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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Bed Bugs: Prevention and Treatment

Is there anything in the world that can give you the creepy-crawlies as well as the mere thought of having bed bugs? And then, if it really did happen, how would you handle it? They can go months without feeding, if necessary. They can just chill in the seams of your mattress or in the wallpaper or in the furniture. How do you get rid of them?

It won't be easy. You might try finding their nests; they like to hang out in families and you'll find individuals of varying ages. Sounds cute, doesn't it? Usually we're told to look in the mattresses and furniture, like already mentioned, but bed bugs are also pretty happy to live in linens and backpacks. They retreat into cracks in the walls and electrical outlets. The college-educated ones have also been known to hang out in books. The homesteading types take up residence with chickens. Unless you find where they're sleeping during the day, you might have a tough time eliminating your problem. When there are a lot of bed bugs, they may emit an odor that smells like rotting raspberries.

What do they look like? The eggs are difficult to see, pearl-white and the size of a pinhead. The adults, on the other hand, are brown and the size of an apple seed. And then there are the five nymph stages as the bed bug hatches from the egg and matures.

Once you identify a bed bug, it's time to take immediate action to prevent an infestation. Clothes and linens need to be washed in hot, soapy water above 125 degrees. A hot dryer will work, if you have the power to run it. Alternatively, if you live in the far north and it happens to be winter, four to seven days of temperatures that don't get above zero degrees Fahrenheit may also work. Traditional pesticides like Malathion and those in the pyrethroid family, like permethrin, may work. Unfortunately, bed bugs are developing some resistance to permethrin, so it's wise to have an alternative in this situation. Diatomaceous earth is also an option. Several treatments will probably be needed, just to be on the safe side. Vacuuming may work, but again, you're going to have to have electricity.

As far as repelling the little beasts goes, Native Americans used juniper boughs to repel bed bugs with some efficacy. Other natural repellents include mint, black cohosh, bay leaves, and tobacco.

Keeping your environment and belongings clean and tidy at home and when away will be of paramount importance in preventing an infestation. Ideally, you have to keep from bringing them home in your belongings. Don't put suitcases and backpacks on the floor in hotels--the best place for them is the bathtub. The same goes for clothing--don't leave it on the floor. Keep areas around the bed clean and free of clutter. Once bed bugs invade, they're difficult to eradicate.

Here's an herbal treatment for repelling bed bugs from Dr. Joseph Alton, author of The Survival Medicine Handbook:

1 cup water
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil
10 drops eucalyptus essential oil

Put the above in a spray bottle and shake well before using.

As far as disease management goes, bed bugs at least have a bright spot: they do not cause any illnesses in and of themselves, though there is the possibility that they may carry other disease-causing organisms. So in that respect they aren't as bad as body lice or fleas. And they don't want to live in your clothing seams, unlike body lice, or on your body, like fleas. They take their meals while you sleep and then go back to the mattress seams or someplace else in the furniture or walls or wherever.

Bed bug bites may look a lot like mosquito bites, but they usually have a pattern to them, unlike mosquitoes. They take a bite, or a whole breakfast, walk on for a little bit to digest, then stop for a bite of lunch, walk on to digest, then stop for a bite of dinner, and maybe a little dessert later on before retreating until tomorrow, or next week. So it often looks like there are lines of bites on the body. Bed bug bites are also distinguished from fleas in that fleas usually bite around the ankle and usually have a central red spot. As bed bugs prefer open-air dining, or taking their bites from exposed areas of skin, most bites are on the face, neck, and arms. So wearing pajamas may help in this case.

Benadryl is administered for the allergic symptoms and itching and hydrocortisone cream helps reduce the inflammation. That's it for treatment.

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