How the bed bug infiltrated our bedrooms and took over the world


Horrible creatures (by human standards of course - I guess that they’re just getting by). We were infested at the first hovel we rented in London. It took ages to positively identify the issue because they are so good at hiding from the light and don’t come out until the bed’s occupants are asleep. eventually one or two of our burgeoning colony fell into a drawer under our bed and couldn’t get out. Once we discovered them we were able to commence the nuclear option (a heavy-duty spraying of permethrin by a council pest control officer) and wash all our clothes, towels, and linens on hot cycles. Luckily for us, this was effective. A friend in North London was not so lucky - she got pesticide resistant visitors. 5 separate sprayings later, they were finally gone, and as a result of the experience she left that flat soon after.

When I finally bought a house (ex-private let) while doing renovations I found evidence of previous pest-control activity (which had been disclosed to us) including a dead German cockroach (not really German) and, heart-stoppingly, a dead bedbug. Thankfully we’ve never had any live ones.

Mouse infestations can prolong bedbugs’ grip upon your homes, as they use them as a food source too, so they can weather the storm of pesticides from safety sometimes. Probably one of the reasons that they are becoming so prevalent in London and other big cities.

I am skeptical. Sure, it makes sense we would react to sudden skittering, but that’s something you see more in mice than in many insects. And while I for one feel revulsion at a few like maggots, in most other cases no more than I do at small mammals - I would hate to wake up covered in them, but have no qualms when encountering them.

Many people I know feel the same about the alien forms of at least ladybugs and butterflies. As the article does say, this is plainly because we were brought up to be comfortable with such harmless-at-a-glance insects if not more, while other people’s parents panicked at all of them. What I don’t get is the reason to treat the one as tied to our evolutionary history but not the other.

I haven’t read the book, but what’s offered here is an evolutionary just-so story; it sounds plausible, yet would make as much sense the other way. You could say a hominid is going to have a better chance at living to have children if they have a better idea of threats than panicking at every grasshopper in Africa. After all, they’re common and easy to recognize, and so it’s a waste of time and energy.

…and waste of protein. You’d never know it from most westerners, but whatever revulsion we are supposed to have to insects definitely doesn’t keep people from eating them. Which again, makes me wonder how innate or evolved any of this really is.

I will say bed bugs aren’t really the nicest creatures, though.


I don’t see the point in all the evo-psych energy being expended here, you might as well say “why can’t we just get used to having genital warts?” Bedbugs are a disease, and they feel shameful, painful and destructive lile a disease.

I had bedbugs for 7 months several years ago in the Bronx. Same story as many have told here. We got rid of them over and over, 10 treatments in all form a very passipnate exterminator. Treatments were successful each time until a lone, fullgrown adult would show up to give us a nibble, and return me and my wife to anxiety nightmares.

Well, eventually it turned out the apartment below us had a raging infestation, and were just spraying raid every night on themselves before bed. The landlord couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything. So we moved out. We looked back at the bedbug registry months later and our apartment, as well as the ones above and below were still being reported. The exterminator told us many atpries of people who just didn’t care, and let the beasts run wild, people without a strong reaction, or who just didn’t care.

I think this lack of coordination perpetuates the idea that bedbugs are hard to dispose of. It would take something like a vaccination movement (good luck in this political climate) to eradicate the problem. A coordinated effort could remove the bastards, but alas, we all suffer alone.

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[quote=“HMSGoose, post:4, topic:55940”]I think this lack of coordination perpetuates the idea that bedbugs are hard to dispose of. It would take something like a vaccination movement (good luck in this political climate) to eradicate the problem. A coordonated effort could remove the bastards, bit alas, we all suffer alone.[/quote]Several years ago it seemed trendy to suggest that the resurgence in bedbugs could be traced to the decreasing use of DDT and other pesticides. Has that reasoning been abandoned?

Also, do dry ice tricks not work? I thought I read someone suggest once that fumigating one’s apartment with CO2 was effective.

I’ve heard the ddt stuff too, apparently we almost jad the buggers licked at sime point. I’ve heard rave reviews about heat treatments. CO2 and other gases i’ve been told are difficult to make sure they infiltrate every crack and cranny to a sufficient degree.

DDT worked because it killed bed bugs in all of its life cycles. However, bug bugs have gained resistance to the pesticide due to natural selection.

The pace at which widespread resistance has evolved suggests that relying on chemicals alone to control bed bug infestations is not enough — and may even encourage the evolution of more resistant populations. Instead, the CDC and the EPA recommend a more integrated approach, one that incorporates pesticides, along with other techniques to which resistance is unlikely to evolve: heat treatment (temperatures between 113 and 120°F can kill the bugs), vacuuming, removing clutter, and sealing cracks and crevices.

