“You have bed bugs.”
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The first time I encountered bed bugs, I didn’t know it would be a life-changing experience.
It was 2012, and I was out of town when I got the phone call with those dreaded words “We have a serious problem: You have bed bugs. All over your apartment.”
At first my reaction was “aren’t those just part of a nursery rhyme?” I didn’t know until later just what kind of nightmare had begun.
“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” echoed in my head. That was the sum total of what I knew about bed bugs. But I’m a practical guy, and I figured this had to be fairly easy to solve. It was just bed bugs. Right?
Learning I had bed bugs was one problem; figuring out where they came from was a whole different story.
Turns out one of the neighbors had bed bugs, and boy, was it bad.
I was not prepared for my first sight of a bed bug infestation. Some folks find a few bites and think they might have bed bugs; I was greeted by something out of a horror movie. Blood from the bugs stained the bed. Bugs were visibly crawling on the walls.
“Is this the worst you’ve seen?” I asked the first pest-control operator I brought to the apartment. “No,” he said. “But it’s pretty bad.” I couldn’t imagine worse. I didn’t want to imagine worse.
Once I found out, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I couldn’t sleep in my own bed and feel safe. I woke up in the middle of the night, scratching bugs that weren’t even there. I didn’t feel comfortable in my bed anymore. (This is normal! And there’s a way you can fight it.)
What causes bed bugs, anyway?
Once the panic wore off a bit, I started researching. What caused bed bugs? What was really the most effective treatment? Where did they come from? I thought I was just solving my own problem, but as we started gathering info and beginning to try treatments, I panicked. Bed bugs tend to arrive by hitchhiking – attaching themselves to humans, or neighbors. What if they were hitching rides out of my apartment and into other apartments? I also owned some apartments – what could I do to protect them?
I couldn’t help imagining the worst. Would word get out that I had bed bugs? Would my kids not be able to see their friends anymore? What about church? I felt like a social pariah. “Sleep tight tonight” seemed less like advice and more like a pipe dream, the longer this went on.
But I’m a problem solver, and I’d solved worse problems than this. I’d faced the IRS on behalf of my clients as a CPA and I’d started my own business from the ground up. I wasn’t going to let this little bug beat me.
To beat the bugs, know the bugs
Before, I didn’t even know about bed bugs, much less think about them; and now they were all I could think about.
But first, I needed to know this bug.
Bed bugs are shifty, tricky buggers, notorious in the pest-management world for how effectively they can hide. It turns out one of the reasons they’re so hard to kill is because they’re hard to find. They’ll hide in the walls, under your carpet, and can fit into a crack as thin as a business card.
Later on, once I knew what I was doing, I helped a friend heat-treat an apartment. Bed bugs die when exposed to high heat; about 113 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you can get a room hot enough, you can cook the problem away. Well, we kept the whole apartment at 160 degrees for a period of six hours. Heat treatments are supposed to be one of the more effective treatments – especially in a small space. But this time, someone messed up and the temperature soared so high, it melted a flat-screen TV.
When you melt a TV, you’re definitely hot enough to get rid of bed bugs. But these weren’t gone. The next morning, we found several crawling about on the mattress. How they’d escaped the heat, we couldn’t figure out. As it turned out, they’d hidden… in the middle of a pile of laundry left in its basket. And survived!
I’ve seen them hide from a chemical treatment under the carpet, where the chemicals can’t touch them. I’ve seen them disappear into the layers of sawdust between sheets of plywood. They can hibernate – they don’t need to eat your blood to stay alive – for over a year until they pop their heads out again.
In short, it’s really, really hard to get rid of them. I tested several treatments, and they all have their pros and cons.
There’s a lot of bad advice you’ll hear on dealing with bed bugs, especially on the Internet. Treatment options are confusing, and most of the information you can find on them comes from the pest-control professional providing it, or from some personal anecdote. All sorts of home remedies are available, with dubious claims of success. When I began researching, I learned about a lot of myths and spotted a lot of bad information.
It’s my goal to give you simple, clear, and professional advice. A few years ago, I invited my son Brian Ontiveros-Kersch to join me in collecting accurate, accessible information that would help bed bug victims. He uses his decade of research experience to make sure our advice is always accurate and up to date. The two of us founded Bed Bug Adviser, a company & collective of experts dedicated to bed bug education, prevention, and the ultimate goal: helping everyone in this situation sleep well in their own bed again.
Bed bugs can mess with your head
I talked to a lot of people who had had bed bugs, asking them about their experiences, the treatments that worked, and what they did in the aftermath. Without fail, every person mentioned the mental toll bed bugs can take on you.
For them, successful treatment wasn’t the end of it. They’d wake up in the night from a dream of tiny insect feet. They wouldn’t feel safe in their bed. And it’s hard to understand, if you’ve never experienced it. What about such a small bug could cause such a big problem?
But after having them myself, it makes sense to me. Your bed is your safe space, your recovery pod. Once it feels unsafe, that can really mess with your peace of mind. You feel violated. Bed bugs attack you when you’re most vulnerable and when you should feel safest.I learned not to underestimate the trauma that bed bugs can bring. Now, at the Bed Bug Adviser, treating your mental health is one of the most important things we recommend for bed bug victims.
We’re still learning
The team here at Bed Bug Advisor is dedicated to giving victims – and others – the most current and accurate information possible on identifying, treating, and preventing bed bug infestations. My biggest frustration when starting my foray into dealing with bed bugs was not knowing what information I could trust. After discussions with some of the most respected entomologists in the US – like Dr. Phil Koehler at Florida, Dr. Dini Miller at Virignia Tech, and Dr. Changlu Wang at Rutgers – it became more and more apparent to me just how much misinformation was out there.
Even worse, I slowly started to realize that no one had any perspective on, or even cared about, the victims of bed bugs! Entomologists study the things, so they aren’t creeped out, exterminators make their living killing them so they aren’t scared, and no one had any respect for what the victim was feeling.
So, I set out to recruit experts, a staff, and create resources to benefit the victim. Not only have we engaged in conversations with those respected entomologists and pest professionals, we reached out to the only medical research team in the world dedicated to understanding how bed bugs impact people’s health. We brought on board Eric Snell, the owner of the largest independent testing lab in the entire US for pest-related products, and have even added a former Vice President of Terminix to our advisory staff. All to ensure that we can help you, the bed bug victim, sleep tight tonight.
As more Americans every year move back into urban environments, we’ll likely see more of these sneaky bugs. Hopefully, the information we share here can be helpful for you.
We’re still learning everything we can about this bug, and listening to victims’ experiences. If you want to tell us your story, or ask a question, please use the submission box below.