Possible bedbug infestation
May 2, 2008 12:22 AM   Subscribe

I think I just found a bedbug. What should I do? Is there a place I can go in NYC to have a bedbug positively identified?

I just found what appears to be an adult bedbug on my bed. I checked my mattress and blankets and such and didn't see any further evidence of infestation. Furthermore, I haven't had any strange bites or anything recently.

I haven't done anything recently that would bring bedbugs in - I haven't brought in any furniture off the street or anything.

Should I be freaking out? Is there a place in NYC that will look at my specimen and tell me if it's a bedbug? How likely is it that I have a full-blown infestation? At this juncture, does it make sense to call the exterminator and go through all the stuff you're supposed to go through to get rid of bedbugs?

ugghhhh... such stress and strain.
posted by Sloop John B to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Should I be freaking out?

No. Bedbugs are pretty harmless, other than in a bogeyman for children way.

Strip the bed, wash everything in very hot water, and spray some kill-stuff spray in the room while it's washing. Make your bed again and forget about it.
posted by rokusan at 12:29 AM on May 2, 2008


Also, any resources that you guys can give me will be appreciated. Right now, I'm kinda scared shitless. I've heard such horror stories about bedbugs, peoples' lives being ruined, people not being able to get rid of them, etc.

So if you have any products or websites or anything that you'd recommend, please let me know.
posted by Sloop John B at 3:45 AM on May 2, 2008


> Also, any resources that you guys can give me will be appreciated. Right now, I'm kinda scared shitless. I've heard such horror stories about bedbugs, peoples' lives being ruined, people not being able to get rid of them, etc.

Bedbugger FAQs. Good luck.
posted by WCityMike at 4:13 AM on May 2, 2008


Have you checked all of the previous AskMes tagged with bedbugs? Also, there are some pretty good bug identifiers around here, so if you post a photo of it sombody might be able to ID it.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:22 AM on May 2, 2008


Also, if you guys know of a good exterminator in the NYC area who treats bedbug infestations, please let me know.
posted by Sloop John B at 4:57 AM on May 2, 2008


I respectfully disagree with rokusan upthread -- bedbugs are a pretty serious problem in this city, and can render your apartment (and your neighbors' apartments) uninhabitable. If you do indeed have bedbugs, you should try to deal with them immediately, by notifying your landlord (if you rent) and cooperating fully with the efforts of the exterminators he or she hires. Here's an article from the NYT that was published in 2006 that might be useful to you. I also have a list of extermination resources in New York somewhere in my Inbox -- if I can find it, I'll post it for you. If not, you might be able to get some help by either calling 311 or checking out HPD's website. Good luck.
posted by lassie at 5:25 AM on May 2, 2008


I just went through this, and I'm pretty sure I exterminated those fuckers like I was a Dalek in a Time War. I'm running late for work right now, but I'll post a longer write-up later today.

In the meantime, in terms of identification: save the creature in a jar and bring it to a local pest-control place. A friend of mine brought her first specimen to the Natural History Museum and got it ID'd there; I ID'd mine properly just by looking at pictures on the internet.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:44 AM on May 2, 2008


Yes, rokusan doesn't understand the huge nuisance factor of bedbugs. While they do not carry diseases, they bite, the bites itch, they multiply if left untreated and can cause a great deal of psychological harm. Bed bugs are hardy little things. They can go for year without eating. Their presence in your apartment is no reflection on your housekeeping. Dirty, clean, they don't care. They just want to suck your blood (for 10-15 minutes at a time).

As a former bed bug sufferer here is what I suggest:

First, know that bed bugs do not just live in your bed. They can live in any crack or crevice near your bed. That means dressers, night stands, book shelves, picture frames could all be harboring bed bugs.

Your landlord in New York is required to keep your place vermin free. Bed bugs are considered vermin, your landlord must address the problem. I would talk to your neighbors and see if they are suffering. Bed bugs can travel from apartment to apartment, particularly in old former tenement buildings. You don't want to spend the time and money treating the problem only to have it come back because the bugs were hanging out at your neighbors waiting for pesticides to wear off. Try to coordinate with your neighbors for treatment.

The exterminator MUST come twice. If he says he can get rid of the bugs in one treatment, then he doesn't know what he's talking about. The sprays that exterminators use on kill live bugs, not the eggs. Bed bug eggs hatch in about a week, so the exterminator must come back to kill bugs that might have hatched after the first spraying. Ask what kind of sprays he uses.

