And the results are not pretty. In May, she returned from a year's trip to Africa and, after a few weeks sleeping on her sister's couch, found an apartment to rent in Brooklyn. At 2am on her first night in the new flat she woke up. Health warning: If you are phobic to insects, you may find the next bit distressing. Please ensure you are seated before reading on.
What woke Weinstock up was that she could hear something moving around in her ear. Yes, a bedbug in her ear! Weinstock retracted that statement as soon as she had made it on the grounds that it was exaggeration. There wasn't, she corrected herself, "blood everywhere", but there was a red stain about the size of a dime where the bedbug had been, though I'm not sure that's much of an improvement. Without even searching she could see two or three other bedbugs on the bed. She left the bedroom and spent the rest of a fitful night in the living room.
Next morning she had another look at the bed and there were at least seven bedbugs on it. She called an extermination company and they found the insects all over the apartment: in and under the bed, in the closet, in the curtains. At first, she couldn't feel the bites at all. That's a common reaction, as it takes a while for the body to sensitise itself to the bedbugs' juices.
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But four days after that first night, she started itching. She had blotches all over her neck, shoulders, arms and face, about 25 in all, and they kept on itching for three weeks.
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I just sat at my desk at work and doused myself every 10 minutes with anti-itch gel. Weinstock, unsurprisingly, couldn't bear to move back into the apartment, despite it having undergone a pesticidal equivalent of the blitzkrieg. I still think about it, and sometimes wake up in the night and have to check my new bed to see if there are any there. So what are these creatures and what is it about them that makes them so panic-inducing? Bedbugs are of the insect family Cimicidae. They are oval in shape, flattish and grow to about the size of a small apple seed.
They are light in colour and hard to detect, though become dark red after they have fed on your blood. That's the fun part. They come out at night like ghouls and gorge on your blood when you are deeply asleep, for up to five minutes. Then they scurry back to their hiding places in bed frames, box springs, carpets, under floorboards, in cracks in the wainscoting, behind wall hangings, in clothing, in the electrics — you name it.
They can live for up to a year without feeding, which makes them very hard to eradicate. Richard Cooper is a director of BedBug Central , an educational website and prevention company that last week organised a nationwide "summit" in Chicago, attended by about of America's top bedbug experts. He also sits on Bloomberg's advisory board.
Over the last 10 years he has got to know the bloodsuckers very well, watching them multiply from virtually nothing to take hold of New York, and now other US cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Cincinnati. So what does he think of them? One reason often cited for the resurgence of the pest is the banning of the toxic chemical DDT , with which they had previously been brought under control.
But Cooper believes the main cause of their success today is human ignorance. People are unaware of what to look for and miss the early signs, allowing the bedbugs to establish themselves and spread throughout a dwelling. Part of the problem is the assumption that infestation is confined to poor neighbourhoods with dirty and crowded living spaces. Wrong, says Cooper, who is taking a PhD in the impact of bedbugs on low-income communities. It is only in the last few years that the insects have begun to encroach on poorer areas of New York, with devastating results.
Families there often can't afford the cost of extermination, and that further aids the bugs' march across the city. Kate Lewis, a magazine editor in Brooklyn, knows how expensive dealing with an infestation can be. Her family had been staying in a rental holiday house in Florence, and when they got back to Brooklyn her husband Jacob began unpacking the suitcase on their bed. Big mistake. That's one of the easiest ways to allow the monsters into your life. Jacob actually saw a bedbug crawl out of the luggage and on to the bed.
New York City is certainly a major travel hub. Vacationers head to NYC but the main culprit of the outbreak is people who travel for business. Vacationers simply go from their home to a hotel and back. They are much less likely to drop these parasites in enough hotels to cause a major problem; although vacationers are often a victim, and bring them home unknowingly. People in business spend weeks or months hotel hopping. As our society has become global these bugs have staged a comeback.
The U. Then international travel became more common and people were staying in hotels in countries that were still dealing with them. People would go to different countries and bring home a little something extra in their luggage and clothing. New York City may have them but how does one avoid staying in a hotel that has an active infestation. Actually, the more expensive hotels are just as likely to have infestations. With the Internet age in full force there is a website that is devoted to the places with reported infestations.
The Bed Bug Registry is a website where people can report their sightings and experiences. People can use this free resource to avoid bringing home an unwanted souvenir. These insects are sneaky little devils. They only come out in the dark unless the infestation is extreme. When you turn on the lights of your hotel room, they will quickly scurry away.
Although it is hard to spot them, they do leave visible signs behind. The most prevalent signs are blood smears on the sheets and waste along the bedrails. They hide behind the headboard, along the railings of the bed and between the mattress and bedsprings. If you cannot spot the little beasties, you should become accustomed to the other signs. These pests shed skin and leave fecal matter behind. This looks like a pile of pepper or coarse ash in areas where they nest. People may not want to spend their evenings hunting for these bugs but that is better than bringing them home.
