Like cockroaches, bed bugs have been around since prehistoric times.
Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite. If they do, grab a shoe and beat them till they’re black and blue! When my sibs and I were kids, we’d repeat that little ditty to each other before climbing into bed at night. We thought it was funny then, but we’d never seen a bed bug.
Between the 1940s and the 1980s, the use of DDT, a powerfully toxic pesticide (now banned), was in common use in agriculture and in homes to kill cockroaches. It may be one reason that bed bugs were scarce in those years – in developed countries. But like other pests, bed bugs seem to have become resistant to pesticides. Some blame modern international travel for the return of bedbugs. They have certainly become a plague in homes, hotels, dorms, army barracks, and second-hand clothing and furniture shops.
Natural anti-bug remedies don’t hold out much hope. Bedbugs can live up to a year without a meal, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Given that they live comfortably in any kind of tiny crack in furniture and walls or even in electrical appliances, smearing your bed frame with lavender or neem oils won’t do a bit of good. To make 100% sure that all bedbugs in a home are dead, strong measures are called for – professional workers employing currently useful pesticides, vacuuming and steam, plus bug detection in places you hadn’t thought of.
Pesticides give you the creeps? Me too. Prevention is best. Become familiar with preventative measures outlined by the EPA or medicinenet.com. msnbc also offers a good FAQ-style article on bed bug prevention and treatment, rather heavy on the pesticide solution. Unfortunately, for a serious infestation, that seems to be the only solution.
Partially effective home techniques that don’t involve pesticides are:
- Buy no second-hand clothing or furniture without inspecting every inch of it for bugs. Don’t even consider bringing an infested item home.
- At the first suspicion of contact with bedbugs, or an infested individual, wash and dry all clothing and removable furniture covers at the highest temperatures the fabrics can take. High temps kill the bugs, larvae and eggs.
- Encase mattresses, box springs and pillows in plastic. Make sure there isn’t even one tiny crack or slit through which a bug may escape.
- Tidy up clutter in the home. It gives bed bugs more places to hide.
- Vacuum floors, wall hangings, upholstery and rugs regularly. If bugs are found, seal the vacuum bag up and throw it out.
- Neem oil may repel bed bugs. But it won’t kill them. (The second down side of neem is its unpleasantly acrid odor of garlic gone wrong.)
- Bed bugs live in the nests of bats and birds. Clear away any such nests around your home, making sure no bugs have hopped out and infested you in the process.
- In hotel rooms, don’t put your luggage down on the bed or the floor. Place it on the luggage rack. On returning home, wash the clothes you traveled with immediately. Inspect your suitcase or backpack. Don’t put it on your bed.
The only good news about bed bugs is that, as of today’s knowledge, they don’t transmit diseases. Their bites cause bodily aggravation and embarrassment, but only in cases where skin becomes infected are antibiotics called for. Allergic reactions are rare.
Pesticides in the Middle East from Green Prophet:
- Camels Killed By Toxic Pesticides
- Parkinsons Linked to Pesticide Exposure
- Minister of Agriculture Brought Carcinogenic Pesticides Into Egypt
Image of bed bugs on a mattress seam from medicinenet.com.
Miriam also writes a food blog.