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How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs: When Toxic Household Chemicals Are a MUST

My advice article on how to get rid of bed bugs appears in the British press today. It was impossible to fit everything together and I look forward to a lively response from readers. The bottom line is don’t worry about household aerosols, toxic, organic, household or otherwise, but call the experts immediately before the bugs breed and spread throughout your home and even into the fabric of your building and other homes.

Because bed bugs do not harbor or spread disease, they have been an under-researched species. But the mini-plagues now occurring in the US put them at the top of the environmental health agenda. A ton of bed bug articles are currently appearing in the New York Times. One reports that a 2009 community health survey showed that 1 in 15 New Yorkers had bed bugs in their homes:

“A number that is likely higher now… In recent weeks, bedbugs have swarmed into seats at the AMC theater in Times Square, slithered past a Victoria’s Secret store on Lexington Avenue and the offices of Elle magazine and hitchhiked to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.”

Earlier this summer, the New York branches of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister were affected and had to temporarily close. Bed bug sniffing dogs are in demand, especially in hotels that have a nightmarish needle-in-the-haystack problem with every infestation.

Bed bugs have been around forever, of course: the first recorded incident of bed bugs in the UK appeared in 1583. So why this resurgence now? What is happening? Is the extreme idea held by some that terrorism by explosion has been replaced by terrorism by stealth so far fetched?

Okay, yes. With a little luck. It owes more to the successful lobbying of people with views like mine, who are passionate about removing toxic chemicals from our bodies, our homes, and the environment in general. The widespread use of DDT to clean up bomb sites after World War II virtually eradicated bed bugs from Europe. But now, a ban on the widespread use of the most dangerous chemicals, coupled with increased travel abroad, has brought the bugs back into our homes.

Bed bug infestation is now on the rise in the UK. We have had them in our flat in central London. As anyone who has been through it will agree, it was hell! It came as no surprise to learn that bedbugs were one of the many instruments of torture used in Stalin’s gulags (think placing them in a wooden box where hundreds would attack at once, falling off the sides and falling off the lid). Here in 21st century London, they slip silently into your bed at night with their beaver fingers to feed on your blood, stinging you awake. You can’t even move to another room to go back to sleep for fear of infecting them. Like cockroaches, they have a tough, almost shell-like exterior and are so adept at hiding and surviving that sometimes you really feel like you’re fighting some hideous, evil intelligence. Their peak feeding time, for example, is just before dawn, when humans are in their deepest sleep.

Fortunately, our battle is now over, but it was not easy. The bug poison from the hardware store was useless even though it mentioned bed bugs on the package. We called the local council pest controllers who told us that the store spray we had been using was only effective for a couple of hours. But then, their toxic chemical spray didn’t work either, so we had to call them back. They kicked us out for 3 hours and sprayed a fine poisonous mist all over the floor. There were still survivors, whose nests were sprayed with diatomaceous earth (use with caution, do not inhale, follow safety instructions). We were, I guess, lucky because the nesting sites on the wooden bed frame were visible. Some infestations are in the building itself, spreading from apartment to apartment, slipping through gaps in baseboards. If we hadn’t removed them, the city would have been empowered to break into our neighbors’ properties, confirming the New York Times suggestion that the social cost is rising, too.

I did not hesitate to allow the chemicals to be sprayed in my house, although I did ask what they were. They come from a company called Killgerm and are so powerful that they are only supplied to registered users. Fortunately, the recent report in the US Environmental Health magazine on the links between cancer and certain types of cleaning products found that the use of mothballs, pesticides and insect repellents in the home had little impact. So while I’m all for cheap, non-toxic ways of cleaning and stain removal, this is a classic case of what I’ve always believed: use non-toxic products on a day-to-day basis, but when necessary, REACH OUT CHEMICALS! And, in the case of bed bugs, immediately call in the experts with their powerful poisons.

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