Bed Bugs Bite: A Primer for Fighting Back

Feb 15, 2011

By Chelsey Monroe

The bed bug is every bit as friendly as it is pretty. (Photo: Tim Flach/Getty Images)

"Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite!" The cute bedtime rhyme has turned into a disturbing reality, first in New York City, and now throughout the United States at large. Bedbugs are gross parasites. They want nothing more out of life than to relocate to your mattress and sheets and suck your blood as you sleep. Bed bugs may not have moved onto your block just yet, but chances are an infestation is no more than a brisk bike ride away, a bike ride taken by a child headed to a play date.

What is a parent, friend or lover to do when a child, colleague or soon-to-be-ex transports these tricky—and seemingly indestructible—insects into your domicile?

First Stage: Discovery

Bed bugs make their sly entrance on pets, clothing, furniture and luggage. They hop over from nearby dwellings, wild animals, and other people. Although visible to the naked eye, the creatures hide easily. Look for mold-like spots on your furniture or mattress, or tiny poop stains and blood smears on sheets and pillow cases. Are you experiencing itching? Do little red spots—bite marks!—dot your arms and legs? Congratulations. The bed bugs have chosen you! Don't worry; the pests pass no known maladies to humans, other than rashes, allergic reactions and some psychological trauma.

Second Stage: Annihilation

There are several ways to clear out bed bugs, all of which involve killing them.  Chemicals and temperature changes are two traditional methods of bed bug extermination. Pesticides, though comforting, can have adverse health effects, and not just on the vermin. One cold-immersion treatment has had some success in icing bugs without toasting humans: A carbon dioxide snow freezes the pests and is so safe, you can even cook while the process is being applied! (Although no one wants to picture a party host preparing a meal in the bachelorette kitchen while thousands of invasive corpses are wafting about the futon.) A smoke treatment has been used to slay the scourge at high temperatures, but requires evacuating the house. Some holistic (read: less effective) methods employ plants, fungi, black pepper or even wild mint to curb the menace. 

Or you can just move away and hope the suckers don't follow after. Whatever way you choose to rid yourself of New York City's most tenacious souvenir, always wash all of your clothes, linens and furniture covers in a scalding wash and dry to scorch out any lasting bugs.


There is a simple fail-safe way to keep the little buggers from snuggling up: Never leave your house, and don't let anyone or anything in. Short of that all-out commitment, try these:

• Never put luggage on the floor when traveling in hotel rooms or unknown houses.

• Always check your room for signs of bed bugs.

• Don't put your clothes close to a strange bed.
• Never reuse mattresses that haven't been checked for bugs.

Related Stories: Die, Bedbugs, Die! Mutant Bloodsuckers Develop Pesticide Resistant Gene | To Save the Planet, Eat an Insect Sandwich (or Other Bug Delicacy) | Stink Bug Swarms Causing a Mid-Atlantic Funk

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