My name is Caryn and I suffered bedbugs twice in my life, in 2004 and 2007. I chronicled my 2004 experience on a blog, and I have information below contrasting my two experiences.
I am pleased that bedbugs have gotten all of the media attention that they have in the last several years. I'm happy to help offered advice to a lot of suffering people. That means a great deal to me.
I did eventually move away from that apartment and haven't since experienced bedbugs. But I'm still on alert. They have been reports of bedbugs in my current area, still in NYC.
I now maintain both this site that you're reading now, which is an adaptation of my original 2004 diary posts of my bedbug experience, and How to Kill Bedbugs, a reference site with information for bedbug sufferers.
In 2011, I appeared briefly in a television episode called The Invaders: Bed Bug Doomsday, a show on the National Geographic Wild channel. You can see me at 1:28 in this clip.
- Caryn, July 2011
Bed Bugs: 2004 vs 2007
Diagnosing Bed Bug Bites
2004: I thought I had a rash. Maybe an allergy? I went to the doctor who gave me steroids. The steroids made the bites I had feel better, but I kept getting new ones. The doctor suspected insect bites on the second visit, but never mentioned bed bugs. I eventually got notification from my building that there were bed bugs here; without that notice, I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to figure out what was wrong.
2007: Over the past three years, I've had a few bug bites. But nothing that was like a bedbug bite. Saturday morning I got a big one. I recognized it immediately: irregularly shaped, itchy like a mosquito bite but worse. I took a picture. I got a few more on Sunday night, and I felt nearly certain I had bed bugs again.
Tip from Caryn:++ My anti-itch relief of choice is hydrocortisone cream. I keep it handy and apply it as soon as I start itching.
Diagnosing Bed Bugs
2004: I got a letter from my building saying that bed bugs have been found here. That explained the strange symptoms I'd been experiencing for several weeks already. I didn't see my first actual bed bug many more weeks later.
2007: Sunday night, 36 hours after my first bed bug bites, I caught a bug. I knew what I had. I saved it and put it in a plastic bag to show the exterminator if he or she asks for it.
Tip from Caryn: If you think you have bed bugs, look for irregularly-shaped bites to appear only on the parts of your body that are exposed while you sleep or sit. Save a bug carcass in case your exterminator or landlord wants to see it.
Securing an Appointment With an Exterminator
2004: My first inquiry with the building superintendent about an appointment with an exterminator was on June 3, 2004. I didn't get through to make an appointment until July 22, which took roommates and networking with neighbors, and the exterminator arrived on July 29, 2004.
2007: I made my first call on Monday, February 19, 2007, President's Day. The office was closed that day. I called again on Tuesday, February 20, 2007, and left a message with a secretary. An exterminator called later in the day, and asked whether I wanted someone to come by on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. (I chose Saturday.)
Tip from Caryn: I was lazy the first time and put off making phone calls. All that time, the infestation just got worse. If you are a procrastinator, do try to overcome it for this. It'll all be over faster if you act quickly.
Preparation for Extermination
2004: Empty all of the closets, dressers and drawers. Bag all belongings. Wash all clothing, bed linens, and window treatments in hot water. Strip all of the beds down to the mattress. Cry, cry, cry.
2007: Empty all of the closets, dressers and drawers. Bag all belongings. Wash all clothing, bed linens, and window treatments in hot water. Strip all of the beds down to the mattress. Cry.
Tip from Caryn: I really didn't want to hear that I'd have to do all this for what I estimate to be a small infestation, but the exterminator is right. By doing all of it and being thorough the first time, we'll have more chance of success. Follow your exterminator's advice to the best of your ability.
Tip from Caryn: Some people are big advocates of throwing away your possibly infested possessions. I do agree that stuff that definitely has bed bugs inside it should probably be thrown away. (I threw away a chair that I reupholstered myself in 2004.) But I think furniture can be saved. I didn't throw away my mattress in 2004, and have slept on it for 2.5 years without bed bug bites—and I still haven't. In 2007, I have only been bitten while sitting on my couch. Ask your exterminator whether your furniture can be kept or whether they think you need to get rid of it, especially if you can't afford to replace an essential.
Second and Third Exterminations
2004: From the little information I could find about bed bugs on the Internet at the time, I learned that it was probably going to take more than one extermination. But I couldn't find a single story of someone who had successfully beaten bed bugs and how they did it. (Which was largely my inspiration for documenting my own story.) So I could only guess. I was given a hard time about getting them to come second and third times. They needed to see proof that I still had bed bugs.
2007: In my first conversation with the exterminator, he explained that they would be sending someone three times: a thorough first extermination, a lighter follow-up one week later, and then a final extermination along the baseboards three weeks after the second visit.
Tip from Caryn: I strongly recommend getting an exterminator instead of trying to fight bed bugs yourself.
Paying for the Exterminator
2004: The first notice we got from the building said that apartment owners would be responsible for the cost of exterminations. This seemed ridiculous to me, even though I don't own my apartment. A few weeks later, the building management took responsibility, and I passed my receipts to them.
2007: In my initial phone call with the exterminator, I asked whether the building would be paying for these treatments. He said yes, it's all being taken care of.
Caryn's Photographic Technology
2004: Webcam. Only took a few pictures on one day because I wanted my mother, who lives hundreds of miles away, to see what I was taking myself to the doctor for.
2007: Digital camera, my second one. Posted photos with a Flickr pro account. Took pics of the first bites I suspected to be bedbugs. Figuring I was being paranoid, I thought about blogging the photo with the title "Worrisome."
For those who are disheartened that bed bug sufferers aren't being listened to, I hope this illustrates that progress is being made. In my experience, building owners are being more responsive and take bed bugs more seriously. The pest control professionals have come a long way in their systemization of treating bed bugs. And when we're all more educated, bed bug problems can be more quickly diagnosed and thoroughly treated.
I have a lot of hope that my problem will be dealt with as efficiently as can ever be expected from a bed bug problem. Certainly, I anticipate a lot less emotional and psychological upheaval, which is a combination of my own personal growth in the last few years as well as the kinds of improvements you can see here.
I know there is a lot of advice out there about bed bugs now. As an apartment renter, I strongly recommend that if you get bed bugs, call professional exterminators to help you get rid of the problem instead of tackling it yourself. Your landlord or building management should foot the bill, and the exterminators know more about this than we do. If you are a homeowner, I realize that the expense may be prohibitive, and I don't fault you for exploring other options. But I still think a professional can do a better job than someone toiling on his or her own.
++Disclaimer: All Tips from Caryn are my amateur opinion. I am not a pest control expert. I am just a woman in New York who has had bed bugs and successfully got rid of them. I realize my advice may be dubious considering I am experiencing a re-infestation, so take it all with a grain of salt.
*Pictures of Bed Bug Bites
*Pictures of Bed Bug Bites