Glad I Surrendered My Arm to Bed Bugs

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February 6, 2019

As great as it is to speak with PCT’s readers over the phone, there’s no substitute for face-to-face visits. I’ve been fortunate to have had a ride-along with a technician in Cleveland; shadow a technician on NYC subways and commercial accounts; and I even spent an entire day learning how to set mole traps and observing the art of trap placement.

I’ve also had opportunities to visit research labs and these too have been great learning experiences. When I saw that Purdue University would be holding entomology lab tours as part of January’s annual conference, I jumped at the chance. In the course of one hour my group learned about the latest work being done in Purdue research labs led by Grzesiek Buczkowski, Ameya Gondhalekar, Gwen Pearson and Mike Scharf. My tour group was a fantastic mix of PCOs, manufacturers and researchers, including: Tom and Dave Mueller (Insects Limited); Dr. Dini Miller (Virginia Tech University); Tom Myers (All-Rite Pest Control); Ed Freytag (New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board); and Matt and Chad Hamblin (Smart Pest Solutions).

As part of our visit to Gondhalekar’s lab, he offered us the opportunity to let bed bugs feed on our arms. Why not, I thought to myself, as I extended my arm. Here are a few observations from that exercise.

Top photo: @Tom Myers Photo
The author getting bitten (above) and his arm one week later.

I didn’t feel myself get bitten. I’ve seen pictures of people with multiple bed bug bites down their entire legs, arms, backs, or in multiple locations. I’ve always thought to myself, why don’t people “up and move” once they realize they are getting bitten. Now I know. While people react differently to bites, in my case I really did not feel my skin being pierced.

Would I react? The obvious questions I had were “Would I react, and if so, how badly would I react?” As someone who is highly allergic to bee stings, I thought there was a pretty good chance I would react. To my surprise, I woke up the next morning and nothing; six days later and still no reaction. I thought I was in the clear. Exactly one week later my arm started itching. I looked down and, sure enough, I saw little red welts. I shared this news on social media and also with my Purdue tour group. Tom Myers emailed our group back with a great observation about the length of time it took me to react. “If you had stayed in a hotel the day before the reaction occurred, you would have blamed that hotel, even though the bites happened days earlier at a different location.”

I feel your pain. On a list of bumps and scrapes I’ve endured in my life, bed bug bites rank low; however, they definitely are a nuisance. It takes a lot of discipline (and hydrocortisone) not to itch and open up those welts. I certainly could see how infections occur, and I have greater empathy for anyone bitten by bed bugs. On the subject of empathy, I heard back from Matt Hamblin, owner of Smart Pest Solutions in Arizona. He praised me for having gone through a bed bug bite experience, and he said he was considering having all of his technicians do the same “to truly understand the feeling it gives our people. Compassion and understanding. Can’t have enough of it,” he said.

I’m glad I allowed my arm to be bitten by bed bugs; now I really hope I never bring them home. Up next on my list of field experiences is a standing invitation I have to inspect for termites in a crawlspace. I am waiting to get in better shape and overcome my fear of closed spaces before that happens; in other words, don’t look for that column any time soon!

The author is Internet editor/managing editor of PCT.