Local woman shares harrowing tale of ‘insidious, little monsters’
“You don’t realize how much something like itching can control your life, your thoughts and everything else.”
That’s how Ann, who requested anonymity in the sharing of her tale, described living with bed bugs.
The Spencer woman decided to share a residence with her boyfriend in April. She was bit the very first night they spent together in their new apartment.
“I woke up with a cluster of itchy, red bumps on my neck,” she recalled. “I thought they might be bug bites, but my boyfriend thought they could be hives or a rash as I had been under quite a lot of stress.”
Over the next couple weeks, Ann continued to be bit, like clockwork, every three days. not quite sure what was happening to her, though, she wondered if a spider had gotten into their apartment or if possibly she was receiving early-season mosquito bites.
Ann tried many over-the-counter remedies to alleviate her discomfort, including benadryl, cortisone, ammonia, alcohol, aloe vera and calamine.
“I react very strongly to their bites. I have welts the size of quarters that itch, burn and sting for days on end that leave pinhead-sized scars once they start to heal. my boyfriend gets bit too, but he has to look for his bites because they don’t itch,” she said. “The only things that helped a little bit were things that had lanacane in them, which, I think, helped to take away the pain more than anything. because they stung, too; they weren’t just itchy. But that, or an extremely hot shower immediately after being bitten, were about the only things that would help — and it would only help for about five minutes.”
The couple realized what was happening to Ann in late April, when a downstairs neighbor revealed that she, her boyfriend and her children had been getting bitten for awhile. the mother, a hotel worker, then showed Ann’s boyfriend the shed shells of several bed bugs she had found in her children’s beds.
One week later, Ann found an adult bug upstairs in their apartment.
Adult bed bugs have oval-shaped bodies with no wings. Prior to feeding, they are about one-fourth inch long and flat as paper. after feeding, they turn dark red and become bloated.
Bed bugs, which prefer to feed on human blood, bite at night and will bite all over a human body, especially around the face, neck, upper torso, arms and hands.
“I’ve done a lot of research on these insidious little monsters since this ordeal started, and they are more likely to bite women than men. They come out to feed at night and typically stay within a five- to six-foot radius of their food source. They feed about every three days and eggs hatch about every 14 days. They will hide anywhere and can be extremely hard to find because they hide in little cracks and crevices. They can survive up to 18 months without feeding. this is why they are so hard to get rid of,” Ann said.
She continued, “It is kind of rare to find adult bugs, actually, because they really like to hide. So, when you’re looking, you’re really looking for evidence of them. As they grow, they shed their shells. So, it’s more often that you’ll find a shed shell, eggs or fecal matter stains. the fecal matter stains that you see are little brown spots. because they eat blood, they poop blood. So, that’s the kind of thing I was looking for around the edges of our mattresses and on our pillows, headboard and around the furniture.”
As time advanced, however, and the bed bugs in Ann’s home multiplied because their downstairs neighbors moved out, the bugs’ nocturnal feedings intensified and she awoke with new bites every morning.
The couple began taking all kinds of precautions. For starters, they got rid of their mattresses and box springs. She also switched from vacuuming every two days to daily.
“That could be one of the reasons why we couldn’t find them for so long — because I was cleaning so much, changing our sheets once a week and vacuuming so much that I was cleaning away any evidence that was there,” she said. “I am trying to tell myself this will be a good lesson in how to let go of material things. I am packing and storing any clothing and shoes I can live without, vacuuming daily, sealing the used bags in plastic bags and throwing them out each time after I vacuum.
“Heat is one of the most effective ways to kills these things, which is where the laundromat comes in,” Ann added. “I cannot recommend the website bedbugger.com enough because it goes into extreme detail in what a person needs to do to handle this sort of thing.”
In the meantime, the Spencer couple have found that combating the parasitic insects can be a long, costly process. While their landlord chose to only treat two downstairs bedrooms once, Ann called in a pest control inspector on her own accord in early September. He indicated their company treats a few Clay County homes for bed bugs at least once a month, with the number of infestations worse in neighboring Emmet and Buena Vista counties.
Rick Cooke, of Rick’s Pest Control in Spencer, has visited with local physicians who have treated several bed bug cases. the 10-year pest control technician, who admits he does not currently have the time or equipment to surely eradicate bed bugs, has fielded calls about them from residents of Spencer, Graettinger, Hartley, Sheldon and Estherville.
“A lot of exterminators and people in the pest control world will tell you that some of the cleanest hotels in the nation will get bed bugs just because it’s the nature of how they are: They’ll hitchhike,” Ann said. “They’ll crawl into a shoe or a piece of luggage, and, actually, that’s how most people get bed bugs — from being somewhere that has them and staying there for an amount of time. So, absolutely anybody can pick these up.”
The nocturnal blood-sucking habits of the pests, meanwhile, can induce anxiety, worry, stress and sleeplessness for those they plague. Ann, who sleeps well maybe four hours a night because she’s fearful of waking up itching, admitted bed bugs have put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend.
“He, really, was not at all proactive for quite a while just because I don’t think he wanted to admit it was going on. He had a far higher level of shame about the whole thing than I did,” she said. “He didn’t want to tell our friends and he didn’t want anybody to know because it was like when kids have head lice and all of a sudden their friends’ parents don’t want them coming over anymore. It’s this stigma of being infected. That was really difficult for him; I didn’t have that, though, because this wasn’t our fault.”
Ann, who has been bite-free for over one month, but will continue to take precautions until she receives an all-clear signal from their pest control inspector, concluded, “No one is immune. It doesn’t matter how clean or clutter-free your home is.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about it: I wanted it to be something people think about. because when it happens, they’re so hard to get rid of, and they’re so persistent, that very often people can fight with them for years because they don’t know what to look for or how to take care of them.”
Bed bugs can be found in areas such as:
* Seams, creases, tufts and folds of mattresses and box springs
* Cracks in the bed frame and headboard
* under chairs, couches, beds, dust covers
* between the cushions of couches and chairs
* under area rugs and the edges of carpets
* between the folds of curtains
* in drawers
* behind baseboards and around window and door casings
* behind electrical plates and under loose wallpaper, paintings and posters
* in cracks in plaster
* in telephones, radios and clocks
Five ways to stay safe when you travel:
* Check for complaints.
* Inspect the room.
* keep luggage away from the bed.
* use plastic bags for laundry.
* Wash everything.
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