I thought this was a developed country
September 18, 2011 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Bedbugs! I'm staying with a friend and just found out that she might have them. I've already stayed two nights. Should I stay a third? Should I put all my stuff in the heaters, even if it will get damaged? Questions inside.

I've been staying with a friend who is an international student in university housing in a supposedly developed country (in Scandinavia) where, apparently, they don't give a damn that she has bed bug bites all over her legs. The housing office doesn't think it's an emergency to call an exterminator, and have put her on some kind of list.

I've been staying here for a couple of days and had planned to stay here another night.

I didn't realize that she had these bites until today. They are infected and blistered and look horrible.

I've been leaving my luggage open. I've been sleeping in the bed where she got the bites. I am freaking out.

- Should I stay in a hotel tonight?
- There is evidently some kind of heater downstairs for sanitizing clothing. Should I put all my clothes through it?
- What about my newly purchased, very expensive leather purse? My leather boots?
- Is it a health emergency for her to take care of these bites on her legs? They look awful and her leg is swollen, but she can still walk.
- What else should I (or she) be doing? I'm worried about her, and want her to be okay. She said she went to the emergency room when she first got them and they just laughed at her.
posted by 3491again to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you really think you are going to be able to sleep tonight no matter what advice you get here? Your perception of the situation will be more powerful than the reality, whatever it is.

Get your luggage out of there and get a room someplace else...

She should probably seek medical attention if the situation is as bad as you're describing.
posted by tomswift at 6:05 AM on September 18, 2011

1. If the bites are just itchy and swollen like a bad mosquito bit or something, she probably does not need additional care - especially if she's had them for a few days and they are not getting larger. It sounds like they'll take a long time to resolve, though - bedbug bites often do, which sucks. If they look infected or the whole limb is swollen or they get worse, she might need some kind of anti-allergy treatment. Is she allergic to a lot of other stuff? (IANAD, IANYD, IANAScandinavianD)

2. Since you've been there already, another night won't make things worse, in my opinion. If you go to a hotel, you may take bedbugs to the hotel and spread them.

3. Do you have access to large zip-lock or other sealable airtight bags? What you want to do is heat-treat your stuff bit by bit and keep it bagged and sealed as long as you're in an environment with bugs. When you get home, heat-treat all your stuff (including luggage and coat) before it gets anywhere near your apartment. (Do this in Scandinavia/before traveling on if possible to avoid spreading them)

4. How hot does the heat-treating thing get? You need to get all your stuff (including the inside of any padded items over 120 degrees F for 20 minutes to kill all stages of bug. They recommend hotter/longer, but there's good empirical evidence to show that 5 minutes at 113 degrees does it - the reason to heat more is to make sure all items are 100% heated) I have tumbled both an expensive leather bag with a sueded finish and a pair of leather shoes (tied in a pillow case and they were not heels) in a dryer to heat treat them for 30 mins and both were fine. Simple heating may shorten the life of glued shoes (are your soles glued or stitched?) and if there are lots of glued ornaments on the purse, they may come off. If not, everything should be fine. Even glued shoes will probably resolidify if you let them cool completely - the finish on some patent leather was fine when I did this) Heat-treating doesn't often ruin things - it's washing before heat-treating that does it.

5. Is the heat thing designed for bedbugs? ie, does it get over 120 degrees? I know that 300 degrees (like the Pack-tite) is also generally okay for shoes/bags.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Oh, to clarify - here's what I'd do when on getting home). Enlist the help of a friend who can bring contractor bags and twist ties to the airport (if you're being met). Bag and seal your coat and luggage. Use a zip-lock for your purse. Make sure the contractor bags are airtight - squeeze to check. Stop at a laundromat (or rush right down to the dryers) and dry your stuff in batches for at least 20 minutes on high. Discard the bags carefully, keeping them sealed - consider that in theory they could contain bugs. Look through everything in your purse/everything that can't be heat-treated VERY CAREFULLY over a sink. It is unlikely that your stuff is just ZOMG FULL OF BEDBUGS because your friend would have seen her infestation by now if it was that bad, but you want to be careful anyway because it only takes one pregnant bug.

Basically, you want all your stuff either heat-treated or bagged and sealed tightly before it comes into where you live. This will be a pain, but it will be twenty million times better than getting bedbugs.

This is all going to be a big nuisance but it is manageable, as long as you get everything treated before it comes into your home. Keep as much untreated stuff sealed on the way home as possible or treat it before traveling - if you have a big coat, for example, try to run it through the heater before you leave. You don't want to be the person who causes twenty new bedbug cases if you can avoid spreading them. (If you go to a hotel, treat or bag your stuff first - it's a good idea to keep your stuff bagged in a hotel anyway, as so many have bedbugs now - I bag and treat all my stuff as a matter of course when I have to stay in a hotel.)
posted by Frowner at 6:14 AM on September 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

A regular clothes dryer will kill bedbugs; you run your stuff through for 20 minutes. I have heard that you can also use a hair dryer passed slowly over the crevices (for your boots, purse) but I don't have personal experience with this method.

