Adam Voiland’s article on bed bugs is out in U.S. News and World Report. I spoke with him at great length last week, though it’s my understanding that the magazine did not want to quote me because I would not use my real name, and I would therefore not be considered a credible source. He also did not mention Bedbugger.com among the “bed bug blogs” referred to in the article.
It’s a fairly brief article (as are the companion tips article, and the voiceover the Orkin film we blogged last week), basically an introduction to the topic. And I was glad U.S. News was doing a bed bug story, as I told the reporter.
However, the tone taken near the end of the article concerns me.
Some people take bedbugs in stride; for others, killing them becomes almost an obsession. Exterminators, entomologists, and Internet forums are full of war stories: a girl from New York who dumped 5 gallons of insecticide on her mattress; people who have claimed multimillion-dollar damages in court; a photographer from New York who started microwaving her books; and a woman from West Virginia who sprays herself with pesticides before climbing into her bed.
Such stories of misery cause some experts to argue that the problem has been blown completely out of proportion. “Some people in the industry are grandstanding,” says Richard Pollack, an entomologist at Harvard University, who notes that mosquitoes, which spread a number of deadly diseases, are a greater health threat. “People have to make sure they don’t fall prey to stories that are more alarming than they are factual,” says George Rambo, former technical director of the National Pest Control Association and a consultant who points out that even with rising rates of bedbug infestations, the overall number remains relatively low.
I agree that horror stories are often overexaggerated. And I have seen people overreact, and most of us Bedbuggers try to help people remain calm and take sensible steps.
On the other hand, while dumping 5 gallons of pesticide on a mattress is dangerous–seriously, really not a good idea–as someone familiar with this problem, rather than assume such people simply became “obsessed” with fighting bed bugs, I’d ask what that woman must have been feeling that prompted her to take such extreme measures. And if bed bugs are easily managed, and not a big deal, why was she doing anything with pesticides at all, rather than have a PCO eliminate the problem quickly?
Maybe treatment was going badly, and taking months and months. Maybe she could not pay or a landlord wouldn’t. Maybe she was “losing it,” because she went for months with very little sleep, and spent her days suffering from extensive itching.
And the photographer mentioned above probably microwaved her books because she did not want to throw them away or seal them up for 18 months, and she could see they were infested. I am not sure this is a good idea either. But maybe they were valuable, or maybe she needs them for her work. If that seems like an overreaction, then consider throwing away or sealing away the entire contents of your apartment which are often the only options to someone trying to escape bed bugs in cases where apartments are very infested, buildings have several infested apartments, or landlords are just not getting good experienced PCOs to treat all affected units.
Many times doctors are unable to help. Suffering can go on for months before one even figures out the source of the problem. Once you try and get help, it can take 3, 4, or more visits from a PCO spaced at 2-week intervals. That can mean months go by and the problem seems like it won’t go away.
Sometimes landlords will not treat bed bugs properly. And since the bugs can be stealthy, PCOs will sometimes even treat once or twice and declare a home pest-free while the customer is still feeling the itch and seeing signs of bed bugs.
Given those possible scenarios, I don’t entirely blame people for “losing it.”
People who are alarmed should keep in mind that most don’t react to the bites–which not that long ago were a fact of life.
Bed bugs were a fact of life, but people also risked burning their homes down trying to get rid of them by dowsing everything in kerosene. When bed bug infestations were bad, they would even sometimes set the house and contents on fire and start anew. Bed bugs were no small matter, and peoples’ lives were greatly improved by not having them once a solution was offered at the start of World War II.
Voiland also mentions above that “most people don’t react to the bites” (as bed bug experts have claimed). In my opinion, this is not a reason to relax.
People who notice the bites are in a good position to start trying to eliminate bed bugs before they get to a very serious level, and even begin spreading to others.
Those who are unallergic, on the other hand, can be bitten for ages without reacting. They may never notice bed bugs until they have so many that they’re running up and down the walls in broad daylight. And you’d better hope one does not live next door to you, because you’re likely to get bed bugs before a non-reactive neighbor ever knows he had them.
Anyway, Pollack says, with time and patience, most infestations can be eliminated. “I have people who call me in tears. They’re in hysterics,” he says. “My response is to put things in perspective. This is not a terminal illness. Being upset is not going to kill any bedbugs.”
On the other hand, I’ve come across several pest control technicians who are themselves terrified of contracting bed bugs, and bed bug researchers who don’t like to stay in hotels for this same reason. If bed bugs are no big deal, why would getting them be such a concern to people who deal with them everyday, and know them best?
The article began by referring to a student, Kyle Anderson, who had bed bugs. At the end of the article, we come back to him. And the news is hardly relaxing.
Occasionally the critters win. Kyle Anderson tried bug bombs, obsessive vacuuming and laundering, and pleading with his landlord to get the pests under control, but nothing worked. After more than seven months of waking up with bites, he surrendered and moved.
There’s a disconnect between the story of Kurt Anderson and the words of Michael Pollack, who wants bed bug sufferers to calm down.
Bed bugs can be very hard to eliminate if you live in a multi-unit dwelling, and/or you are a tenant and your landlord hires a second-rate PCO, or hires a good PCO but will not pay them to carefully inspect and treat (if necessary) all units adjacent to the one with the complaint.
As Kurt Anderson discovered, your landlord may refuse to treat (or treat properly) and leave you suffering, and you can try and treat bed bugs yourself for seven months, and eventually you may still have to pay to move. Most people who move with active infestations throw away all their stuff. Some do and still manage to move their bed bugs. I wonder if this student escaped bed bug-free. Of course, he won’t know for months. But regardless, he lost a lot due to his bed bugs.
In light of all this, I want to suggest that perhaps we consider that bed bugs are impossible to live with long term, they do impact your lifestyle, stress level, comfort, skin, and sleep. They may cost you a lot of time, money, and even your possessions.
All in all, I am sorry Voiland does not seem to think the problem is very serious, since it has a serious impace on the lives of sufferers, including their health.