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Is there a connection between Bedbugs and Hoarders?

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hoarders and bedbugs have something in common- they are all the rage!  Since we are no longer throwing Christians to the lions, generic we like to tune in and watch the mentally ill struggle with the consquences of their obsessions.  Often these are filthy dens of despair.  We hope for, we long to see vermin.  For we delight in a little gross-out,

and wish to assure ourselves that as long as we spring clean and do not let our Lionel Ritchie gatefold collection get out of hand, We Are Not These People.  Apartment dwellers who detect bedbugs are always looking for the ground zero of the scourge, a single unit in the building where they expect to find an elderly person cowering behind a wall of newspapers, or a family of illegal immigrants living in squalor.  Bedbugs do not have the same prejudices that we do.  Blood is blood.  Poverty, mental illness and crowded conditions do not attract bedbugs. 

That is not to say there is no connection between hoarding, extreme poverty and bedbug infestation.  Hoarders (and hipsters!)  have the unfortunate compulsion to trashpick, which is tantamount to a bedbug importation business.  Their deep sense of shame  at the way they live (the hoarders that is, hipsters are shameless) will characteristically prevent them from seeking outside help for an infestation.  Crowded living conditions can also aid in the spread of bedbugs and make them nearly impossible to treat.  And so, we sometimes have instances of extremely vile conditions.

Old box spring, underside of canvas strap 2

But more often this is not the case.  Most calls to the exterminator come from very ordinary homes.  There might be bedbugs on the bookshelf and the seams of the mattress.  Not enough to see, but enough to keep you awake at night watching “Hoarders” on demand. 

The moral of the story is NEVER dumpster dive, even if and especially if you are crazy.  And be sensitive to your neighbors, even if they are insane and unkempt.  They may not be the cause of your problems.

Hotel Illness: Bedbugs in Your Bag

Posted: September 23rd, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Chris Robinson, best known as the illustrious hirsute poet of the 90’s and ex-husband to A-Rod’s girlfriend, sang the troubling lyric “This room smells like hotel illness/The scars I hide are now your business.”  How prescient, given the newfound horror of hotel rooms infested with bedbugs.

Frankly, the entire track listing for the album bearing this ditty is akin to a “Nostradamus Wuz Here: Bedbugs Ahoy” scrawl on an alley wall: “Sting Me,” “Remedy,” “Thorn in My Pride,” “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye,” “Time Will Tell?”  Anyone who travels far and wide for pleasure or business, or even just books the occasional local room for whipping tired businessmen or stringing up truckers, needs to be vigilant to avoid her own bad luck. Time will indeed tell if you’ve brought back a little stowaway  in your valise. Worst case scenario depicted below:

What can we do to protect ourself and our extensive Vuitton collections when we travel?

Before you travel: check hotel reviews online if possible. Our go-to source is TripAdvisor.com. People are vocal about any negative situations, including bedbugs or other pest or cleanliness issues. Pack a flashlight for room inspection purposes. Pack gallon-size Ziploc bags and even a trash bag with twist tie, in the event that you need to quarantine any contaminated clothing or personal items prior to returning home. Double-sided tape may also come in handy.

1. Set your luggage and other belongings down on the luggage rack or on top of a dresser as soon as you enter the room, after giving those places a once-over, of course. Some folks favor the tub for containment.  Consider skipping the carpet-floored luggage carts you may find in larger hotels. Consider not letting the staff touch anything you own and perhaps screaming “Ahhh! Get away!” depending on the establishment you’ve chosen.

2. Immediately inspect the mattress, box spring, and bedding on the bed. Check behind the headboard and on the floor under the bed. You are looking for little, flat reddish-brown bugs. Think the size of an apple seed or smaller. Want pictures? Here, we warned you. You are also looking for any unusual reddish or black pinprick-sized spots or streaks, which are bedbug feces. The seams of the mattress are especially a good catching ground for these pests and their droppings.

You should apply your normal black light inspection to comforters, as bedbugs are only a part of your worries. Luminol optional. OK, just take the comforter off completely. It’s disgusting on many levels. You do travel with your own linens and power steamer, right? Kidding. Sort of.

