I think I may have bed bugs, pics inside!
July 30, 2011 10:11 AM   Subscribe

We caught this bug on my bed and I have a few questions...1) So this is a bed bug right? Google images pretty much answered this question but I'm still hoping somebody's gonna say "no dude, it's something else, totally harmless!" But FYI, we were bitten a few times several weeks ago and just assumed it was unusually persistent mosquitoes.

2) Does one bed bug mean there are many bed bugs? Is one bed bug sufficient evidence for us to hire a professional exterminator and nuke the house from orbit? We set up a DIY trap last night on the same bed where I caught the one and only bug. So far nothing else has been caught - tonight we'll put it on a different bed where others have experienced mysterious bites.

3) How can I find an exterminator that really knows his stuff when it comes to bed bugs? I'm in northern New Jersey, in Bergen County.

4) We can stay with our in-laws while the house is sprayed but are there any additional steps we should take? Should we wrap the mattresses in plastic like some sites on the web suggest?

5) We have a 2.5 month old baby. Should this impact the choice of pesticides or the amount of time we stay away from the house after spraying?

Thanks guys!
posted by exhilaration to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yep. I've had 'em, and it sure looks to me like you got 'em too. Sorry. And where there's one, there's almost certainly others. Search AskMeFi for lots of other questions about dealing with bedbugs.

You'll hear lots and lots of horror stories about how they keep coming back, but as an alternative datapoint, my "infestation" was pretty mild. I'd bet that a lot of people have cases like mine - pretty mild and easily treated - but naturally those aren't the ones that get play on the Internet.

Good luck!
posted by captainawesome at 10:49 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Yep. Bedbug.

2. Seeing one probably means there are others, but maybe not a lot of others just yet. Mysterious bites? Set up your detector there, and also just take a good look at the bed.

3. You might not require an exterminator. Keep investigating for a while yet -- every crack and crevice, behind picture frames, in nearby books.

4. If you find bedbugs on a piece of furniture, the best thing you can do is just throw it out, because they'll probably be living in it. (Mark it or slash it so people don't think 'yay! free couch!' and take it home.) Wash ALL your clothes, sheets, bags, etc. in HOT water. Blow diatomaceous earth under all your baseboards, in the bit of your bed that the box spring sits on, at the bottom of all the legs of all your beds, and any place else bedbugs might crawl. If you have a car, CHECK YOUR CAR, and blow diatomaceous earth in there too, especially in the cracks of the seats.

5. Uh, yes. Definitely.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2011

(Also, re: #2, if that's a guest bedroom hardly anyone uses, rest assured that your guests are to blame!)

(Also also: Vaccuum religiously.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:21 AM on July 30, 2011

1) Yup, that's a bed bug alright.

2) Probably. They reproduce in a cycle that lasts a couple of weeks. So 2 bugs becomes many more bugs a few weeks later. Also, the nymphs are tiny and very hard to see (but can be seen with the naked eye, especially on dark-colored sheets or pillowcases as their bodies are kind of yellowish). The adult bugs are also pretty good at hiding if you don't know what to look for.

3) No idea. Ask around?

4) Absolutely wrap the mattresses, but not in plastic. You'll want specially-designed fabric mattress covers which zip securely. The pest control company may sell you some at a special rate, and may also give you some kind of guarantee (e.g., 90 days) if you install such covers at the time of treatment.

5) When they come to inspect your place, ask them what insecticides they plan to use. Then you can look up the MSDS and other safety information yourself. The insecticide used at our place was a powder dissolved in water that was sprayed mostly around the floorboards and into some of the furniture, with the idea that the water evaporates and leaves a powdery residue. So it's not like an aerosol with petroleum distillates that gets into everything.

Good luck. I hope your infestation is mild. bedbugger.com has a lot of useful information on fighting bed bugs. It is very difficult to fight them yourself. If you have the money, you should hire a reputable pest control company, preferably one that does a follow-up visit within 14 days, and gives a guarantee of at least 30 days.
posted by Maximian at 11:22 AM on July 30, 2011

Also, washing in hot water is probably not necessary. You can wash in cold water if need be, and then dry in the dryer. Heat over 120 deg F kills all life stages of bed bugs including eggs. Items that are not machine washable can still be put in the dryer, preferably on high heat, for at least 20 minutes. If your car is getting that hot sitting in the sun (it is summer after all) you can put stuff in your car to sterilize it as well.
posted by Maximian at 11:27 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Yes, that's a bedbug.