To prepare for the exterminator - Strip your bed, clear out your closets and shelves, put anything around your bed into heavy duty contractor garbage bags or plastic bins and seal tight. Pull furniture away from walls, so the exterminator can spray your baseboards.

Wash everything in hot, hot water and then dry it in a hot hot dryer. There are some enzyme products that are supposed to kill bugs in the wash. I don't know if they work. For stuff that you are worried about shrinking, just run through the dryer. The extreme heat kills the bugs.

Leave everything in bags until the exterminator comes back.

Broadway Pest control on 98th & Amsterdam sells some products over the counter. I would recommend going there and picking up some Delta or Drione Dust. It's like fortified Boric Acid. It's less toxic and it's effectiveness lasts for six months, while the sprays that exterminators use only last a few weeks. Essentially the dust cuts the bugs' exoskeletons. You can lay it down yourself easily. They are very helpful there and will answer all your questions.

After treatment I would also suggest getting some allergy covers for your mattress. They aren't that expensive and anything that will control dust mites will control bed bugs and keep them from taking up residence in your mattress. I found they made a big difference.

Vacuum frequently (more than once a week) and then immediately remove the bag (if you use a bag vacuum), seal it in plastic and throw away. Change filters on your vacuum frequently for a little while.

There is also a bed bug yahoo group that is a good place to go for moral support and advice.

Do report your problem to the Health Department.

And City Council Member Gale Brewer has been trying to do a lot to combat the problem city wide. It might be useful to contact her office.
posted by brookeb at 5:51 AM on May 2, 2008


Hey I had bedbugs here in NYC as well and it is a very harrowing experience. You have to be very careful where you leave your clothes when you go to other people houses who may have them. The best way to know if you have bedbugs is to put a white sheet in your bed...make sure that everything in your bed is white or covered in white (including pillows) observe that the bed is completely white and devoid of any red marks (this is important)....next day when you wake up look for either red or black spots in your sheet....if you do find them it means that a bedbug bit you and on its way back left some blood on the sheet (which usually turns black or red). The bad news is that even if you do look for them it is very hard to find unless you know how to look for them......cleaning your sheets will not do anything as they reside either in your mattress, your headboard, or anything wooden or any little spaces in between the wall......
posted by The1andonly at 6:38 AM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks to all for your help so far. I just scheduled an appointment with a place called Bedbug Patrol.

Question - is it safe to occasionally spend the night at my girlfriend's house while my place is being treated? I know that they need to treat the place twice, and that for the next five weeks I gotta keep all my stuff in bags. Given that I follow all their directions, wash everything, keep everything in bags, etc, is it safe for me to spend the night at my girlfriend's place after the first treatment? Or do I need to wait until the full 5 weeks is up? The people at the bedbug place said it would be alright, but I wanted to get a second opinion.
posted by Sloop John B at 7:04 AM on May 2, 2008


BTW I'm not talking about moving in w/ her, just the occasional night.
posted by Sloop John B at 7:06 AM on May 2, 2008


Most pest control places can identify a bug for you. If not, they can send it out to a university for identification.

If you're not sure if you have them, NYC has a few dogs that are trained to sniff them out. I recommend Cesar and Tre from Freedom Pest Control, knowing about them earlier would have saved me alot of guessing and worrying. Cesar is VERY experienced with this pest which is rare.
posted by nomad at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2008


Maybe you could create some kind of bedbug contamination avoidance procedure to minimize the risk of spreading bedbugs to your girlfriends place. Do the aforementioned hot wash/dry on a weeks worth of clothes, leave them at your girlfriends place. When you go over from your place, change into the clothes that you left there, and put the clothes you were wearing in an airtight bag. Also, make sure her place isn't already contaminated.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2008


Okay, I just talked to my landlord. He told me that I need to use his exterminator, otherwise he won't pay for it. I talked to his exterminator, and here's what he said :

He thinks that if I am infested, it's a minor infestation. Thus he doesn't think it's necessary to wash all of my clothes or put everything in my apartment into plastic bags for five weeks. He did, however, tell me to wash my sheets/blankets, and to wash any article of clothing that I haven't worn in a while. I mentioned to him that my closet was very close to my bed, and he responded that I should move everything away from the perimeter of my closet so that he could spray the floorboards.

So what should I do? Should I wash everything I own? Should I put all of my belongings into sealed plastic bags for five weeks? Is it okay to spend the night at my girlfriend's house? Do I need to worry about spreading bedbugs to the people around me?

