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bedbug infestation opens new yorker's eyes

by fredricka r. maister

i have a secret. i am a new yorker whose home has been infested with bedbugs. i have not actually seen the blood-sucking critters, but i have a collection of their bites on my arms and legs and the itching that keeps me awake at night.

my bedbug saga began a few weeks ago at work, when i became aware of red welts on my arms and a line of bites on my ankle.

"would you look at these bites?" i said to my colleagues as i grabbed a band-aid to cover the bloody bite i had inadvertently scratched.

i assumed my welts were allergic reactions to mosquitoes until i showed them to a nurse friend a few days later.

"those look like bedbug bites," she said. "check it out on the internet."

it took me a day to muster the courage to go online to confirm her suspicions. once i saw the pictures of bedbug bites-my ankle bites even conformed to the configuration typical of bedbugs-and read the personal accounts of human bedbug suffering, i knew i was in trouble. but where could i, an obsessive-compulsive when it comes to cleanliness, have been exposed to bedbugs?

i hadn't shopped at abercrombie or hollister, which had recently closed their doors due to bedbug infestations. had a bedbug taken up residence on my clothing at work? were bedbugs in the walls of my apartment building?

i have since learned-i now know more about bedbug culture than i ever cared to-that you could brush up against someone in the subway, bring a bedbug home and in no time have an infestation.

when i found more bite marks, i slept in jeans and long sleeves in the 90-degree heat. even with the air-conditioner turned at full blast, i found myself sweating profusely. who could sleep!

in panic mode, i informed the management office of my upscale building. the day after i alerted them, two inspectors came to my apartment. their visual inspection did not detect any bedbugs. then they brought in the bedbug-sniffing beagle that gravitated to an electrical outlet near my bed.

with that "unconfirmed alert," another professional exterminated that area. in two weeks the bedbug team would inspect again. when the beagle and his handlers reinspected, they found a few bloodied bugs embedded in the seam of the box spring. i was told to discard the box spring and mattress.

my apartment has now been fully exterminated. i am living among heaps of plastic bags filled with the contents of my closets, each item steamed or run through the dryer at the highest setting to eradicate any bedbugs. i am sleeping on an air mattress until the return of the beagle to confirm that my apartment is bedbug-free.

only then will i buy a new mattress-encased in protective covers, of course.

i am encouraged by new york city's recently announced offensive campaign to deal with the increasing bedbug menace. the creation of an online portal to provide information on how to prevent and treat infestations as well as a task force headed by a "bedbug czar" are welcome initiatives in confronting what is fast becoming an epidemic/pandemic.

we citizens must also do our part. we need to emerge from our denial and recognize that we are all vulnerable: bedbugs are equal opportunity invaders.

we can take practical steps, such as checking our mattresses and box springs, immediately alerting the owners of our residences and workplaces if we suspect the presence of bedbugs, properly covering or discarding mattresses (i've seen far too many unwrapped mattresses on the street lately), etc.

dermatologists should be more adept at diagnosing insect bites. a dermatologist told me, "i really don't think those are bedbug bites"; a friend's dermatologist biopsied her bedbug bite.

moreover, we need to get beyond the stigma and secrecy surrounding bedbugs by "bringing them out of the mattress" and into the public's awareness. to that end, i am adding my address to the bedbug registry and publicly admitting, "i've got bedbugs."


fredricka r. maister is a manhattan-based freelance writer. she can be reached at

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