5 On Your Side

Family endures $5,000 bedbug battle

Posted November 15, 2010

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— Many places have bedbugs, including some hotels and homes in North Carolina. Still, most people don't think they could ever get bedbugs in their homes.

"I used to say to my son, ‘Sweet dreams, good night, don't let the bedbugs bite.’ I never meant it,” said one woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed. “I didn’t know they were real.”

Now, the woman and her family know that the creepy, crawly blood-sucking bugs are very real.

The woman doesn’t want her identity known because of the stigma, which is spreading about as fast as the bugs themselves.

"I don't want to walk down the street and have people think, ‘Oh she's the one with bedbugs. Stay away,’” she said.

But she wants everyone to realize how serious the problem is and what it's really like to endure a bedbug battle.

Her year-long battle began when she noticed what looked like a rash on her 8-year-old son's legs. She thought it was soccer-related until that night, when they were reading and she fell asleep in his bed.

“I felt this thing on my face, and it felt like a bug," she said. "I turned on the light and there was bugs walking across the pillow.” 

They were the same bugs she saw in a nice North Carolina hotel she had stayed in three months earlier.

“I'm freaking out, and I'm looking for them. They were in the corner, in the bunk bed, on the mattress, on the cover, on the side, the top bunk, the bottom bunk. They had set up shop,” she said.

Her son's sheets showed what she now knows as a tell-tale sign of bedbug bites: tiny blood stains.

The elusive, nocturnal bugs spread from his bedroom to hers, and she can't begin to count the sleepless nights.

“Every night, I would flash the lights on at 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning just to see if I could catch them,” she said. “Some nights, I just wanted to cry because, you know, where do you go?"

Family fights bedbugs Family fights bedbugs

Family, friends and neighbors kept their distance, fearing they would get the bugs. To keep that from happening, her family's daily routine, even just getting dressed, turned upside down.

"You put everything in the dryer that you are going to put on before you walk out of the house,” she said.

Extreme heat kills the bugs, so from bed linens to clothes, the machines churned almost all day, every day.

"Our dryer door fell off (because) we used it so much,” she said.

Three different companies treated the house. The chemicals required in her son’s room were so toxic that no one could go in for two months. Glue-filled bug collection coasters are still under the bed posts, and mattresses have special covers.

The battle was costly &ndash emotionally and financially. The woman says she has spent about $5,000 so far, but it appears the house is finally bedbug free.

"So now I say, ‘Night, night. Don't let the bedbugs bite,’ and we both just crack up, because we really mean it,” she said.

Tips to keep bed bugs away

North Carolina State University is home to one of the world’s largest bedbug banks.

“We probably have half a million to a million bedbugs in here, said Coby Schal, a professor of entomology at N.C. State.

The bank has everything from translucent baby bugs, smaller than the head of a pin, to flat, brown, quarter-inch-sized adults.

“I think sooner or later we'll all be touched in some way by bedbugs,” Schal said. “I think people need to know that the bedbug problem is real, is very severe and it’s not getting any better soon.”

Bedbugs have infested area schools, hotels, apartments and homes in all kinds of neighborhoods.

“Raleigh has a lot of bedbug infestations, the whole Triangle, the whole state of North Carolina,” Schal said. “Bedbugs feed on human blood, and they couldn't care less whether you are an upscale executive or whether you live in low-income housing. Blood is blood to them.”

The best protection is taking the risks seriously, especially when traveling, he said. That starts with the moment they walk in the room.

"What most people do is choose the bed they're going to sleep on and throw their suitcase on the other bed. Don’t do this!" Schal said.

Bedbug Tips to avoid bedbugs

Instead, he said, people should put their suitcases on the valet, away from the bed and walls. Then, they should strip the bed and check the seams of the mattress, box spring and pillows and look for bugs, fecal pellets or smears. Ideally, he said, they should use a pocket flashlight, and check the headboard.

"Bedbugs love to be behind the headboard, because the cleaning services disturb the bed all of the time, so they move to the headboard,” Schal said.

Even if the room looks clear, he said, people shouldn’t unpack their suitcases. If someone happens to bring bedbugs home, Schal says they should hire a professional exterminator.

6 Comments

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  • jeff27577 Nov 19, 2010

    5K$ for treatments? chemicals so toxic that she could not go in the room for 2 months? boy was she lied to. and yes, the company i work for has recently purchased the heat treatment equipment so we will start doing it very soon. we also treat chemically, this is done in a safe manner, to both the technician AND the home owner

  • HapiApiGirl Nov 18, 2010

    People...take these warnings seriously (no matter when you hear the news!!!)....when I first heard of Bed Bugs early in the summer I thought...this could never happen to us...but guess what it did...I do think WRAL could have done a better report on this matter..they didn't mention the most effective treatment out there...Thermal Remediation...maybe because none of the local exterminators have the expensive equipment. We went through this process as it is much faster than chemicals...it too is expensive, but trust me, when you have these bugs in your home...you can't get rid of them quick enough! Here's to 3 weeks of bed bug freedom!! If you get them, seek out a company that uses the Thermal Remediation...it took 2 days of treatment verses 5 weeks of treatment. Also the use of a dog who can sniff for any stage of Bed Bug should be part of the treatment process...but that wasn't mentioned either.

  • ecruz16 Nov 18, 2010

    Why is every story linked to illegals? Really? Illegals have become the scapegoat for every problem in the US.

  • RMC10 Nov 16, 2010

    P.s. cynlyn bedbugs don't check out citizenship papers - they love to travel with them or without. And bed bugs and lice in most countries are a nuisance not a health problem - but I want those 2 insects to find some good chemicals and be gone. There are also products called bed bug zip bags that you can encase your luggage in at hotels. And bed bug zip mattress covers that you can use at hotels also. As the story said, never put your suitcases on the bed or clothing into the drawers. Keep your bags encased in the plastic closure bags, throw them out at the hotel before you leave. We always leave all our luggage outside, go thru the clothing outside, and spray bug spray on the suitcases before we put them away. Please bring back DDT - for bedbugs and Qwell shampoo for headlice - both these are a real problem in our country and State- thanks to global travel!

  • cynlyn Nov 16, 2010

    I have read many opinions of how bed bugs were spread into the US. I often hear people saying it is from illegals bringing them over. I am not sure how they got here but one thing I have become aware of is that for a certain part of the hispanic population they are not considered a problem. I have observed extreme infestations in several Brentwood West apartments. When talking to the tenants they compare them to roaches and treat the infestation as such. The apartment complex is aware but does nothing to fix it. I am all for personal responsibility but without something being done these bugs will spread into our schools. You may have a bug free house but the kid sitting next to yours has them crawling in their backpack. At what point does Raleigh require rental properties to take responsibility for sub-par living conditions which threaten us all.

  • tonyaheath2003 Nov 15, 2010

    Very informational and I'll certainly take those tips seriously. But, really....did we HAVE to hear about this at lunch and supper times? WRAL effectively ruined my appetites today.