How to Protect Your Family from Bed Bugs
"I woke up one morning and I noticed that I had a cluster of three bites on my ankle," says Amy, a 24-year-old New Yorker who discovered she was a victim of the worst bed bug outbreak in 60 years. Getting rid of the small, black, brown and rust-colored critters racked up a bill of more than $1,000 and hours of laundry for Amy and her roommate. "The first thing we had to do is put mattress encasement on our beds. Then we had to bag every single item in our apartment," she explains about the exterminator's clean-up process. "Nobody should have to go through this. It's beyond a nuisance."
Dr. Ian Smith reassures Amy that bed bugs may be disgusting, but there are no real health consequences, and she's certainly not the only one experiencing the problem. "It's not just New York, by the way. It's cities all across North America, it's over in Europe, it's really a worldwide problem," he says. "Since World War II, this is the biggest outbreak of bed bugs we've ever had." Dr. Ian attributes global travel and the elimination of the DDT pesticide to the surge. "The EPA just had it's first-ever bed bug conference because it's such a problem, and they now have a website bedbugregistry.com where you can find out whether or not there's an issue in your city."
There are things you can do to avoid an infestation in your home and Dr. Ian shares his top tips below:
Bed bug prevention: "It's about what you bring into your house," he explains. "Be very careful, because they can transport in your luggage, they can transport in your mattresses, used mattresses, old mattresses, old furniture."
If you buy secondhand furniture, inspect the items and look for brown and black bugs that are about the size of an eraser. The bed bugs can live anywhere there is a crevasse, from the creases in mattresses to wooden chairs, cushions and even computer keyboards. "It's not about cleanliness," Dr. Ian points out. "It's all about cramped quarters and bugs infesting." And, they can appear in any area of your home. "Just because we call them bed bugs doesn't mean they only reside in beds," he adds. "They also reside in furniture."
Put a fabric or vinyl encasement around your mattress to prevent the bugs from reaching the area.
When you travel, inspect the mattress and bed linens in your hotel room and look for dark spots, which can be a sign of an infestation. If they're in the hotel room, they can get into your luggage and clothing.
Treatment: Bed bugs won't go away on their own, but if you catch them early you can avoid an infestation.
Start with inexpensive sprays and dusts from the hardware store to treat the affected areas. "Some work, some don't work; it's really trial and error," Dr. Ian says. "When you use a spray at home, you also have to use the dust [spray] because the dust will get into the cracks and crevasses where the spray doesn't get into and the dust will last longer. So it's a combo deal!"
Wrap your mattress in a fabric or vinyl encasement to quarantine the bugs and prevent them from moving to other areas of your home.
Use heat to kill the bed bugs. Put clothing and linens in the dryer at a high heat, or consider picking up a portable heat chamber such as the Pack Tite, which costs a few hundred dollars to do the job. They reach 120 degrees and can fit luggage, linens and even baby toys, and rid them of bed bugs.
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