2. I caught 2 bedbugs and the exterminators found no sign of an additional infestation, so you might get lucky, but it's better to go ahead and treat the problem.

3. I used Cooper Pest Solutions a few years ago (I'm in central NJ, down the road from their headquarters) and they operate in Bergen County. The guy who started the company also operates bedbugcentral.com and I've seen him quoted in a number of articles about the bedbug problem. He was the one who identified the bug I had as a bedbug, after the pest control "expert" my apartment complex initially called claimed it was a baby cockroach. I don't know how much it cost, because my apartment complex paid for it, but they were very thorough.
posted by capsizing at 1:16 PM on July 30, 2011

Bed bugs appear larger after gorging....they can otherwise be very small. Look for the tell tale black eggs (looks like tiny black dots).
I'm just treating one of our work residential program's (West Coast- Canada). The company I'm using says that babies and anyone with a compromised immune system should evacuate at least 12 hours, if toxic sprays are used. I would double that!.

For the first time, I used this company’s bed bug dog sniffer. The dog confirmed where I suspected the bed bugs were - and it picked up on bed bugs behind the wall baseboards - which were confirmed when we removed the baseboards. It changed my perspective on the dog.

I've chosen to use the heat system which this company says is 100% effective. Very expensive but I have children in this program and do not want to take any chances with sprays. My experience with the spray, is it doesn't kill the eggs - which hatch a few weeks/months later, and then you have to spray again and maybe again.
Bagging items will not kill bedbugs but it might confirm you have bedbugs. If you put items in clear plastic bags for a few days, they may crawl out on to the plastic (looking for a blood source). Staff who work in bed bug infested programs will bag all their clothes when they get home, shower and then immediately wash their clothes.

Don’t assume they have not spread!. Wash everything and dry in very hot dryer.
posted by what's her name at 3:12 PM on July 30, 2011

Look for the tell tale black eggs (looks like tiny black dots).

Just FYI, those aren't eggs, but stains from excreted blood. The actual eggs are a gross beige color, as you can see in these photos. The stains are certainly a sign of bedbug activity though.
posted by Maximian at 5:39 PM on July 30, 2011

We had bed bugs a long while ago and it went something like this: "My leg itches. What are these bites from? A spider?" to a couple days later "Oh look, a bug on the wall." to a couple minutes later looking up what a bed bug looks like to a few seconds later calling the apartment office and having them schedule an exterminator.

The exterminator had us dry *all* of our clothes. Every item should sit in the heat for at least 20-30 minutes to kill the bugs and eggs. Put them in sealable bags (like these available at most Targets) and store them in the center of the room(s). Pull everything away from the walls (the exterminator will want to spray their juice in all the corners where the bed bugs hide during the day) and stay away from the house for 12 hours after the application.

We ended up doing this twice as we saw another bug two weeks later. This falls in line with the bed bugs' gestation period of 10-20 days. We ended up living out of our bags of clothes for a month or so.

It is very important that you not feel ashamed for having bed bugs. Having bed bugs doesn't mean your house (or your body) is dirty. Think of bed bugs as walking mosquitoes. Don't let it get you down.
posted by yellowbkpk at 8:16 PM on July 30, 2011

OK, I've had bed bugs twice now (just lucky, I guess) and yes, you also have bed bugs. The first time, I had exterminators come in - three times, actually, because we kept finding more afterwards - but the second time I did it myself. If I had it to do over again, I'd skip the exterminator. Particularly with a baby - the house was so toxic even 8 hours later I nearly passed out.

If you want to do it yourself, this is the site that I found the most useful and the stuff that I believe really finally did the trick was a combination of diatomaceous earth and pyrethrins. They used to sell it on that site and probably still do but I can't find it offhand.