3. Check the rest of the furniture and textiles in the room. Curtains, sofas, chairs, and carpets are also harboring places. This is where the flashlight may come in handy. Between the wall and carpet edge is a good place to check. Remove chair and couch cushions and pillows and really check the crevices for bedbugs or bedbug signs.

4. If you discover any signs of bedbug life on initial inspection or wake up with bites or an unfortunate later find, toss your stuff in a trash bag and get thee to the front desk. A good manager will move you to a new room or refund your money, no questions asked. If you feel the need, you can snap photos of the insect defects in the room and any bites or use your sticky tape to pick up any visible bug for evidence in the event of resistance.

If you meet with resistance on your first request, try to escalate by asking for a supervisor, a manager, even the owner. Mention you can dispute any charges via your credit card company and report your experience on numerous hotel review sites. Remain calm but firm and persistent. Note the name of everyone you must talk to in the process. If all that fails, get the hell out of there and dispute any amount billed to your card. Any evidence may come in handy.

5. While you are happily snuggled in the room, keep clothing and possessions off the floors and furniture when possible. Keep suitcases, purses, and laptop and camera bags zipped shut when not in use. For added peace of mind, keep those items sealed within a trash bag while in the room. Some people swear by putting sticky tape around the legs of the bed to trap anything attempting to climb, but bear in mind bugs may already be deep in the mattress and have been known to drop from the ceiling. Your best bet is vigilance in advance, in terms of reading reviews and your own inspections.

6. When you return home, thoroughly vacuum your suitcase and other bags, paying special attention to creases. Do not mix clothing with your regular laundry. Bag it up until it can be washed, or at least throw it in the dryer on medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes if it has already been laundered on your trip. If you can’t use the dryer on your suitcase, considering sunning it outside or leaving it in sub-freezing temps or a hot car for a few days.

Ahhhhh!!! What else can I do?

Check out this list of the 15 Most Bedbug Infested US Cities from CBS News, and keep that in mind as you make travel plans. Don’t avoid any particular area, just up your vigilance as needed. Realistically, the majority of hotel rooms you’ll visit will likely be bedbug free, but it never hurts to be vigilant, and the relative status or cleanliness of the hotel is not necessarily an indicator on its own without eyewitness reviews of actual infestation.

Yours truly encountered bedbugs in a hotel in Baltimore (shocking, right?) about 5 years ago before the problem was widely discussed, but I had no idea what the bites were until I read other reviews of the hotel later. I was storing my luggage on the rack and my clothes in the dresser, so perhaps this was the deciding factor in being lucky enough not to carry any of the little Paris Hiltons home with me. There but for the grace of Baltimore went I.

Does Anna Wintour have bedbugs?

Posted: September 22nd, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Probably not, for even the littlest creatures of nature can be scolded out of existence or implode within her withering stare.  However, she meets the criteria of many a less formidable person: living in New York City, traveling, and being fond of clothes.  Bedbugs are a horror for anyone who has them, but they are particularly virulent for the clothes-horse.  When I hear of friends bagging up and having all of their clothes cleaned, I feel faint when considering the effort and price tag implied by my ponderous collection that struggles to be contained within two wardrobes, a large closet, and several dressers.

Bedbugs have hit the fashion world, having been found at many retail outlets including Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch (“fashion” does not always mean “good fashion”), Victoria’s Secret and Niketown.  Some, like Bergdorf Goodman, have employed bedbug sniffing beagles as a precaution and preventative measure.  After all, if you wait until you can see them to call the exterminator, then you really have a Problem.  Unlike most hotels, many shops are not doing this, as even the appearance of concern is enough to set tongues wagging, garnering negative press.  The plague house emblem on your door.  Retailers have been tight lipped about any strategies they may or may not have to protect their customers.

We recommend a healthy inspection along the seams of any garment you plan to buy.  Keep your new duds sealed in a bag in the freezer for several days or throw in the dryer (about 10-20 minutes set on medium to high heat ought to do it: you want at least 120°F) before integrating with the rest of your clothes. This goes for shoes and some bags too, and it should be reasonably safe for dry-clean only clothing items as long as they were not wet in the first place.  This is all especially important if you are shopping second-hand.  Avoid “dollar-a-pound” clothing dumps altogether.  It is a new era, and lord knows what could be crawling around in there.