|Don’t Let the Bedbugs In|
|Written by Jen Karetnick -- BT Contributer|
A trip to Las Vegas results in unwanted houseguests back in the Shores
If you live on South Beach, chances are you don’t look forward to spring break, when the neighborhood is invaded by booze-swilling students. If you’re a single, working adult elsewhere in Miami, you probably don’t even know when spring break is. But if you’re a kid, parent, or teacher -- which covers a whole bunch of us in the Shores -- you count down the days in March or April until it begins.
For families, spring break is one of the few opportunities you have to travel together, whether it’s to visit other relatives or just relax in a different locale. But as we discovered this year after a week in Las Vegas, coming back can have consequences: Cranky kids with jet lag. Low motivation to return to work. And sometimes something will hitch a ride home with you, and you may not notice until it’s too late.
We had booked a great deal at the Palms Casino Resort, a lovely, newly remodeled tower located off the Strip, away from all the madness (but only a convenient five-minute shuttle ride away).
We also got a fantastic bargain on bedbugs.
I first noticed the large welts on our limbs during the second day of our visit and, having had no previous experience with the pests, dismissed them as mosquito bites. Then they began appearing on my hands and feet, as well as the back of my neck. An exterminator we called after we got home looked at the scabby bites on my feet, which were a couple of weeks old by then. “Oh yeah,” he nodded. “Those are from bedbugs.”
Because the minuscule pests bite you when you’re sleeping, they go for the exposed areas. They reside in beds for that strategic reason, and because prolonged exposure to heat and light kills them. They don’t live on oxygen, but on carbon dioxide -- what you breathe out when you’re sleeping.
Once I got used to the idea that we had been a bedbug buffet, none of this information bothered me particularly (though I can’t say the same for my kids). Bedbugs have a nasty reputation, like lice and fleas, and they’re hard to kill. But we’ve survived explosions of both those other pests, and at least bedbugs don’t carry diseases. Nor do they imply filth; some of the nicest, cleanest places have had bedbugs.
What I was truly concerned about was the fact we had probably brought them back to Miami Shores with us in our luggage, or even on the clothing we were wearing. If you’ve ever spent any time in a New York taxi cab, you know that bedbugs, especially during the colder months, like to catch a free ride from hotel to hotel on their human transport systems. Occasionally, they fall off into the seats and make their homes there, feeding on unsuspecting passengers.
Fortunately many exterminating companies in the Miami Shores area are well acquainted with bedbugs, in addition to the usual roaches -- excuse me, “palmetto bugs” -- termites (yeah, its swarming season), mice, and rats. One of them, Elimanex (www.elimanex.net), also specializes in “bird abatement” and “feral pig” control. This is important to remember, in case the chickens that scratch around in the McDonald’s parking lot begin to breed too freely, or all those feral pigs in Miami Shores begin to cheat you out of your mangos.
Or perhaps you could bring in the chickens to consume the bedbugs. While we haven’t had an inundation of bedbugs the way a city like New York has, the past three years have brought record reports of them, according to BedBugs.net and other bedbug registry sites. (Yes, there are such things.)
This is how seriously people take their bedbugs, and well they should. Our exterminator was encouraging. He examined the seams of our mattresses and found absolutely no evidence we had been invaded. Yet. He said it could take a few months to develop; in the meantime, we could squash an incipient infestation. Wrapping mattresses in plastic encasements suffocates the bugs by depriving them of carbon dioxide.
(And for the first time in a while, I got lucky: Groupon had bedbug mattress encasements on sale in the Miami Shores area. What would have cost me $160 for a king-size wrap only set me back $29.99.)
In fact, the exterminator told me, the mattresses in his home are all encased, even though he never has had the bugs himself. That’s how rampant these things are. He doesn’t want to take the chance of inspecting a house that has them and bringing them home. And I’ve since read horror stories online of folks who have them so bad they can’t even take their furniture with them when they move out.
If you suspect you have bedbugs -- for instance, if you go to bed unmarked and wake up with itchy hives -- you should probably get your home inspected. And if you had a staycation for spring break, don’t be too smug, either. Despite our heat and humidity, which the bugs don’t like, Miami hotels are as susceptible as those anywhere else, and already there have been reports from 2013 citing bedbugs in our area lodgings.
Apart from checking your mattress (look along the seams for tiny, black dots and on the sheets for smears of blood) and calling in professional help, if you believe that you picked up the bugs somewhere, get in touch with the hotel after you’re sure of exposure.
I spent the weekend following my Vegas trip in New York, at the ultra-cool Benjamin Hotel. Afraid I had unknowingly brought bedbugs with me, I later gave them a call. With speed and grace, the general manager brought in inspectors and faxed me the all-clear report. (Meanwhile, the Palms Casino Resort has yet to return a message, and I’ve found other reports online about bugs in that particular place.)
I’ve learned three things from this experience. None of us is immune, no matter how clean your house is (and mine isn’t all that clean, for the record). Prevention is the best policy; always check the mattress seams in a hotel room, especially near the headboard, before bedding down.
And when you come home from a trip, unpack and throw all your belongings immediately into the dryer (even the luggage, if you can), where the heat kills just about anything. With these guidelines, Miami Shores can remain bedbug-free -- that is, if we haven’t infested it already.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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