Of Bugs and People: 5 Truths I learned About Bed Bugs Working as a Pest Controller

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Bed bug bitingI remember when I first started working as a pest controller. Fresh out of college and it was my first serious job as a responsible and self-sufficient adult. In my mind I was thinking I wasn’t going to be able to handle it. I wasn’t even sure if this was what I wanted to do, but the money was decent and I got to rid people of tangible menaces that tormented them, which made it a form of service to others (and there is no higher purpose).

The training period wasn’t easy, but I went through it thanks to my mentor – a pest controller with more than 20 years of experience in the field. He was the type you might call “hard but fair” (by which I mean at times he made gunnery Sgt. Hartman look even-tempered). It wasn’t easy and he made feel bad about myself on more than one occasion, but ultimately he taught me everything I know and I’m thankful for it. I learned so much from him, not just about pest control, but also about life. However, as I became a professional, I started learning things on my own. And now, I feel, is time to share what I’ve learned so I can give back.

I chose bed bugs because they’re one of the pests people most rarely talk about. It’s far more likely for someone to admit they have ants or roaches, or even rats, rather than bed bugs. This is understandable, because these nasty little buggers also come with a sort of social stigma. I’m hoping to clear some things out with this blog post.

5. Why Bed Bugs Are so Dreadful

bed-bugBed bug symptoms include red, itchy bites on that usually appear during the night. We are most defenceless while we sleep. That’s why our ancestors took turns in guarding the tribe while the others slept (and the reason why some people are “night owls” to this day). So imagine lying in a bed filled with bed bugs. Doesn’t that make your skin literally crawl?

Bed bugs are small, brown-reddish insects. An adult bed bug would rarely exceed half a centimetre in length. However, what they lack in size, they more than make up for in numbers. Bed bugs breed extremely fast. A female adult can lay hundreds of eggs and they take around a month to become adults, themselves. This makes them an enormous nuisance.

To make matters worse, they feed on blood and need a huge meal every time before they shed their skin during the developmental phase of their life cycle. And your body becomes open buffet while you sleep. There is some silver lining, though – they don’t seem to spread diseases like other bloodsuckers. However, the idea of having thousands of small insects crawling over you while you slumber and using your blood as a protein shake is a really dreadful notion.

4. It Makes People Feel Really Embarrassed

embarassment

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Unlike other common pest problems, bed bugs hit people where they feel most vulnerable – in the bedroom. Because bed bugs reside in our most intimate space, it’s understandable we wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about them to anyone. That’s why we also start hiding bed bug symptoms. No one wants to become a social pariah because of something that probably wasn’t their fault to begin with.

When I’ve been called to get rid of bed bugs, people have explicitly asked me not to tell anyone. Only after I’ve reassured them of our work ethic (and our company does have a strict work ethic protocol) did they allow me to perform an inspection. They feel really embarrassed having this problem, whereas in fact it’s not that uncommon. But the social ramifications are huge, which is why this reaction is completely understandable. Go tell someone you have bed bugs and watch them immediately take a step back.

The embarrassment is usually mixed with guilt, too. I’ve personally had to calm down customers and letting them know it wasn’t their fault. I’ve literally had people cry on my shoulder. But here’s the thing – in most cases it’s not your fault. These things just happen. One day you’re in a hotel for your conference in Sydney, the next day you’ve brought bed bugs to your home in Melbourne. You didn’t plan for this. You didn’t want it. But it happened. And it’s not your fault.

3. It’s a Common Problem

bed-bug-nymphThe fact that we avoid talking about it doesn’t make any less of a common problem. And bed bugs are a lot more common than you think. Because it’s relatively easy for them to spread, no one is immune. Public places where many people gather are ideal for bug exchange. It doesn’t even need to be a hotel. You don’t necessarily need to sleep in an infested bed. You can get them in a restaurant, on the bus, or even on the street.

Bed bugs can travel great distances on people’s clothes, so spreading and breeding is not a problem for them. They can easily get into your home through your coat and then find their way to your bed (because that’s where you’re most likely to sleep, and they’ll follow) and start breeding there.

If you’re moving, then that’s another perfect way you get bed bugs into your home. The trip from the old to the new place in your moving boxes is going to be a rather pleasant and comfortable one. They’re going to stay hidden and reveal themselves only when you unpack (and maybe not even then – they can be really sneaky).

Bed bug treatment is one of our most booked services, so I know how often this problem occurs. If people were more mindful of the issue, maybe they could’ve shown a little bit more sympathy toward one another and help each other out.

2. There are Ways to Avoid it

bedBed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of. That being said, you’re not completely helpless against them, either. There are some procedures that, while they won’t guarantee your protection against bed bugs, they would at least significantly improve your chances of avoiding an infestation. Here’s what you can do:

  1. When you travel, leave your luggage outside the room and then perform an inspection. Carefully remove the sheets from the bed and check the mattress for bed bugs, small brown or red stains (especially around seams), shed skin or some other bed bug symptoms.
  2. When you get back from the trip, immediately wash and dry your clothes on the highest possible temperature the fabrics can withstand. Carefully read the labels if you don’t want to end up ruining your clothes.
  3. Place plastic protectors on your mattress and bedding.
  4. Never leave your coat on upholstered furniture.
  5. If you’re buying pre-owned furniture, inspect it carefully for signs of bed bugs before buying it.

None of these guarantees you will avoid an infestation, but at least they improve your chances. And if you suspect it’s already too late, you can also always call for professional bed bug removal.

1. It’s Not the End of the World (But It Can Leave a Mark)

FearAs I’ve said, bed bugs are a relatively common problem, so it’s not the end of the world if you have them. There are effective treatments, so the problem can be physically dealt with relatively easy. However, due to the inherently personal nature of the issue and the fact that bed bugs get into your intimate space when you’re most vulnerable, they can leave quite a mark on a person’s psyche. In fact, people who have dealt with bed bugs in the past are far more likely to develop anxiety or PTSD-like symptoms.

There’s no way to downplay it – having a bed bug infestation is a truly horrific experience that can leave you scarred for life. People start to inspect their beds several times before they get in. They think they are being crawled all the time. Small, dark pieces of wool can legitimately cause a panic attack. It’s not easy to live the following few years after an infestation.

I’ve seen people lose sleep, dread to go bed, afraid to get into the bedroom. I’ve seen people get separated because of the experience (putting the blame on the other). Of course, like with any other such experience, I’ve seen people holding together and becoming stronger for having went through it. Whatever the case, I’d advise looking for professional help. You don’t have to do it alone. There are experts that can help.

Editorial note: this blog post was written with the help of one of our professionals.

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