I proposed this, but was vastly outvoted by the bedbugs.

Ah, but not quite alone!


Because we live in an area with a lot of Lyme Disease activity, I used to put our removed ticks in the freezer. (They’re still in there.) I get bit often enough that I’ve quit saving them – if I ever feel very ill, the first thing I’ll tell them is that I live by the woods, and find a tick on me at least once a year.

This is one time I’m not buying the evolutionary story either.

As a kid, all I ever heard from my parents and the home ec teachers was that bugs in the home meant you had a dirty place and were a bad housekeeper. Kids at school would tell each other urban legends about people who didn’t wash their hair getting their brains eaten by bugs. I’ve since learned that cockroaches, among other bugs, prefer cleanliness, but try telling that to anyone indoctrinated with “bugs=filth”. No wonder infestations freak people out.

I’d had a panic about bedbugs, while I was staying temporarily in a room I was subletting. The person from whom I was subletting had poured lots of diotomaceous earth around the edges of the room and the windowsill, because apparently he was very anxious about insect infestation. This, however, had the effect of priming me to be very anxious myself. And, I started getting itchy rashes, around my neck, wrists, and ankles.

After going to some lengths to look up information on how to identify and deal with bed bugs, and having searched the room, over and over, and found no signs of them, I’d concluded that there weren’t any bedbugs and I was probably just getting bitten by gnats or something like that. I was on the phone, telling my partner that I’d just concluded there were no bedbugs, when I looked down at my sleeping bag and saw a bit of brown, which I thought was a fragment of chocolate.

It was a bedbug.

The bedbug was, in fact, obviously weak and dying – as my partner pointed out, the diotomaceous earth must have worked. And, after more frantic searching, I still found no signs of other bedbugs. After I moved out, the rash immediately cleared up, and my best guess remains that it was gnats, or maybe some other environmental factor.

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I lived two years in Tanzania. We had malaria carrying mosquitos but those are pretty easily dealt with: wear long sleeves and always check your mosquito net. And malaria, even if you do get it which I did, is pretty easily treatable: just three days on a wide-spectrum antibiotic if it’s diagnosed early. So I wasn’t scared of mosquitos because they were nothing more than a mild inconvenience.

But that one time we got bed bugs? It took us months to root them out. Every morning waking up to having been bitten? Yeah, not pleasant. Of course there were no extermination companies and no ready supply of materials so we ended up boiling linen, treating the mattress and bed frame with generic insecticides etc.

In fact I’d much rather take the scorpions we got coming into our house every once in a while over bedbugs any time. Sure you have to check your shoes before putting them on but at least scorpions don’t bite you on purpose.

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I thought that like lice, bedbugs were becoming mostly pyrethroid resistant. I can’t speak for bedbugs but I have seen European lice climbing around live in a straight undiluted 10% permethrin soap.
With lice I have found that hair dryer and clothes dryer are my atom bomb, the mattress or escapers under cabinets or around the room probably have to either be starved or killed with bleach solution. I am thinking that turning up the heat to max even in summer, while expensive, would also accelerate bedbug metabolism for a bug/egg starvation vacation. I have used a pretty strong bleach solution on mattresses to remove kid pee smell, I bet that would be rough on bedbugs and eggs.

Diotomaceous earth is a pretty sweet solution for bug death. It is the tiny diotomates, sharp micro shellfish fossils, which essentially tear the hell out of an insect’s digestive tract. Being so small the damage makes them unable to regulate and retain the moisture required for life, they dehydrate and die.
Due to our massive advantage in scale and surface ratio we could use diotomaceous earth as a sunday topping every day and never feel an ill affect.


Resistance is becoming an issue, but I don’t think it’s as advanced as you describe for lice. However there’s a definite difference in effectiveness between the pesticides available to professionals and those you get at the local ironmongers! I think this may be concentration-based.

Some councils treat affected areas multiple times with different pesticides - ours just sent a dude around with a big tank of something evil-looking. I guess it was just stronger.

So, is the itching a prerequisite?

I just got a new sofa bed, new sheets, and new pillows. Over the last couple of days, I’ve noticed little red bumps on my chest just above the abdomen. However, they don’t itch at all. I think it might be a reaction to the sateen material, but now this article has me curious.

Some people react to bed bug bites and some people don’t; you can get couples sharing a bed where one is covered in welts and the other has no symptoms. I haven’t specifically heard of people who get welts but no itching, though.

I am not an expert, but the real test would be whether you start seeing welts in different locations. Bed bugs have no particular preference for body parts.

