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Bed Bugs | The Night Issue


The Uninvited Bedfellows

Laura Zimmerman Contributing Writer

by Laura Zimmerman
Published November 2013 | The Night Issue

Abandoned mattresses and furniture on the sidewalk serve as a backdrop to San Francisco in most neighborhoods, so common they become almost invisible. Was there a blowout fight between fiancés causing belongings to go flying? Did someone get a new bed from Ikea and carelessly drop their 2008 model to the curb? Or is it the more likely option of insanity induced from the curse of bedbugs that caused someone to abandon their safest haven? Pack millions of people together in one place, and while culture and convenience will thrive, so will the creatures that prey on humans.

Bedbugs — or, as they are better known throughout the scientific community, Cimex Lectularius — have plagued people for presumably as long as humans have been sleeping. They showed up in Egyptian artifacts dated some 3,500 years ago and also in Greek and Roman writings according to the National Bed Bug Association (aka NBBA). In Bill Bryson’s book At Home, he tells of how due to the prevalence of bedbugs in the early 1800’s “manufacturers often advertised how quickly and easily their beds could be dismantled for annual maintenance.” He also wrote that the fashion of brass beds was not due to their aesthetic, but mainly because they didn’t harbor any spots where bedbugs could live.

Around the 1950s, however, bedbugs were almost completely eradicated, according to the NBBA: “American entomologists were hard-pressed to find a live bedbug for their laboratory work.” How is it then that this pest was almost complete extinct, only to be making such a vengeful comeback of late? As with any problem with multiple variables, the research is inconclusive, but there are a few factors that can be pointed to. The NBBA credits the widespread use of DDT in the 1950’s to the mass bedbug extermination — because as the use of the pesticides went down, the number of bedbug cases went up. Also, around the same time bedbugs started showing their red round bodies again, international travel was becoming increasingly more popular. Not to mention that these nocturnal blood-suckers have been co-evolving with us since we were probably cavemen. The NBBA has stated that over the past five years, bedbugs have increased by 5,000%, meaning that if you haven’t encountered one yet, you should be on the lookout.

So what does that mean for us city-dwellers? Bedbugs are fairly harmless in reality. They aren’t known to carry any diseases, and their bites, while irritating, are not in the slightest life-threatening. However, the idea of an army of miniature vampires preying on your life source while you peacefully dream can have an effect on a person’s psyche. Not to mention once they have set up residence with you, it’s no small task to remove them. The San Francisco bedbug registry notes that there have been 446 reported infestations to date since 2006 — keep in mind that these are mostly public places like hotels, and to be fair are mostly.

Links:  | National Bed Bug Association Site has educational information on how to get rid of the pesky lil' buggers. | Traveling a lot? Check if your hotel or more likely motel has bed bugs in this handy registry. You can also contribute to the list!

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