Bed bugs are everywhere. Live for any length of time in an apartment building of any size (such as my sky rise where I’m on the 15th floor) and sooner or later you will encounter these vermin whose bites are extremely itchy and painful.
For those blessed to have not encountered them yet bed bugs are tiny (less than 5mm) insects resembling ticks when they’ve gorged on your blood. Their bites look like red pin pricks and are usually in groups of two or three in a row spaced 3mm to 13 mm apart. Bed bug saliva is extremely irritating — worse than even mosquitos — and just as painful.
If you are bitten the first thing to do is thoroughly wash the bites with soap and water before treating with ice for any welts that may form in response to them. Once the saliva is washed out of the wound, I’ve found that aloe vera with lidocaine (typically used for sunburns) helps with the initial pain and discomfort. Follow this up with calamine solution (drug store brands work great) to speed healing.
I know all of this of course because over the holidays bed bugs found their way into my home and my life. Contrary to popular belief, cleanliness does not protect you from bed bugs. They can attack any home or business at any time and are extremely good at hitching rides in purses, luggage, tote bags, etc. and latching themselves onto your clothes (just as ticks will). So expect bed bugs to come into your life at some point. Don’t play denial and think it cannot or will not happen. It will — but there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Let’s begin with the bed you purchase. When the exterminator came to my apartment recently for the first treatment (there will be three and yes, you absolutely need a professional to get rid of them) one of the first things he did was tear away the bottom fabric to my “box spring” (now called “foundations” by bedding stores) so he could treat the insides and spray, revealing something startling to me about my bed: though we usually call it a “box spring” there are no springs in it — even in name brands like my Sealy set that cost me over $600 for the twin size.
Instead the “box spring” foundation in my bed is a wooden frame made of roughly 1/2″ thick and 4″ wide boards and slates. Over this is a thin sheet of plywood and covered with a nice fabric. The entire foundation is made of WOOD and if you stepped on it it would quickly fall apart.
The whole thing makes a very appealing environment for all sorts of vermin, even sitting upon the thin metal rails Americans call “frames” which lift bed foundations off the floor.
And sadly the metal frame/foundation box/mattress system is typical for beds sold in the United States, even though most furniture stores sell proper beds which support mattresses without needing to use a foundation.
As I’ve found recently, this is not the case elsewhere.
Browsing around a popular UK furniture store online I found that no where on that massive site with its hundreds of mattresses and hundreds of beds was a single foundation available. Instead, the only choices were proper beds that support mattresses — like the one right here to the left that I personally like that is all metal.
All metal is bed bug resistant, especially in this open frame style where the only place to breed in and hide is your mattress itself.
Which brings us to the other critically important preventative that EVERYONE should be doing before the store sets up any new mattress onto your bed: ENCASEMENTS.
Most people know about protective mattress pads designed to keep beds clean from stains and liquid seepage into the bed. These typically cover five walls — top and the four sides — just like your sheet does. But vermin love the undersides of furniture, especially beds and these are not kept out by the typical mattress protector.
Encasements are different: they completely encase the mattress around all six walls to keep insects out. The better encasements have special features around the zippers and seams to provide additional protection, features absolutely worth the extra money. Putting an encasement around an infested mattress or foundation traps the insects inside so they cannot reach you on the surface to feed — which is why they are critical to any bed bug treatment plan. But the best time to put one of these encasements onto your mattress (and foundation if you have one) is immediately upon delivery of your bedding pieces.
Do not delay this. Do not play with this. Do not convince yourself that you cannot afford the encasements. Exterminating a bed bug problem is more expensive. Replacing all your bed pieces is more expensive. Replacing your bed linens, blankets, and pillows is more expensive. And remember: you can pick up bed bugs anywhere — including hotel rooms when you travel, your work place, even public places where you usually feel safe from insects. They can travel through walls and come over from your neighbours. Absolutely no one is immune, no matter how clean you are or how careful you are.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Save yourself the agony I’m going through and protective yourself right now — before bed bugs take up home where you sleep.