Your friend should start engaging in some bedbug management for her own health. I don't know about Sweden, but in Toronto you can purchased mattress covers which make the mattress impenetrable even to baby bedbugs. You put them on your mattress and trap whatever bugs are inside on the inside (where they will
starve, though it takes 2 years) and make it easier to see nests trapped on the outside where you can
kill them with a hairdryer. She should run her bedding and nightclothes through a dryer daily; bag it in the morning to trap any bugs - if she has 2 sets (or
more) of sheets, she can bag'em and do them together every 2 days. She can run a hairdryer along all crevices and the bedframe and other furniture where infestations occur.

These practices may not eliminate the bedbugs, but they severely reduce them. My mother had bedbugs for 2 years before her landlord finally eliminated them, but she kept them down by these practices so no one was bit badly, and I visited frequently and did not take any home.
posted by jb at 6:14 AM on September 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone!

I'm actually doing a bit of onward travel before coming back home. If I sanitize my stuff, then pack it in an industrial bag overnight and take it elsewhere, I'll be okay, right?
posted by 3491again at 6:56 AM on September 18, 2011

The heat treatment has to reach a high temperature for an extended period of time. I just treated two bedrooms with heat treatment and the company doing it had these massive heaters in the rooms for 4 hours.
I agree with bagging everything. Including your purse! Also shower before leaving the space or immediately when you arrive at your place (and bag those clothes).
A good hot water wash and hot, hot drier should eliminate many of them (Run htrough the direr twice - to be sure). Don't over pack the washer and drier though, as they can hide in folds.
posted by what's her name at 6:58 AM on September 18, 2011

If you heat your stuff and transport it in a sealed bag before moving on, you should be okay - no guarantees in life, but it should be effective. Remember to get everything up to at least 113 degrees by packing things loosely in the heater and remembering that padded coats and thick things can take extra time/heat. Examine any stuff you can't heat - cell phone and similar. Technically bedbugs can get into those, but it's pretty unlikely unless you have a really substantial infestation that persists over time. Remember that any heater takes time to heat up - you don't need too long at 120 degrees, but it will take time for the heater to get there.

(Heating whole rooms as described above does take a long time and large industrial heaters. Smaller things take less time and less power - I checked my dryer, for example, and twenty minutes on high brought the temperature up over 120 degrees - I used an instant-read thermometer.)
posted by Frowner at 8:52 AM on September 18, 2011

Bedbugs are not an indicator of development level.
posted by k8t at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: k8t -- sorry if that sounded odd. I just meant that it seemed strange to me that the university/health care system wasn't taking this seriously, since she lives in densely packed university housing.

I now realize that the title sounds really off -- I wrote it in a moment of frustration after waiting on hold with the third office of the health service and being told they have no room at this time and there's nothing they can do. Sorry about that!
posted by 3491again at 11:12 AM on September 18, 2011

Well, they are not taking it seriously because nobody is going to die. It may well be a known problem, at least to them if not to your friend. And chances are they will address it in due course.

The solutions for both of you are different. For you the priority is to not spread, take on your onward travels and bring back any bugs and you've had plenty of advice on how to achieve that.

For her it is to keep any infestation down as much as possible, using perhaps some of the strategies outlined by others, until they address the problem or she can move out.

As to her leg - she needs to assess how she feels and what/how much care she needs today, not you. If she's just got bites and slight swelling a lot of ERs will send her home and tell her to see her GP on Monday if the symptoms persist and she's worried because it is not an emergency. If she feels she cannot until tomorrow because the swelling is getting worse she needs to go back and emphasise and demand to be seen.

Either way you going all frantic is not going to help her so calm down, this too will pass and is one of the things that happen to all travellers at some point...
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2011

> I just meant that it seemed strange to me that the university/health care system wasn't taking this seriously <> I was in continental Europe this summer and they do not take this as seriously as they do in North America. However it is this laissez faire approach that is causing bed bugs to spread. The very best thing you can do to combat this is write reviews online (if possible) with the heading "BED BUGS". If you could write a letter to the housing authority, their superiors, or the associated university it would result in . The nightmare of a real bed bug infestation is something that people should not have to deal with.

I did stay that third night in the infested location and regretted it for the rest of my trip. But please, run everything through a drier first, ziplock everything else. Like mosquito bites they take a while to appear - you may not feel anything at first. This way it is possible to get many more than you expect.
posted by niccolo at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2011

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