Bedbugs were discovered last week on a Red Line train, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since Chicago topped Orkin’s list of Top 50 bedbug cities for the fourth consecutive year. But it still had a lot of commuters worried. If bedbugs can hop a ride on the Red Line, how much do we need to worry about our homes?
Morning Shift spoke with Orkin entomologist John Kane about how to prevent, identify and treat a bedbug infestation.
Q: What is a bedbug?
A: It primarily is a nest parasite. And for humans, our “nests” are our sleeping areas. So that’s usually a bed, but it could also be a comfortable sofa or a reclining chair — any place where people hold still or sleep for long periods of time.
They are blood feeders. The only thing they eat or drink is blood. And the females need that blood to lay eggs. So that sums them up more or less in a nutshell.
Q: According to a post on Reddit, a CTA-rider found bedbugs crawling on him while he was on the train, jumped off the train and found more on his body after he got home. So it seems like they can piggyback on you, not just while you’re sleeping?
A: In this particular case, it’s possible that perhaps a transient person may have been sitting in that seat sometime before, particularly if the bedbugs were out in the open. That’s rather unusual, so that sort of implies that they were dropped off briefly before he occupied that space, and then [were] able to attempt to hitchhike upon him.
That’s how bedbugs get around. They hide. They hitchhike their way to a new location, and they hope that will be a place where blood can be obtained.
Q: How long do they live?
A: It’ll die of old age between one and two years. The average adult bedbug can go four-to-six months without food before it runs out of energy reserves.
Q: If I’m checking into a hotel, should I just pull back the blankets and run my hand through the bedsheets a couple times?
A: What I do when I go to any hotel or when I go on vacation: when I get into a room I put my things down near the doorway or on the tiles of the bathroom, and then I’ll go in and pull up the dust skirt, check out the box spring, the headboard. So whether you use your flashlight app for your phone or whether you carry a small mini-flashlight like I do, you just want a nice bright light and look for the tell tale signs. Bedbugs leave behind little black spots. That’s excreted leftover blood, which is disgusting, I know, but there it is.
I recommend to your audience to self-educate a little bit. Whether you go to Orkin’s website, or you go to a public health website, or a college website like Purdue or Cornell — they have great information in multiple languages — you can get a visual search image of what to look for. And once you know what that spotting looks like, you should feel pretty comfortable when you go to a hotel if you don’t see that spotting anywhere. You should start to feel more at ease.
Q: If you’re lying in bed, can you feel them crawling on you or biting you?
A: Most people do not. And I’ll admit: I started getting into this industry back in 2004 — that was my own first bedbug case — and I remember as I eased into it and started learning the ropes, I spent nights feeling itchy and throwing the sheets back and turning the lights on. And what I’ll say is it’s so much easier for us to psych ourselves out. We can imagine ourselves into itchiness. And that is almost always going to be the case. You’re imagining it. Most people do not feel the bite.
Q: Say you do find yourself with an infestation. What do you do?
A: First off, don’t panic. I see far too many people do a knee-jerk reaction where they do something that’s dangerous to themselves or wasteful. Dangerous might be inappropriately using something that they half-remember hearing their uncle or aunt used. Wasteful is throwing things away.
So be calm, take some breaths. And then get educated. And then I do recommend that you get a professional involved. That might involve letting your landlord know first and then they get the professional involved, or you directly. Because it does take practice to find all the places bedbugs can hide.
Running your clothes and fabrics through a heater is a good step. Sometimes they do survive the wash cycle, but the drying cycle really does get them.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click on the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.