Obviously, my roommate is upset about this, and neither of us want to take extreme measures unless they're absolutely necessary.

Thanks again for the help.
posted by Sloop John B at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2008


I was under the impression that you had a sample of the bug. Step 1 is to get that identified.

There is no way for your landlord's PCO to know that you have a minor infestation from a phone consultation. He can't even know if you have ANY infestation until he does a THOROUGH inspection.

Seconding WCityMike's recommendation for Bedbugger's FAQs, I would specifically recommend How can I avoid spreading bedbugs to others when I visit their homes?.

There is also a well researched argument for using a hot dryer to make sure they're not in your clothes.

Bedbugger is great in general for this sort of thing, but it is extremely important to keep a level head about this. The internet is full of horror stories, and rightly so, but remember that most people that get rid of this menace move on with their lives without taking the time to go back and post their success stories. The only way these bugs can really hurt you is psychologically and you get to decide whether you let them.
posted by nomad at 12:50 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


WAIT WAIT WAIT

You found ONE bedbug? ONE tiny little thing and you haven't had ANY bites? Stop freaking out. Seriously, like now. Yes, if you had an infestation, you would definitely need to take some measures. But you're not even sure if you have one yet. Half a year or so ago, I woke up with a few bites on my arm. I found and killed maybe three bed bugs total over the next few weeks. Then- nothing happened. No more bites, haven't seen any other bugs.

Yes, having bedbugs is a harrowing experience but you need to identify if 1) you really found a bedbug, 2) if you really have a bedbug INFESTATION. We live in such a fear-driven society that one tiny little thing is causing us to run to landlords and exterminators.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 1:58 PM on May 2, 2008


For some reason, for a while, my blog got a lot of traffic about those entries I wrote about dealing with my bedbugs. I guess self-links are okay in AskMefi, if they're on-topic, so here's a FAQ I wrote for those people e-mailing me (because I was getting way too many shudder-flashbacks reading the panic of other people in their messages), and here's a link to the blog entries.

I would caution against the urge to try to convince yourself to go through less of an inconvenience. Put it this way: people go to extremes to stack the odds in their favor. The more you back off from the extremes, the higher your chances of recurrence. That doesn't mean that stepping away from extremes will necessarily make them come back, but it's a game of odds you're playing, and you need to keep that in mind.

As Nomad suggests, it is very important to keep perspective on this. I was forced into having perspective on this when it was happening to me because Katrina hit at right about the same time. Yes, I was dealing with heavily bitten arms, paranoid nights with a flashlight, and so on -- but this was going to be finite, this was going to end, even if I didn't know when. The horror stories I was reading about people trying to hold onto loved ones and losing their grip were more than enough to make me realize: hey, this does suck incredibly, but, hell on wheels, it could be a lot worse. If you need a similar situation, think about what it must be like to be assigned to one of the units in Iraq, and deal with their living conditions.

My own shorthand reactions to your questions, and keep in mind I am only someone who once dealt with them, and not a entemologist or pest control professional:

Should you wash everything you own? Absolutely, especially given your closet's nearness to your bed.

Should you put all of your belongings into sealed plastic bags for five weeks? No. If bedbugs are in any of those belongings, you don't want them sealed in the bag. You want them able to be hungry crawl out and get to their food source (unfortunately, you) so that they are crossing the "barrier kill" spray. Bedbugs can last 18 months without food -- unless the temperature gets meltingly high (I think I remember hearing 130 was the killpoint) in those bags, they're going to weather the storm and then come back when you unpack your things.

Is it safe to go to your girlfriend? Kinda. You run a risk. It need not be a major risk. And it does introduce a problem: as utterly ghastly as it sounds, it's very important to the bedbug-DIE! process that you still sleep in the apartment once the sprays are laid down. The spray never reaches them all. That's a contact kill. An essential part of the other half, the barrier kill, is you, because they have to ... yes, this sounds ghastly, I know ... they have to want to come out and bite you in order to get them to crawl from their hiding place over the chemical that will kill them.

Can you give it to people around you? Kinda. I think it's happened in a few instances. I do not think it is at all common. Bedbugs usually like their hiding places; they come out, eat, and go back. They do not like sunlight. Thus, hitching a ride with you to your employer, etc., is not really their cup of tea. But I imagine in a few instances the logistics worked out just right for it to happen, and they were spread.

Also, strongly seconding nomad's comment regarding few coming back to post successful outcomes. The same problem exists with medical anecdotes.