Whether you get the exterminator or do it yourself, it's a long, hard slog because there's a ton of stuff you must do yourself anyway. The first step is sealing up all the mattresses and pillows. You can buy encasements - a fancy word for bug proof mattress covers and pillow cases - at Wal Mart now or pretty much any big box store and they're way cheaper than the ones they sell at bedbugger.com. While you are at this store buy a big plastic container for each member of the family and more giant trash bags, ideally zip lock if you can find them, than you think you will ever need. Now, every piece of fabric - every stuffed animal, every piece of clothing, every bit of bedding, every curtain - in the house needs to go through a dryer. Doesn't necessarily need to be washed but it all needs 20 minutes on high heat. Yes, this will kill most of your sweaters. The alternative is sealing them away in plastic zip locks for 18 months. We loaded it all into a friends' truck and took it to the laundromat, which helped, but yes, it is a horrible, horrible job. After it's dried, pretend you're going on a trip and take out about two weeks worth of clothes, toys, bedding and put that all in the plastic bins. Seal everything else up in plastic bags and I mean seal it, duct tape those things shut. Now if they come back - and honestly they probably will in a couple of weeks, there will be a hatching cycle and boom, they'll be back - you won't have to go through the laundromat journey from hell again. Plan on just wearing things from your safe box for the next month or so.

OK! Tired yet? Now move all the beds away from the walls, at least four inches or so, and put the feet of the beds into these things. Vacuum the bed frames and spray them if you're going to (I used a lot of bedbug spray but honestly, with a baby I would not. I'd just use rubbing alcohol and plain diatomaceous earth.) then put diatomaceous earth into every crack and crevice on the bed frame. Your beds are now safe. Phew! Do not rest yet. Now you must vacuum the hell out of everything else. Vacuum every inch of the floors and all the walls and all your furniture. Get down on your hands and knees and go around the baseboards. If you find any cracks or holes or anything like that, caulk them. They like to live in the walls. Make a barrier of diatomaceous earth all the way around your room. They can't fly or jump, so to get to you they must crawl. When they crawl through that stuff, they die. Yay!

Pay most attention to the bedrooms. They don't like to travel too far - although they will if they have to - but chances are they're living in the bedroom if not in the actual bed.

You may want to consider just tossing any upholstered furniture that's near a bedroom - it's awful but if they get into a couch I don't think there's any way to get them out again short of heating the entire thing to 150 degrees for an hour. You can probably get that done up there but it wasn't an option for us. I cried when I dragged the couch to the curb but it had to go.

It takes a long time to be sure they're really gone. Keep vacuuming. Vacuuming is your friend and, just like fleas, you want to make really sure that you get all the way rid of the vacuum bags, like take them immediately outside. I would start thinking we were clear and then BAM, another bite and I'd have to start vacuuming again. Basically, though, if you go three months without a bite or a sighting, you're almost certainly clear. Yes, they can live up to two years without eating but that doesn't mean they do it by choice - if they can smell you, they're trying to get to you. It's daunting but getting rid of them is doable and they do go away. Do it NOW, though, do not wait. The longer they have to get established the tougher they are to shake.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

That is a bedbug. I'm sorry -- having bedbugs is a total PITA. Finding one bug (and having a history of mysterious bites) is totally grounds to start "nuking the house from orbit." Sorry again :(

You're going to want a professional bug person, and you're going to want someone who specializes in bedbugs. (Because they've only been seriously "back" for a short while, a lot of folks in the pest control business don't really know how to deal with them.) You're going to want someone who will come to your house more than once -- the first spray kills living bugs but not eggs, so the pest control operator has to return in about 3~ weeks to kill anything that might have hatched in the meantime. (The pest control person will be able to answer your other questions about how to treat your stuff//how to get the least poisonous treatment possible.)

I strongly recommend John Furman ("Killerqueen" at the bedbugger forums). He is a great bedbug control guy in Long Island, and either he'll be able to treat your house or he can help you find someone. (He's a real nice guy too.)
posted by hungrytiger at 2:34 AM on July 31, 2011

p.s. I also strongly recommend this thing called a packtite, which uses heat to decontaminate stuff like suitcases, shoes, books etc. If you are going to stay with your inlaws, you probably are going to want to hot wash/hot dry anything you bring over there and/or stick it in the packtite. Expensive, but IMO worth it.

p.s. In the meantime, don't read too much about bedbugs on the internet -- it's like googling diseases -- you only see the pictures of the worst possible cases and hear total disaster stories. OK? Good luck exhilaration!
posted by hungrytiger at 2:39 AM on July 31, 2011

p.p.p.s. and I swear this is the last one. there are a lot of different methods which people use to get rid of bed bugs. not all of them work, but there are different paths up the mountain. that said, i wouldn't get rid of your furniture as sys rq recommended; let your pest control person talk to you about that. putting buggy furniture on the street just spreads bugs, and there are ways to save stuff (like steam treating and heat treating).

feel free to memail me if you want to talk about this stuff.
posted by hungrytiger at 2:42 AM on July 31, 2011

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