Bedbugs—those elusive, tiny demons—constitute a fear most of us living here in the Bushwick area have. We believe, though, that if we keep our apartments clean and tidy, bedbugs will stay away.
But that is not actually the case. A few weeks ago on a Saturday night, I came home only to spot a small bedbug perched atop my clean sheets and made-up bed.
This same nightmare has probably been a reality for many of you, and if you haven’t been affected, it can happen when you least expect it. After weeks of bedbug induced psychological distress and sleeping without air conditioning on my sofa, I’m here to tell you it is possible to survive a bed bug invasion! And taking the right steps to prevent and kill bedbugs is the way to do it.
So here are a few of the most important tips from insect-and-arachnid expert, Louis Sorkin, an entomologist at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History, as well as Timothy Wong, the technical director of M&M Pest Control in Long Island City.
Here’s what you need to know about bedbugs and what to do if they strike:
1. Know what a bedbug looks like.
Sorkin said the first thing to do if you suspect an infestation is to be able to accurately identify the insect. Unfed bugs have a flattish, oval-shaped body, and nymphs are usually white or pale tan. Adult bedbugs can be light brown or reddish brown, and after feeding, tend to become plumper, with a shape similar to a football. Plus, some people don’t even react to the bites. Wong mentioned that an estimated 30 percent of the population has no reaction to bedbug bites.
2. Call your landlord because you have rights!
According to your Tenant’s Rights as a New York City resident, your landlord is legally required to eradicate your bedbugs. That means you are not financially responsible for the extermination process. So, let your landlord know as soon as you think you may have bedbugs, even if you aren’t sure.
3. Don’t overreact.
I know as soon as I saw a bedbug, I felt the need to toss everything I own out the window, dismantle my furniture, and burn it all. Don’t do that. Sorkin said the worst thing you can do is overreact. “Do not start throwing everything out and moving furniture around. This [will] annoy the bedbugs and make them crawl into areas where they might never crawl,” he said. The same goes for over-spraying aerosols and insecticides, and releasing treatments like bug bombs, Sorkin said.
4. Prepare yourself for trips to the laundromat.
There’s no way around the amount of washing you will have to do. I think between my roommates and I, we made 10 trips to the laundromat. If the bugs are in your sheets and clothes, it’s hard for them to survive washing and drying on high heat. Plus, you’ll have to wash your bedding each time your apartment is treated. Look at it as extra exercise.
5. Your patience will be tested.
The extermination process often calls for at least one treatment, even if you aren’t seeing bedbugs anymore. You’ll have to move everything in your apartment away from the walls, and take your mattress off the bed so it can be sprayed and covered with a mattress encasement. This is time consuming, and it may feel like you’re moving out. Try looking at it as the perfect time to deep clean your apartment!
6. You may feel crazy, and you will probably lose sleep.
Something about the thought of having small bugs biting you as you slumber is disturbing—there’s really no way around it. You will probably lose sleep for a night or two, but try not to worry. Bedbugs, in reality, are less harmful than disease-carrying biters like mosquitos. Sorkin said that “under normal conditions,” bedbugs don’t carry diseases. It’s only in experimental circumstances that bedbugs have been shown to transmit a disease to a host, he added.
7. You should treat yourself too.
When you have bedbugs, you’re “treating” them, so you might as well treat yourself too. Plus, you’ll have to be out of the house for at least a few hours during treatment. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see, or hit up your favorite Bushwick hang.
8. Bedbugs love our city.
According to the most recent report by the pest-control company, Orkin, New York City is the city with the fourth largest amount of bedbug treatments annually. Plus, according to Wong, in the past year, reports of bedbugs have been increasing in our very own Bushwick, as well as Williamsburg and Gowanus. Sorkin said the bugs can easily travel throughout our city, hitching a ride on shoes and clothes, and even on the wooden benches at subway stations. Wong added that at least 50 percent of the clients at M&M Pest Control get bedbugs from a neighboring unit that may not have been treated correctly in the past. And with more and more visitors in and out of Airbnb apartments, bedbugs are even more easily spread. Oh, and that free bookshelf you picked up off the street? There’s a chance it could be harboring a bug or two.
9. Bedbugs don’t discriminate.
“No one is immune to bedbugs because they do not discriminate,” Wong said, adding that infestations have even been found in even the loftiest 5th Avenue penthouses. Sorkin agreed that we’re all at risk, especially because most of us live in apartments, condos, and co-ops. And often multi-family homes aren’t regularly inspected, which means you can have bedbugs in your building, no matter how new or clean your apartment is, Sorkin said.
10. Bedbugs are persistent little hustlers.
“Bedbug nymphs and adults favor places near their favorite host (you) and where that host stays for an extended period of time,” Sorkin said. He said the bugs will hide out in small spaces—anywhere they can fit—waiting for a moment to make contact with the host. They often hide in door jambs, electrical outlets, and even behind wall hangings. “They can crawl along wires and gain access to other rooms and other apartments,” Sorkin said. They truly know what they want, and go for it (Is there a lesson we can learn from them…?).
11. You can prevent bedbugs!
Sorkin said the best way bedbugs can be prevented is awareness. “Learn the signs of their existence: fecal blood stains, metabolic waste evidence, shed skins, dead and living bedbugs,” he added. Getting rid of them early helps to keep them from spreading to other apartments.
So Bushwick, we all know bedbugs are a pain, but they aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you (I promise!). If you think you have bedbugs, call your landlord, and just take a few deep breaths!