And, reaffirming my pointer towards Bedbugger. If that resource had existed when I was trying to deal with my bedbugs, I would have known a lot more useful knowledge. Absorb it like you would the Holy Bible.
posted by WCityMike at 2:15 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pinksoftsoap does make a good point worthy of consideration — it might be that you just had a bug and squished it. However, it's usually a good rule of thumb that "see one = many there out of sight", since they do not like to be out in the open. Frankly, were I in your shoes, I'd rather have the exterminator look now and catch an infestation early (if indeed it's an infestation — if it is, like Pinksoftsoap says, merely one bug, all the "downside" is going to be is that the exterminator will get paid for a search that turned up negative), rather than adopt a wait-and-see approach and give them time to reproduce.
posted by WCityMike at 2:17 PM on May 2, 2008


That's a great FAQ WCityMike; I can't stress enough how important it is not to let yourself get into panic mode about these things. A few days of sleepless nights coupled with reading the bedbugger forums can drive anyone crazy, and your FAQ is very even handed.
posted by nomad at 2:49 PM on May 2, 2008


It's good that your landlord is willing to pay (he has to under NY State Warrant of Habitability Laws), but the exterminator he wants you to use does not sound like he has much experience with bed bugs.

I would walk through the apartment and tell the exterminator exactly where you want him to spray.

I would also call 311 and see if you really have to use your landlord's exterminator. You should also talk to your landlord and let him know that you don't feel very confident in the exterminator.

Here is some info on your rights and your landlord's responsibility.

And here is some more
posted by brookeb at 4:12 PM on May 2, 2008


Thanks all for your suggestions. I'm feeling a lot calmer now although I'm still distraught.

My roommate and I have positively identified the bug as a bedbug. It closely resembles every picture I've seen of bedbugs. Additionally, I sent an admittedly blurry photograph of the bug to the exterminator, and he confirmed that yes, it looks like a bedbug.

I figure that most of the horror stories on the web are from people who had full-blown infestations that they didn't treat until the situation was already out of control. Seeing as that I haven't yet had any bites (that I can tell), and that I've only found one bug, I figure that I probably don't have a full-blown infestation. Still, I figure that now is the time to deal with the situation, before it gets out of hand.

So the exterminator is coming Monday. I won't be putting all my stuff into bags (thanks for the tip, WCityMike), but I will be vacuuming thoroughly, washing all my clothes, and doing a meticulous check for bugs. I figure it will be a day's work, and won't be too big of a deal.

The exterminator says that usually he only comes back for a second visit if the residents are still getting bites. I talked with him extensively, and he really does seem to know what he's talking about. However, I feel that it's better to be safe than sorry, so I'm going to demand (through city government channels, if I must) a second visit.

Thanks again for all your help.
posted by Sloop John B at 4:55 PM on May 3, 2008


Oh yeah, and last night I spent the night at my girlfriend's place. The consensus in general seems to be that bedbugs are difficult to spread from person-to-person, especially if you aren't carrying any bags or luggage. Still, I warned her first about my situation, and she was cool with me sleeping over.

So at least I got laid. It sound silly, but it really did help a lot :)
posted by Sloop John B at 4:57 PM on May 3, 2008


> I won't be putting all my stuff into bags (thanks for the tip, WCityMike), but I will be vacuuming thoroughly, washing all my clothes, and doing a meticulous check for bugs. I figure it will be a day's work, and won't be too big of a deal.

I hope you check this thread again, because it occurred to me that you might be interpreting a piece of advice I gave in a wrong way. The "no" answer to the "stuff in garbage bags for five months" question was a "no" to the five-months thing, not a "no" for following landlord/exterminator instructions to empty your shelves and drawers and cupboards (and somehow protecting them from accumulating poison residue from the spray). They need to lay down the barrier kill in as many places as they can, to more effectively kill them wherever their nest is. (And I'm glad this stuff was of help to you.)
posted by WCityMike at 7:16 PM on May 3, 2008


I get what you're saying - I want to clear stuff away so that they can spray in as many places as possible. The plastic bags themselves aren't important, except to stop the poison from landing on my stuff. And when he's done spraying, I want to unpack my stuff so that any bugs present may get out and hit the poison. Makes sense.
posted by Sloop John B at 11:39 PM on May 3, 2008


And one final question for anyone still tuning in - how long after the first spraying should the exterminator come out for the second spraying?
posted by Sloop John B at 11:42 PM on May 3, 2008


> I want to clear stuff away so that they can spray in as many places as possible. The plastic bags themselves aren't important, except to stop the poison from landing on my stuff. And when he's done spraying, I want to unpack my stuff so that any bugs present may get out and hit the poison. Makes sense.

