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How to deal with Bed Bugs
Bed Bugs - no laughing matter!
A few days after moving into my new rented apartment, I discovered I had company. Two weeks ago, I knew nothing about bed bugs; now I know more than I ever wanted to. This is my bed bug story. I sincerely hope it never becomes yours, but if you read on, at least you'll be prepared for the worst.
When I moved in, the apartment was clean. The bed and bedding were new. Nothing seemed out of order. There were a few mosquitoes and the very occasional small beetle or weevil would make an appearance, but nothing nasty. Here in Doha, Qatar, you learn to be on the lookout for cockroaches, but this flat seemed clear. I was more concerned with unpacking and settling in. I gave the rooms a quick spray with Pif Paf to get rid of the mosquitoes, made up the bed and retired for the night.
That first night, I slept perfectly comfortably. Next morning, I got up, showered, dressed and set off to work as usual. Suddenly, around lunchtime, I became aware of an itching in the small of my back. It got so bad that I took myself off to the bathroom to investigate, and found that a cluster of ugly red raised weals had appeared. The clustering, appearance and itching made me think I had somehow picked up a flea, maybe in the taxi to work. I examined my clothes carefully but found nothing. Because, of course, there was nothing to find. I did not then know that bed bug bites are completely painless at the time, but flare up typically 12 to 24 hours later.
The next day, exactly the same thing happened, except this time the weals appeared on my left buttock - you really wanted to know that, I'm sure. I was at a loss to explain it, as I had completely changed all my clothes from the day before. But for the first time I began to wonder if the new apartment was harbouring something unpleasant.
The problem was that I had no idea what I was dealing with. I was searching in vain for fleas in the sofas and wardrobes, while the real culprits were partying in the bedroom. Then, on about the fourth day, I was researching biting insects on the internet and came across an article on bed bugs. The more I read, the more I came to realise this was my hidden enemy. I didn't want to believe it, but had to face up to it. This was war, and I would win!
Had this happened to me in the UK, I'd simply have called in a specialist pest control firm. But in Qatar I learned long ago that when you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself. That's how it is here.
Meet the Enemy
Know your Enemy
An adult bed bug looks not unlike a lentil, round, brownish and flat. The picture shows one of mine, posing with my watch. Being flat, they can hide in the smallest of cracks, behind wallpaper, in the joints of the bed frame, or, their favourite, in the buttons and seams of the mattress. They don't jump or fly, but they can move pretty fast. They come out of hiding at night, help themselves to a blood meal while you're asleep, then go back to their lairs to digest it. They are very hard to get rid of, partly because they hide so well, but also because they can live up to a year between meals.
There are a few common myths surrounding bed bugs:
- They are too small to see - not true - see picture. But they hide very well.
- They only like dirty people - not true - they like everyone, even me and I'm very clean! However it is true that some people have almost no reaction to the bites and may be unaware of an infestation, at least in the early stages.
- They only like dirty houses - not true - they like business hotels too, and are more than happy to come home with you in your baggage.
Let Battle Commence
The first step was to carry out a thorough search of the premises. This time, knowing what I was looking for, it didn't take me long to find small blood spots (mine, dammit!) under the seam at the bottom of the mattress. Raising the seam inch by inch round the mattress, I was soon rewarded by my first live sighting. You can bet your life he didn't live long! But then a second, and a third, and out of the corner of my eye, wasn't that something scuttling across the headboard...
I'm not squeamish about bugs, but not sentimental either. If they wanted my mattress, they were welcome to it, but not in my house. What I did next was very wrong. You are supposed to wrap and seal an infested mattress in plastic before disposing of it in an approved manner. But this is Doha where nothing is done properly. Single handed, I heaved the king-size monster onto its edge, dragged it to the door, down two flights of steps (the turns were the most fun!), across the street, and propped it up against the Corporation skip. In Doha, there is no house refuse collection. There are public skips on the corner of every block - and God, don't they stink in Summer - that are emptied once or twice a week. Most of them are home to a family of stray cats. I suppose I could have predicted what would happen next. Within half an hour, someone had stolen it. Oops!
With the mattress out of the way, I sprayed all the bedding, bagged it up and delivered it to a local steam laundry, then set about on a deep clean of the whole flat, spraying anything dubious and paying special attention to curtains, corners, cracks and edges. Being a hot country, there are no fitted carpets and the tiled floor makes it easier to clean and to spot runaways.
After the flat was scrubbed to my standards, I got the landlord to call in Pest Control to finish the job off. They were, of course, a cowboy outfit - Car Rental and Pest Control Services - the name says it all. But they do have access to industrial chemicals considerably more potent than Pif Paf spray. I let them do their worst, then took myself to a hotel for the next two nights to let the air become breathable again.
A week later, it's too early to say that I've completely got rid of the problem, but so far I've had no more bites, and my very regular inspections are turning up nothing untoward. Let's hope my war is over.
Postscript: My war is indeed over. Six months have passed and I've had no recurrence of the problem. So, though my elimination technique might have been unorthodox, at least it was effective. Sometimes I wonder about the poor guy who stole my mattress, but hey, we all know crime doesn't pay...