By Brittany Shutts
Brittany Shutts is a senior Creative Writing major at Purchase College. Her hometown is in Upstate New York in the Adirondacks, where she spent many years reading books on high tree branches. She recently returned from a semester in the Czech Republic. Brittany loves to talk with her hands and also writes fiction, drama, and a blog about nothing in particular. Brittany is passionate about holistic health and non-toxic, sustainable living. She enjoys thrusting unfamiliar vegetables on unwilling family members and gazing wistfully at the organic chocolate section of the supermarket.
Bedbugs are nocturnal parasites that feed on human blood. Once they latch onto beds, furniture, or clothing or make a cozy home behind your wallpaper it becomes incredibly difficult to get them to move out. If, until recently, bedbugs seemed to be the stuff of nursery rhymes, it is because they virtually disappeared in the US with the use of pesticides after World War II.
Now these forgotten parasites are making a comeback and spreading as people travel and commute. Dormitories are especially prone to infestation due to the number of students and the rate of occupant turnover. Traditional methods of extermination often involve spraying harmful insecticides, a process that often needs to be repeated before the problem goes away. All it takes for a second infestation is a couple of bedbug refugees. Fortunately, there are a few preventative steps that can be taken to avoid sharing a room with a thousand of your closest friends. If you’re already battling the bite there are also many effective, pesticide-free methods of extermination.
The first step is to check for evidence of an infestation. One clear sign is the itchy white bumps on the skin that are characteristic of bedbugs. (If the bites have red spots in the middle, they are likely fleas.) The intensity of the bites depends on the individual. Check for rusty stains on your bed sheets from bedbug excretions and drops of blood indicating bedbug casualties that were crushed in the night. An unpleasant odor is released by the insects that you may also notice in the instance of an infestation.
Learn to tell bedbugs apart from other common insects. Adult bedbugs are flat, brown, and oval-shaped. They are about a fourth of an inch long, but slightly larger after a feast. The eggs of bedbug are white. The newly-hatched insects resemble the adults, but are smaller and yellowish-white.
Inspect any place in your home where bedbugs may be hiding out. It is important to check every inch of your mattress, box springs, the bedframe, and the seams of the mattress. A bedbug never moves far from its meal. Freshly engorged insects may take siestas in the frames of windows and doors, cracks in the floor, carpet tack boards, baseboards, electrical boxes, appliances, furniture, TVs, picture frames, wall hangings, ceiling moldings, drapery pleats, loose wallpaper, and cracks in plaster.
If you want to take your search a step further, set up a dry ice bedbug detector. Dry ice contains carbon dioxide, which attracts hungry insects looking for their next meal. The carbon dioxide plume emitted by the detector simulates the exhaled carbon dioxide from an animal or human. Click here to learn how to make this cost-effective detector at Wired.com.
To control bedbugs, clean mattresses and furniture with steam frequently vacuum spaces where bedbugs may lurk. Be sure to empty the vacuum bag outdoors so that potential insects will not have a chance to make a run for it. You can kill any bugs on bedding and clothing by putting it through the wash and drying on high heat. Twenty-five minutes in the dryer is enough to kill anything crawling in the folds.
Seal up any bedbug-sized cracks in the bed frame, floors, and walls. Any bird or bat nests should be removed because they can cause an infestation. Check your suitcases and backpacks before you bring them into your house to be sure that no bedbugs from the hotel or hostel decided to follow you home. Also inspect any used furniture that you bring into your home—this is an important thing to consider when furnishing a dormitory.
If you resort to pesticides, choose products that disclose the ingredients and use herbs and essential oils. You can also concoct your own herbal insecticides that can successfully keep the bugs away. Lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, cloves, and thyme have natural insect-repelling properties. Recipes for sweet smelling bug sprays and sachets can be found at theherbgardener.blogspot.com.
With an established infestation it is safest to hire a professional exterminator to do the job. There are many businesses that use steam and other non-toxic methods that are safer for humans and the environment. One regional business, Connecticut Bedbug Dogs, uses insect-sniffing canines to pinpoint the exact source of an infestation. To eradicate the bedbugs, they use a Cryonite freezing treatment, which uses carbon dioxide snow rather than chemicals. You can find out more information at their website: www.ctbedbugdogs.com
Image courtesy of NoPests.com