Just strip the bed, check under the box springs and glance behind the headboard. If you see any signs, ask for a new room or find a new hotel. Normally the vehicles that you ride in are not a problem when it comes to these insects. Places where people sleep or gather cause problems.
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There are things that you can do to keep the bugs from coming home with you. The use of a hard suitcase is one of the best things that one can do to keep them from hitching a ride home with you. Putting your clothing into a re-sealable plastic bag before putting them into the suitcase keeps them out of your clothing. Remember that the hotels are there to serve you. You can ask them about their policy. How often do they inspect? Do they have an exterminator come in on a regular basis? Is the housekeeping staff knowledgeable? Asking these questions will not offend the staff at a quality hotel.
Once you are in the room, you want to keep your suitcase on top of a table or dresser. You should keep your clothes packed for a brief stay. You do not have to put your clothes in the bureau or closet. When you come home unpack in a room that plenty of hard light-colored surfaces. Shake out and wash your clothing before putting them away. Inspect your luggage. Pay close attention to the handle and wheel area of the suitcase.
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Even if you accidentally stay overnight in a hotel that has an active infestation there are ways to prevent bringing them home. Wash everything that is washable prior to re-entering your home. This includes clothing, linens and bags that contain clothes. If you cannot wash it, wipe it down. If you cannot wipe it down, put it in a bag for a year. That may sound extreme but these insects can survive for an entire year without feeding again.
Hotels are not the only place that one can pick up these bugs. Guests to your home can bring them in; children can get them at sleepovers or at camp and you can even get them by picking up a castoff piece of furniture that someone left at the side of the street. The owner of that free couch or mattress may have thrown it away because of bugs. Clean every previously owned item that comes into your home. Even the most cautious people may still end up with a hitchhiker in their suitcase.
Anyone can get them but you need to get rid of them as quickly as possible. The easiest way to rid your home of these pests is to contact a pest control company and let them deal with it. You can try DIY extermination but they are very hard to kill. Only a few chemicals will work on them. If you use the right pest killer but miss a few bugs, you will be right back where you started. Talk to your neighbors. One of the best ways to find the best service is to find out whom your neighbor uses. Sure, it may be a little embarrassing but you do not have to be too specific about why you need a pest company.
Check the ads of the company. If they do not specifically mention these bugs, they may not be experienced their eradication. Ask questions of your pest control company. Make full use of your free consultation and inspection prior to making a decision. Do not listen to grandiose claims.
It is difficult to get rid of these bugs. A reputable company will not claim that they can get rid of your problem with one visit. When the pest company comes to treat your home, they will give you some homework. All homeowners need to do their part by following the instructions that the pest control company suggests. Remember, they are the professionals and you are paying for that knowledge. Follow their advice. Although they bite, they do not transmit any diseases. However, some people are allergic to the bites. This can cause red and itchy circles to appear on the body.
A little cortisone cream will control the itching but the only way to avoid bites is to rid your home of the infestation. Severe scratching of the bites may potentially lead to an infection but this is unrelated to the bugs themselves. If you itch until you break the skin, wash the sore area with soap and water to avoid infection.
The bites normally occur in clusters. There will be a line or collection of little circles on a part of the body. The inner arms, face and neck are prime feeding spots. These areas are often left uncovered during sleep and are easy places for the bugs to feed. With the high number of infestations occurring in New York City the city has had to put a few recommendations into place to help combat the problem.
Disposing of infected material is a major problem. When people put household items at the curb for the New York City sanitation department to pick up, people who may need the items salvage them for their own use. This spreads the infestation from home to home. When disposing of a household item that has an active bug population New York City recommends the owner put a sign on the item that announces that it contains bed bugs.
This gives the potential new owner a heads up as to what they may be bringing home with their new treasure. If the person disposing of the item can place it into a trash bag, they should do so. This keeps the bugs from leaving and keeps people from knowing what you are throwing away. People should cut or damage larger items prior to placing them at the curb.
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A large slice in a mattress, box springs or couch will make it less attractive to scavengers. Do not bring new items into the home until the infestation has been eradicated. Failure to do so just gives them new places to hide and breed. An infested item is not something that one should donate. Giving to charity is great but giving something that will simply cause additional problems to the person you are trying to help is not very nice.
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Apartment owners in New York City have the additional problem of keeping them from moving from apartment to apartment. Ask all tenants to report an infestation to the building management immediately. The owner or manager of the building will then be able to call an exterminator in to handle the problem. One should inspect all vacant apartments prior to finding a new tenant. It is easier to treat an empty apartment instead of one that is occupied. Places where people come to stay for short durations are typically hit hard.
The homeless, elderly and medically vulnerable do not need the additional stress of suddenly discovering that their sanctuary is also a haven for these parasites. This is a sensitive issue but one that does need to be addressed. It is much easier to prevent an infestation than it is to treat one.