Got a Bedbug Bonanza?
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Reader Question of the Week

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

Does reading about Bedbugs give you bedbugs?  Because I have been hell of itchy ever since discovering this blog!

Answer: You may not be able to catch bedbugs from reading about them, but you might be spending a bit too much time thinking about them.  In the extreme, a person can develop delusional parasitosis, the strong delusional belief that the body is infested with parasites.

Apparently, this can consist of the belief alone, but there is a whole host (haha!) of other manifestations wherein people have physical symptoms and haunt the doctor’s office with matchboxes filled with “evidence”.  ICK.  The conviction of imaginary bedbugs creeping your crannies could also take the form of delusory cleptoparasitosis, which is when you are convinced that your dwelling is infested.  These two phenomena cover pretty much every single person I know in New York.  However, they are not yet  heading to the dermatologist with matchboxes full of cat dander, they are merely scratching at the last of summer’s mosquito bites and doubting, doubting.

If you find yourself obsessively eyeballing your mattress seams or magnifying every fleck on your skin, do not consult your doctor, talk to your therapist, meditate, or do whatever it is you enjoy in life that does not include playing the Inspector Clouseau of the bedbug world.

Scarred for Life: Healing Embarrassing Bedbug Scars

Posted: September 29th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

BedBug bites both arms (24 May 2009)

As if bedbug bites aren’t itchy and uncomfortable enough, they also serve as very public advertisements that you are suffering from an infestation. Although actually being infested says nothing about your health or hygiene status, people still don’t want to take any chances. You may find yourself a victim of social isolation, shunned by friends and romantic partners.

Definitely forget the romance. A recent highly unscientific but probably passably realistic poll stated “56% of responders would leave their date if they noticed bed bug bites on his/her skin.

“They’re just mosquito bites,” you say gamely. “I must have gotten eaten alive in the Catskills.” But people just aren’t having it. Even once you get rid of the bugs in your life, you may find yourself with lingering scars.

People have sued hotels over receiving scarring bites.

“According to DeRoche’s attorney, Steven Igou, the bedbug bites have left DeRoche with approximately 35 permanent scares, mostly on her legs and midsection. He says the scars and damage are so bad that DeRoche no longer wears shorts.”

The scars are a reminder of a very traumatic experience and can forever link you in some people’s minds to a nasty problem. You are even worse off if you work in a profession with emphasis on appearance, such as modeling, acting, magazines, sales, or, oh, hell, most everything you could possibly do. Our face is our fortune!

The catch-22 is that the best way to be free of scars is never to get bitten at all. See our advice about avoiding bedbugs in a hotel. You must keep your eye trained on potential threats, since they can pop up in offices, schools, and even on park benches.

Let’s say you get noshed on one night.  The initial bites may go unnoticed at first because the sneaky little buggers inject an anesthetic as they feed. But you will suffer a:

“localized allergic reaction to antigens/proteins that the bed bug releases into the skin. This is mediated through IgE antibody pathway, causing a wheal-flare response. The bites vary greatly between people, as there are differences in the immune status in individuals. The more bed bug bites you get through your life, the stronger the reaction/redness of the bite.”

That wheal-flare response accounts for the unsightly swelling and redness. That part about reactions getting stronger is bad news, and it underscores the importance of preventing or rapidly treating an infestation.

Audrey Kunin, M.D., points out that “Scratching can easily be complicated by a secondary bacterial infection, particularly in less than sanitary environments.” Cut nails short and frequently wash hands to prevent damage during scratching. Some people wear gloves to bed to avoid scratching unconsciously. Keep any open sores clean to avoid infection.

Most bites can be initially treated by:

  • Washing the area with soap & water, then applying ice
  • Internal itch relief products like Zyrtec
  • External relief products like Caladryl, Aveeno, and baking soda baths
  • Prescription medications in severe cases, including topical steroids and antihistamines, oral antihistamines, and very rarely, systemic steroids
  • See your doctor if you feel a bite is infected. Further treatment may be required

Properly cleaning and treating the bite’s itch is your best chance to prevent scarring. There are a number of natural bite treatments out there as well. While they may not reduce scarring that has already occurred, they may be able to prevent it by treating the bite so you don’t claw yourself to pieces.