Bingo, you got it.

> And one final question for anyone still tuning in - how long after the first spraying should the exterminator come out for the second spraying?

Hmm. If memory serves, it was a two-week interval. Essentially, the second spraying is because bedbug eggs hatch, and you've got to catch that second generation. But there needs to be some time to let them gestate and hatch. (And also because the first set of contact-kill and barrier-kill spraying will not have reached all of them.)

And good luck, man!
posted by WCityMike at 2:32 PM on May 4, 2008


Ok, quick update :

I had the PCO come out on Monday, and he was very smart and competent - not at all like the person who I talked to on the phone. He sprayed the shit out of my bed, my roommate's bed, the bedrooms, and the living room futon just for good measure. Didn't find any bugs, poop, or eggs, although he did find one discarded casing on my roommate's bed. In the end, it was decided that we did not have an infestation, although we're going to have him come back in a couple weeks for a follow-up just in case.

Thanks to all for helping me with this. Yes, I kinda freaked the fuck out, but this is one of those situations where it's better to act early and assiduously then to just say, "Oh it's probably no big deal."

But undoubtedly, things would have been far worse had it not been for the sympathetic ears of the internet.
posted by Sloop John B at 3:40 PM on May 6, 2008


Also, I should add that I've put flyers out all over my building, urging people to have their apartments inspected.

Tenant power!!!!!
posted by Sloop John B at 8:11 PM on May 7, 2008


And last off, don't tell anyone you have them or you will be ostracized.
posted by iamck at 9:33 PM on May 24, 2008


I've been dealing with this for several months. We saw a couple bugs in our old apartment, which got there because another tenant in the building had a major infestation, and the landlord used his cut-rate exterminator to treat it -- without warning any other tenants about the problem. The bugs scattered to other units.

Then people started dragging infested furniture thru the halls and out to the curb without wrapping it in plastic -- a big no-no.

This all exploded about six weeks before we were scheduled to move out. My wife, who has been worrying about bedbugs for years (she has a few friends with horror stories), pushed for an aggressive response. We got rid of our bed and mattress and some other furniture, bagged everything, and threw away a lot of other stuff (many books and papers).

We had the landlord's guy come a few times. Not sure if it helped. We saw the second bug after he'd already come twice.

We ended up talking to a company called Pestaway, one of the most recommended NYC firms on Bedbugger.com and other sites. They told us about another firm they work with called Bedbugs and Beyond, whose specialty is fumigating entire truckloads of people's possessions.

So when we moved, we drove our truck out to Jersey, where all our stuff was fumigated with Vikane gas (the stuff that's also used to kill termites) for six hours.

Now we've been in the new place for several months. Haven't seen a single bug... but my wife is pretty sure she's still being bitten. Some of what she thinks are bites look like bites to me. Some don't. And here we come to the real evil of bedbugs: the psychological toll.

The thing is, the bugs really do prefer to bite women over men, and some people (like me, apparently) really don't have an itch reaction to the bites. So I may be getting an occasional bite (I've seen some non-itchy reddish areas on my skin that could be bites), and she may be getting a lot more. But it's maddeningly difficult to know for sure what's going on. Needless to say, this is hard on a relationship.

How could we possibly have brought the bugs with us? We evacuated the old apartment as if we were leaving a biohazard site -- changing our clothes and shoes as we left (while standing inside garbage bags, to avoid touching the floor). But it's conceivable that one or both of our office workspaces could have offered bugs a haven. We've never seen any evidence of this... and we've sprayed our respective cubicles a few times now (after hours, to avoid weird looks from co-workers). How and when will it end? Well and soon, I hope.

My advice: Be vigilant and aggressive. Try to find out if there's another unit in the building that's the source of the problem. Invest in some giant (11-gallon) Ziploc bags, if you can find any -- they really make the bagging routine a lot easier. Vacuum the floors frequently. Spray possibly infested rooms every few days, and alternate different chemicals -- the hardy little fuckers can build up resistance if you just use a single poison. (Our sources recommended Sterifab, Bedlam, and Permacide. Read directions and warnings carefully; wear a surgical mask and ventilate the room when you spray.)

And even if they complicate your life a great deal, don't let them sap your spirit.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:55 PM on May 30, 2008


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