered them and hope I dont , however this is really an informative post.

Dee said...
July 24, 2008 at 5:10:00 PM GMT+2  

Meeta, you know all that talk about keeping at least one day at home after you return from vacation to allow you to get your laundry done and just chill before you get back to work? It took me over 2 weeks. I still have terrible marks all over my body.

I hadn't heard of sand lice either! We have grass lice here and when I called the otherwise super-clean RV park where we had camped, they said it was probably cedar gnats and not bed bugs. Yeah right. We found a couple of dead bed bugs so...

Sonali, I don't know where you live but please take precautions against mosquito bites. West Nile virus is on the rise and is spread to humans via mosquito bites. I found an organic eucalyptus oil-based bug spray in Whole Foods that has proved very effective against mosquitoes. Koalas who feed on several pounds of eucalyptus leaves daily have no bugs like ticks, fleas or lice on them because their bodies reek of the oil. Amazing how nature can teach us a thing or two!

Petra, me, too! The minute I see something crawling I spring into action! :-D

Breadchick Mary, thank you so much for those additional tips, especially gallon trash bags to cover suitcases and silk sleep pouches! Most people have an "it won't happen to me" attitude. Those who saw me and my bites, on the other hand, do not take it lightly anymore.

I shudder when I think of new mattresses being infected because of how they were transported!

Dee, I hope you never do. This is the sort of thing one wouldn't wish on their worst enemy.

Manisha said...
July 24, 2008 at 8:38:00 PM GMT+2  

Wow - I'm glad I didn't read this 3 days ago, before we stayed in a B&B. I would have had difficulty sleeping! But it's great information - and I'm glad you "won" your battle. We're fending off mosquitos here. I hate 'em.

Cyndi said...
July 25, 2008 at 7:01:00 PM GMT+2  

Manisha, I could not read past the first two para's cos I get soo paranoid. My last year at grad school was a nightmare for me and my friends. All 3 of our apts were affected, so we would either sleep in the lab on chairs or go to a willing frnds apt for the night. We used all the available pesticides but none worked, the only way was trashing everything we had, furniture, mattresses, bedding, suitcases, boxes, multiple laundry sessions for our clothes....ahhh!
And then started the formality of asking everyone who visited if they had the problem so that it did not recur and we were extra cautious while going to another house so we don't bring on the same wrath on them!
Unfortunately, on our DC trip a few weeks back, the family we stayed with had bugs. When we got to my apt we washed all our clothes and got in the pesticides too. I am sure we did not carry any back, but even now I am not 100% comfortable sitting on my new couch :( I keep jumping out of it to check!
Another thing though is, they effect people differently,one of my roomie was not aware of them at all, while me and the other gal would have rashes all over, itching etc. Even at this frnds's house, the whole family is unaware of them, even their 8 month is not affected, good for them!
Phew! that was too long...

Priya said...
July 25, 2008 at 7:49:00 PM GMT+2  

Manisha I couldn't believe this. Bed bugs on a rise. Here atleast it is in control and now even railways are better, lesser pests though there are other types.

Put out all the stuff you travelled with, in the sun once home. So if you are carrying any bugs back they will be taken care off.

Breadchick Mary thanks for the handy tips.

Anjali said...
July 26, 2008 at 4:10:00 AM GMT+2  

Actually the last I heard of bed bugs was when I was kid, courtesy of the Indian railways. I remember all the travel stuff being put out in the sun.
Haven't seen or heard of them since, so it's surprising to hear of them there.

Aparna said...
July 27, 2008 at 7:30:00 PM GMT+2  

Hi Manisha,
Have battled the problem two years ago and again recently when we got them from a friend's place. I had no access to DE so found that boric powder works very effectively too. Another solution for quicker relief before you actually manage to get rid of them is to apply vicks all over the bed and pillows at night before sleeping.It also relieves the itch and swelling considerably. Works as a cheaper alternative to the creams meant for relieving itch. Have a seven year old and had to come up with these less toxic solution.

marietta solanki said...
July 28, 2008 at 3:36:00 AM GMT+2  

Cyndi, I hear ya! We have huge mosquitoes here, too! Minor nuisance compared to bed bugs, though. I am looking for eucalyptus leaves by the bushel!