If you have suffered scars already, your options include:

  • Scar treatment ointment or cream such as Mederma, which can be purchased at a drugstore
  • Vitamin E application can be helpful
  • Silicone scar treatment sheets, which can be purchased at a drugstore
  • Massage the scar with a circular motion several times a day to promote healing

In extreme cases, seeing a dermatologist may be in order. A dermatologist can supervise methods like

  • Skin bleaching
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser treatments

Obviously some of these methods are potentially painful and very costly. One scar-specific natural treatment involves applying a paste of turmeric and coconut oil to a cleaned area, then letting the paste sit for 8 hours.

Phew. I think I’ll just start wearing a full body suit. That looks comfy.

Disclaimer: always consult your own doctor as part of your health decision-making process. The authors of this site are not doctors, although they sometimes play one with the consent of an informed partner.

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.

Bedbug Suicide?

Posted: September 21st, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Bedbugs are the new 21st century urban touchstone for anxiety: what could be scarier than The Thing Under the Bed That Actually Eats You?  Forget rats, forget roaches. They really prefer to keep to themselves. You only wish you had mice. Spiders? Haha! Amateur.

Bedbug infestation in a home, apartment, or even car is the fastest way to plummet to the ranks of the Unclean. Bedbug populations nationwide are on a rapid rise. They are seemingly indestructible, and one can pick them up in numerous innocent ways, from sitting in a movie theater to having dinner at a friend’s place.

Can a combination of maddening itching, unsightly welts, OCD-stoking cleaning protocols, social ostracism, often huge financial loss, and frustration at lack of concern from landlords and government officials and insurance companies actually lead someone to take her own life?

So far, there are no officially confirmed US reports of suicide due to bed bug infestation, but some believe it’s only a matter of time. Online forums for bed bug sufferers are full of proclamations of feeling “close to the edge” or “near suicide.” In August 2009, New York Magazine explored the perils of real estate in the age of bedbugs and made a “prediction for next August: the first bedbug-caused suicide.” Luckily August 2010 has come and gone, but the bedbug problem is still accelerating.

In this sad post on a popular forum, an apartment dweller wonders if a neighbor’s suicide was more than coincidental to the rampant bedbug problem in their building.

But worse, that they mentioned that Apt. 702 was “showing signs of activity again”. Apt 702??!! That apartment is currently vacant, as the tenant committed suicide on June 30th. One morning, at around 6:00 a.m., she threw herself off the balcony. It was horrible. I remember at the time thinking that it was strange that it occurred early in the morning, and that perhaps she just couldn’t face one more day. I felt so terrible for her.

So I asked the PCO “How long have you been treating the apartment?”

And they replied “Four months”.

Which means the woman battled bedbugs for 2 months and then killed herself.

The motive for the neighbor’s suicide is not directly known, but under few circumstances could one imagine that bedbugs are helpful to mental health. Was it the last straw or just an unrelated stress? Other commenters report feeling pushed to the edge and seeking therapy as a means to cope with the anxiety and depression cause by a seemingly unwinnable battle.

Typical suicide warning sign checklists include conditions such as loss of health or home and emotional changes like feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Feelings of shame are often mentioned, as well as alteration of social habits and sleeping patterns. Victims of bedbugs will recognize all of these situations as direct or indirect results of their infestation. This is not to say that all victims will go as far as suicidal thinking, but anyone who is already prone to depression and anxiety may experience the negative results on a more severe and serious level.

One thing is certain: tiny bedbugs can be a real threat to psychological health, and they do not discriminate. In the coming weeks, we’ll keep on eye on bedbugs in the news and ways you can protect yourself or free yourself from the bedbug trap. Have you felt driven to thoughts of harming yourself (or others) due to your bedbug problem? Contact us to share your story.

ALERT: Please note we are unable to provide counseling. In the event of suicidal feelings in yourself or a friend, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline web site or contact your therapist or get to the nearest emergency room. Those are good things to do. Listening to Morrissey and drinking while obsessively Googling photos of bedbug bites: not so much.