Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The sultry Texas night has barely taken the edge off of the day's heat, and Natalie tosses and turns in her bed trying desperately trying to ignore the hot, sticky sensation humidity brings. She falls asleep, but when she stirs, she feels uncomfortable. She stands in front of the mirror, slowly rotating her head, stretching out the muscles in her neck and shoulders. She looks up at her reflection staring back at her and sees a cluster of small, red bites on her neck...
No, Irving is not seeing a repeat of the 1954 vampire infestation, but is in the midst of a war against an unholy horde of night stalkers nearly as horrific – bed bugs.
They have preyed upon humanity for thousands of years. We thought that we eradicated the monsters from the civilized world in the 1940’s, but lately they have begun another, insidious rise.
Dr. Marcy Brown Marsden, associate professor and department chair in the University of Dallas biology department, was very helpful in explaining the parasites' habits and going over different ways a person can turn himself into a hard target. One of the first things she made very clear is that bed bugs are not a sign of poor living conditions.
“Urban areas tend to be more challenged by them. We have people in high density. You travel, or you stay in a hotel and there has been someone staying in that place before you have, so there's the potential that bed bugs would have been transferred,” explained Marsden. “A lot of time they can be transferred through bedding, through suitcases and through other furnishings that move. If you're talking about an apartment, they replaced the carpet, they cleaned the walls but the question would be the furnishings may have transferred some of that to them. If you've lived in a house for twenty or thirty years the chances are much lower that you're going to have a bed bug infestation unless you've had something new come into the house – a piece of furniture from a garage sale, or you have someone stay and they've travelled or you travel with your suitcase.”
One reason bed bugs are so closely associated with our living accommodations is that they have developed closely beside us throughout history.
“It's a human problem,” chuckled Brown. “It's just an organism that has become connected to us. It's thought to have originated with cave species, but it's co-evolved with people. Certainly for us, they don't serve a purpose, but if they've lasted that long they're pretty resilient and pretty good at doing what they do. A lot of times, people think about organisms with us as the center, it certainly has a purpose for itself. As a species it is pretty adaptive and aggressive at keeping its lifestyle.
“The hard part about bed bugs is the fact that they can go a really long time without eating – two to five months. They're there, they're doing their thing and they're doing a pretty good job of it from the bed bug perspective.”
The news of bed bugs' arrival in Irving came with a scathing Internet review of the Jefferson Ridge apartment complex written by a former tenant who mercilessly blasted the management early last month over claims of an ongoing bed bug infestation.
“They rented me a BED BUG INFESTED apartment!!!! I am going to have to sue them to get my money back for medical and expenses. I am now Jobless and Homeless because of this incident!!! DO NOT RENT HERE!!!! BED BUGS CAN DESTROY YOUR LIFE AND THESE JERKS COULD CARE LESS!!!”
Jefferson Ridge's corporate office said that, although they could not say very much, bed bugs are an ongoing issue faced by many of the area's establishments, and that Jefferson Ridge is doing its utmost to make their buildings bed bug free. That was all he would say on the record, and the tenant was unavailable for comment.
Once bed bugs have taken up residence in a home, they can be particularly difficult to eradicate. It is much easier to keep the problem from happening.
“When you check in at a hotel, you stick your suitcases on the ground. That can be a really bad decision – anything could be able to come up and get that,” said Marsden. “So you stick it on a piece of furniture, one of the racks or something. Not on the floor, not on the bed because that's where the transfer occurs.”
There are a few signs to looks for in order to see if you have a beg bug problem.
“When people notice them they notice maybe one of a couple things,” Marsden continued. “When they wake up, they're itchy or they have welts, a lot of time it happens around the neck, places where the skin is really thin. Especially if they're orienting towards a person based on warmth or carbon dioxide. There are other bugs that do that, kissing bugs in South America will find CO2 sources, and that's a person a lot of the time,” Marsden said. “Sometimes you'll see one. It might be fairly rare because they're cycle is completely opposite ours. When you wake up in the morning and turn the lights on, they're going to be going down. So we might not see them but see evidence of them; typically you might see castings or the droppings or where they've shed their exoskeletons or you might see actual spots of blood where you're sleeping.”
If you see these signs, and your home has become infested despite your best efforts, there is a surer way than pesticides to exterminate the critters.
“The challenge is that, like a lot of insects, bed bugs are becoming resistant to some of the pesticides,” said Marsden. “Physical removal, actually getting the bugs and getting rid of them is one solution.”
This means of extermination is very simple: get a magnifying glass and go over all of the surfaces that could be a haven for bed bugs. It's onerous, but luckily bed bugs are large enough that you can do this, about as big as a watermelon seed or a little smaller. Also, they are in manageable numbers - perhaps a few dozen on your bed.
“A lot of people think about repelling and killing, but if you can pick it up and get rid of it that's even better. You know that animal's been killed,” Marsden said. “If you're checking then maybe check the other places where people might have sat down. Look at the edges of the mattress where the little crevices are and lift everything off. Take it outside and dust it off. Even get into the bed frame because something could be hiding in the crevices in the frame.”
So if you get a scare that there are bed bugs in your building, don't freak out. They are inconvenient to say the least and, yes, they have evolved to make it very difficult for us to kill them. Take a deep breath and remember it could have been your couch that brought them in and not your landlord's fault.