Bed bugs at home: should you tell people at work?

by nobugsonme on November 2, 2010 · 13 comments

in bed bugs

A story of an employee who was ostracized for having bed bugs at home turned up in Joe Fiorito’s column in The Star on Tuesday.

The man, Mel, told co-workers who wondered why he was scratching about his bed bugs at home.

Fiorito writes:

Mel works with a dozen other men; a city job, to do with waste-water pumping. So, how did Mel’s mates react to the news about the bed bugs?

‘At first they didn’t treat me bad. They’d say they felt sorry for me.’ Their sympathy didn’t last.

‘Pretty soon they didn’t want me around. To be honest, I don’t blame them.’

Mel had been doing his best. He was taking precautions. He was shaking out his clothes before he went to work. Not good enough, I guess.

‘Eventually, they didn’t want to work with me. The acting super told me to take two weeks off — the guys were complaining.’

After being off the job two weeks and coming back, it got even uglier.

However, the story has a happy ending: Mel got heat treatment.

(Let’s also hope he’s had a lot of sealing and caulking done: he believes he got bed bugs from neighbors in his building.)

I know you’ll want to read the whole article here.

Opinions vary on whether it’s a good idea to tell co-workers about one’s bed bugs at home. Many folks go to great lengths to avoid spreading them, but co-workers might not understand that. On the other hand, lots of people also take every opportunity to educate people they know about the problem.

Ultimately, you should consider carefully whether to tell your boss or co-workers, and if so, who to tell, and how.

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1 CarpathianPeasant November 3, 2010 at 12:48 am

People who have bed bugs are first and foremost victims. They are being attack by insects.

In many if not most cases they do not know what they are victims of and furthermore it’s not something that happens and then a few minutes later it’s all over with –it is a continuing situation.

If someone starts to cross a street and is hit by a car, even if they are in the wrong, someone calls for help and soon the city safety forces are zooming to the scene riding on traffic right of ways with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Now, if that person has little more than a skinned knee, how is that person more valuable or important than people attacked by insects?

2 nobugsonme November 3, 2010 at 1:16 am

Hi Carpathian,

People with bed bugs should not be ostracized.

That said, there’s a media panic about bed bugs at the moment, and the public can be quite edgy.

It’s ridiculous, really: if Mel works with a dozen men, there’s a good chance one of the other has had bed bugs. But that’s not how people think. They hear of something they might “catch,” and they panic. It’s not right, but it is human nature and we have to be alert to the fact that people may react this way.

3 James November 3, 2010 at 11:32 am

Education, education, education… bedbugs are nasty hitchhikers, as a result are found anywhere and everywhere. No matter how often you put your clothes in a dryer (on the hottest cycle), or how often you have pest-control clean your residence. THEY WILL HITCHHIKE IN!!!! The only two places where they are not found are in the cold Artic countries or the hot Tropic countries.
It is because of similar reactions like the one Mel got from his co-workers that people continue to remain silent about this embarrassing problem.

4 CarpathianPeasant November 3, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Sorry I wasn’t too clear.

I think it goes beyond “being ostracized.” I think people who somehow got a load of bed bugs have to be viewed as victims.

5 nobugsonme November 3, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Hi Carpathian,

Of course people who get bed bugs are victims!

Unfortunately, people will still be fearful. In time, we may educate others to be more understanding. However, it is possible to spread bed bugs, and some level of fear will probably always exist.

6 nobugsonme November 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm

James,

Bed bugs are also found in hot and cold countries. If people can live there, bed bugs can too.

I should note that yes, bed bugs do travel easily. However, it is also possible for people suffering from bed bugs to take steps to avoid spreading them to others.

Education is very important, and I encourage everyone to try and educate others about bed bugs. I do not think people should be silent about bed bugs.

However, the economic climate is rough, and people need to also think carefully about possible repercussions if co-workers or employers panic. People have been fired because they were known to have bed bugs and there were also bed bugs at work — even though it often isn’t clear which direction the bed bugs were moving, if you know what I mean.

7 parakeets November 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I have twice been refused medical treatment when I explained to the providers I had bed bugs. If medical providers refuse to treat patients with bed bugs, I can definitely see why people are not forthcoming about bed bugs where they work. My referral doctor’s office told me I should not have mentioned that I had bed bugs, and next time I will probably keep my mouth shut.

8 nobugsonme November 4, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Thanks, parakeets.

This is the kind of story that people should be aware of. The choice of whether to disclose one’s bed bug problem or not depends on the circumstances. It’s not black and white.

In your case, I know the dangers you posed in terms of spreading bed bugs to the medical center were minimal. (I know this, because you literally wrote our FAQ about how to avoid spreading bed bugs to others when you travel!)

If someone with bed bugs was being a guest in a friend’s home, then I think it is only ethical to disclose something like this, to give the person the chance to revoke the offer, and to explain the precautions which will be taken to avoid spreading bed bugs if the visit proceeds.

Some of us have a workplace where we are close enough and trusting enough of co-workers and bosses to have just the same sort of conversation — about how one is going to avoid spreading bed bugs.

Many of us aren’t, and since unemployment rates in many areas are 10% or higher, it is not a good time to get fired.

On a cynical note, I suspect most people with bed bugs aren’t taking any steps to avoid spreading them, either because they don’t know they have them, know but don’t know how to avoid spreading them, don’t believe it’s possible to spread them, or (gasp!) don’t care.

9 Winston O. Buggy November 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

People with bed bugs should not be ostracized but establishments have an obligation to protect themselves as well. I have dealt with many cases where employees have introduced and reintroduced after great expense to eradicate the initial problem.
I have worked on protocols for agencies and establishments which I will agree can in some instances border on Draconian. We need some kind of BB etiquette and while many people with bed bugs take extensive steps to reduce unwanted Cimex hitch hiking companions some quite frankly do not.

10 Cimicifuga November 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

Re hot and cold climates, please note that the most widely cited figure for thermal death point is 45 C or 113 F. The lower thermal death point is unclear but somewhere around -32 C or -26 F. There is a species known as the tropical bedbug, Cimex hemipterus, but I haven’t found information on whether it can survive higher temperatures.

Regardless of the exact number, even the hottest climates can’t be expected to kill bedbugs because they will always try to hide in the shady spots, in air-conditioned houses, and so on…

11 Joe January 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm

My wife works at a furniture rental place. They just discovered bed bugs from a bed they repossessed. If we were to get bed bugs in our home, could we go after the employer for this?

12 nobugsonme January 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Hi Joe!

You would need to ask a lawyer that question.

That said, I note that organizations such as city sanitation departments are beginning to change the way they do things, based on a liability concern related to exposing employees to bed bugs on the job.

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