Priya, that is a nightmare, indeed! It scars you for life!

And, yes, you are right that some people never notice the bites. My sister had a patient with bites all over his back whereas his wife had not even a hint of a bite. They both shared the same bug infested bed.

Anjali, perhaps the controls on pesticides are more stringent here. And there is no concept of annual pest control, like we used to have in our building in Bombay. Whether you liked it or not, your flat was sprayed at least minimally.

In the van in the sun is a better option than just in the sun as temperatures soar in a closed vehicle. The bugs die only at temps higher than 110F (37.8C).

Aparna, yup! Indian Railways are famous for helping to maintain an equitable distribution of bed bugs all over India. It's good to hear that things have improved. Now, did Laloo have something to do with that, too? ;-)

Marietta, thanks for those tips. Vicks! It has eucalpytus oil! Do you see a trend here?! And also camphor and menthol. How interesting!

We use Vicks on mosquito bites all the time. It works because menthol and camphor are both topical analgesics. I am sorry your little one had to suffer through this. We were very lucky that my daughter remained unaffected.

Thank you for those tips!

Manisha said...
July 28, 2008 at 7:44:00 AM GMT+2  

ugh. this is a very useful post. thank you.

bee said...
July 28, 2008 at 2:45:00 PM GMT+2  

Thanks for the visit.

The only place I came across bed bugs was when I was a student nurse and the nursing home was full of them, makes me itchy thinking about it.

Jackie said...
July 30, 2008 at 11:18:00 AM GMT+2  

Grrr... I still curse my old neighbors (bachelors) staying just below our apartment. They were the carriers of these bugs from God knows where! I had this night mare for 5 months. Almost all the surrounding 8 apts were infested and the exterminator took 3 months to get rid of them...

I can feel the itch and pain seeing that picture

Padma said...
July 30, 2008 at 8:32:00 PM GMT+2  

hey , i am always paranoid abt bedbugs and think that we /a gues would bring it over from a hotel ..!

it is interesting to see your article since i googled on bedbugs just the begining of this week ..!

Prarthna said...
August 8, 2008 at 4:59:00 AM GMT+2  

I FOUND THE EGGS UNDER MY SOFA,AS I WAS SWEEPING UNDER IT.I HAD NOTICED GRAIN SIZED THINGS ALL OVER SOFA EVERYTIME I SAT DOWN,I WOULD REMOVE,AND THEY WOULD BE BACK IN NO TIME.THEN I STARTED SEEING BLACK MARKS ALL OVER SOFA,WOOD COFFEE TABLE,AND STREAKS ON THE WALLS.THE EXTERMINATOR CAME OUT,AFTER 2 TRIPS, AND 500 DOLLARS,NOW THEY ARE ALL THRU HOME.MY SON HAS BITES FROM HIS FEET TO HIS BACK.I ONLY GET A FEW ON MY UPPER BODY.WE HAVE WOOD FLOORS,AND THERE ARE LARGE GAPS IN THEM,I ALWAYS SEE EGGS,AND ETC.SHOULD I PUT CARPET DOWN,I AM TOTALLY LOST.SINGLE MOM,WITH TIGHT BUDGET,AND ALL FURNITURE NEW.ANY SUGGESTIONS,PLEASE.

Anonymous said...
August 8, 2009 at 3:31:00 PM GMT+2  

An old ost but hope someone is reading them. I am dealing with bed bugs now. Today was day 1 of cleaning everything. I hate it. My arms are either red with bites or brown with scabs. I itch, itch, itch.

Mine were not due to a trip...but a partying gift from an ex.

Evelyne said...
December 29, 2009 at 4:57:00 AM GMT+1  

I have beaten by a bed bugs once in my room and I feel like I was paranoid after that happen. What I did was I get a pesticide and spray directly. No more bed bugs bites this time!

shredder said...
October 11, 2010 at 4:57:00 PM GMT+2  

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