A few general tips: is a useful forum for advice, discussion, and encouragement.

If you think a bug you’ve found is a bed bug, look up a visual description online and examine it with a magnifying glass and a strong light. They’re pretty distinctive critters. A drop of rubbing alcohol will kill them quick so they’ll hold still for inspection.

Off-the-shelf pesticides are 100% worthless even if they claim to be effective against bed bugs. Foggers can not get a killing dose into the crevices where bed bugs hide. The best they can do is kill the rare bugs that crawl out where you can see them, and a spray bottle full of diluted rubbing alcohol will do that just as well. Don’t waste your money.

When I had bed bugs, I found great relief in Blackout bed bug interceptors. They go under/around the legs of your bed and trap bugs coming or going. They’re marketed as “detectors” rather than traps because they will not fix the problem all by themselves, but they will generally keep bugs from reaching your bed, keep bugs that were on your bed and climb down from returning, and hold them for inspection so you can at least decide whether you’ve really got bed bugs or are just jumping at shadows. For me, relief from regular bites helped me calm down enough to stop freaking out and deal with the problem rationally.

They’re also useful if you’re worried about getting bugs at some point in the future. Keep the traps installed and check them every month or so to remove dust and see if they’ve caught anything.

I’ve never understood the absolute insane freak outs people have over bed bugs. I went through an infestation, as have most of my friends. Its a little gross/annoying to get bit by them every night. But there isn’t much more to it than say, the gnat bites you get camping or during a barbeque. And while its pretty inconvenient, there not really all that hard to get rid of in most cases. Bagged all my stuff (including matresses and pillows) in air tight containers, left it that way for 3 weekly sprayings by a reputable exterminator. Washed my cloths on a hot or “sanitise” cycle some what frequently. Boom, done. My friends who had a problem infestation did the same for like 5 weeks. In the mean time your put out but not in any serious way. None of us have had to get rid of anything. None of us have had ruccurace of the infestation.

It seems to me the issue and percieved tenacity of the bed bug infestation is exacerbated by a couple of things. First and formost are the sheer volume of BS remedies and “all natural” exterminators out there. Diamatous Earth can certainly kill bed bugs, but its not going to kill larvae or eggs. So you might knock out the current adult population but they’re just going to come back as soon as some eggs hatch. Cold, steam, bed bug sniffing dogs and a dozen other things are all (at least partially) BS. They’re expensive and wont erradicate the infestation. Its really important to work with an exterminator who knows what they’re doing. You need to spray the furnature, and along all the walls, cracks, crevises, basements, closets etc. That’s where the bed bugs live and breed. There’s also a lot of misinformation. They might be crawling on your cloths or in your books but bagging them up air tight will sufficate them in about a month. No need to throw anything out. They aren’t living or breeding in there (or in your matress, its your bedframe and the walls.) You need to spray multiple times to knock out any newly hatched bugs, ones not going to do it. And you can use a can of over the counter spray for spot treatments. All the other crazy shit people do is largely pointless, and more intended to prevent bites so you can feel better. Its relatively hard to transport bed bugs from one place to another. They aren’t going to crawl onto your cloths while your at the movies. They may be hiding in the crevices of furnature you find on the street (so don’t bring that home, or spray that shit), and a few stray bugs may get tangled up in your luggage from a hotel with a bad infestation (but thats what the cans of spray are). For the most part you need to just clench your ass and wait for the exterminators to do there jobs.

The other big thing that seems to make these infestations seem more serious and difficult to get rid of is good old fashioned assholery. I’m talking about unscrupulous hotel managers and classic NYC shitty land lords. Most people who I know who’ve had a really problamatic infestation it was largely down to their landlords not handling it propperly. They denyed the infestation, only treated single apartments the minimum amount needed, and cheaped out using improper products or unlicensed exterminators. My land lords on the other hand notified the entire building when the first outbreaks showed up (the scum bag living above me brought home some street furnature) so we could monitor if it spread. That apparentment was sprayed 3 times, and all the halls and cellars were sprayed weekly for the next year. We were all told we could get a profilactic spraying if we wanted, and given contact info to report any bugs. Each appartment (4 out of ten in the end) was sprayed a minimum of 3 times with a few weeks of reporting an infestation. The whole building was bedbug free in less than a year.

Like I said those things live in the walls, cracks and crevices. If you aren’t treating the entire building, not just individual rooms or units, they’ll eventually just wander from room to room, and then move back in where they were once eradicated. And you need to spray with something that kills the whole life cycle. And insect eggs are durrable, and in this case deeply hidden in out of the way places.

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I only ever got bitten when my wife wasn’t there. Something to do with thinner skin.