Don't let the bedbugs bite — or end their reign of terror 

The Itch Factor

The Itch Factor

It's 3 a.m. and I'm wide awake, squirming uncomfortably in my twisted sheets. Each time I shut my eyes, I get torturous visuals of what just might be residing within the stuffing and coils of my mattress. My legs begin to itch and my eyes fly open. Quickly, I hop out of bed and rush to the bathroom to inspect the bite marks that I just know I'll find on my calves. Yet when I turn on the light, there's zero evidence of insect feasting. This, my friends, is what too many episodes of Hoarders will do to you.

Truth is, I'm completely obsessed with bedbugs.

How can I not be? Bedbugs are the new Swine Flu, and they're all anybody's talking about. Not only have they invaded homes, apartments, hotels, offices, movie theaters and stores, but stories about them have infested newspapers, television, the Internet and my subconscious. Bedbugs! They're everywhere! Although ... I've yet to actually see one.

Not that it matters. It's enough for me to hear the stories of wholesome, clean(ish) families who've resorted to leaving their homes and belongings behind forever because of bedbug infestations that got out of hand. Or to gaze at television video of streets in Brooklyn, lined with mattresses from infested apartments. Or to stare at photos on Flickr of strangers' arms and legs, disgustingly peppered with bedbug bites.

"I talked to an exterminator who specializes in bedbugs here in Nashville," my husband told me the other day. "They normally get three bedbug calls a month. But lately, they've been getting three calls a day."

I clutch my throat and stifle a scream.

There's only one thing to do to alleviate my suffering and sleepless nights — pass it on to someone else. I call my friend, Carol, a self-described germaphobe from way back. I bonded with Carol last year after she confided that she wets down her children's heads with hair spray each morning before school because she heard it wards off lice. Now that's devotion.

I consider telling her that I heard her son's teacher has bedbugs and is trying to keep the news quiet just to hear Carol squeal, but in the end I decide that might be going a bit too far.

"I've been thinking a lot about bedbugs lately," I say instead. That's all she needs to hear.

"It's such a coincidence that you called," she gasps. "Why, just yesterday, I went and bought a new mattress cover at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I spent $89 on it! Eighty-nine dollars! Specifically because it said it protects against bedbugs! Of course, I'm sure when I bought it, they probably thought I had some sort of problem." Her voice trails off in a shudder.

"Oh no," I tell her consolingly. "People can tell you are very clean."

"Well, I also picked up some new pillows by the same brand," she continues, pleased. "I was so glad to see that they came in zippered bags with a seal so that you couldn't unzip the package without somebody knowing it! I thought, 'Good. People have not been trying to put their head down on this pillow in this store, and they also could not open it up and put their germy hands on it!' So anyway, now my bed is protected! Bedbugs should not! Get! In it!"

See? Carol's a pro. She goes on to tell me that when her husband travels, she makes him leave his possibly bedbug-infested suitcase in the garage. Then she washes the clothes in hot water and returns them to his suitcase for his next trip. Smart cookie. As we chat eagerly about bedbug horror stories, she fetches her mattress cover packaging and proceeds to read it to me.

"Bedbugs typically lay five eggs a day and infestations are very difficult to contain," she reads, her voice quivering with revulsion. "Bedbugs can live for up to a year off of one bite of a human!" She pauses, as if summoning strength from above to continue. "Infestations may take up to three months to notice. Oh my goodness, I may have bedbugs now and not even know it!"

"Well, I think you would have noticed when you put on the mattress cover," I tell her.

"Well, that's true, but you know what? I haven't even vacuumed today!" Suddenly, Carol seems to want to get off the phone.

I smile to myself as we quickly say goodbye. My work here is done. As fast as bedbugs are multiplying their way across the country, it's safe to say that fear of bedbugs is spreading a hell of a lot faster, thanks in part to concerned citizens like me.

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