Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite

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Downtown Winnipeg is facing an infestation of bedbugs that is more widespread than is being reported. That's because the social stigma and the potential economic damage these vile creatures inflict is so horrific that many infestations are dealt with as quietly as possible.

But bedbug infestations are real and spreading to the suburbs.

I was one of those who had always associated bedbugs with the cooties that kids who came to school with dirty clothes and unwashed faces seemed to get. Bedbugs were so far removed from my own experience that they were the last thing I thought of when I first started waking up in the middle of the night itching. I was so ignorant that I thought I could get rid of whatever was causing this problem myself by picking up a case of RAID and going guerrilla. (Note to self: Bug spray seems to make bedbugs more agitated and horny.)

Bedbugs hide very well and I could not find (or determine) the source of my itching. By the time I was waking up in the morning covered in bites from neck to toe, the nasty critters had established a firm stronghold in my apartment. Because of that, it took a lot more work and suffering than it should have to get rid of them.

Finally, during one 3 a.m. uprising, I managed to spot a small, round, reddish-brown insect scurrying off the corner of my bedspread. I still had no clue this was a bedbug, but I patiently waited for another to appear, trapped it in a jar and took it to where I could get some answers with no foolin' around.

You would not believe how thoroughly shocked (and appalled) I was when the exterminator told me that it was (shudder) a bed bug!.

Returning to my apartment, embarrassed and ashamed as all get out, my landlord and I did a hard-target search. And when we started turning over mattresses and couch cushions and opening baseboards, I got sick to my stomach.

Creepy, crawling live bugs, swarming amid piles of their own shell casings -- a scene out of Indiana Jones. In the bedrooms, the living room, even the bathroom and kitchen.

I had to throw out two sets of bedding, a lot of my favourite clothes, two couches, a hide-a-bed, a mattress and box spring and boxes of stuff I had treasured in my storage room. Bag up all my clothes and wash and dry every garment under high temperatures Then move every piece of furniture at least two feet away from any wall, leaving nothing on top of any surface, and vacate the premises for a day while it was sprayed.

Then you must neurotically vacuum every nook and cranny of your living space every day and hope you are removing any eggs and survivors, especially the ones flushed from their hiding places who are crawling over the poisons spread over every surface in your home, which you are not allowed to wipe or dust for two to three weeks so that this residual kill can take place.

The biggest problem was that my ignorance and naivete had allowed the infestation to take hold in many more hiding places than it should have.

We would knock out some every time we sprayed, but we missed some and they would eventually produce a horde of mean little bloodsuckers whose homes would have to be found with another round of spraying.

By then, I was waking up in the middle of the night, scratching these massive boils, flipping on the light and turning over the pillow to find the bottom covered with the ugliest, blood-gorged creatures Hollywood could ever imagine. They explode spewing red crimson every which way when you squeeze them to prevent your blood from becoming meal and fertilizer for another batch.

You do not have to endure anywhere near the nightmare I did.

But you have to recognize the problem and get on it right away.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2009 A11

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