Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bed Bugs In Books: How to Find Them and Why You Shouldn't Give Up Reading Just Yet

"Don't let the bed bugs bite!"

We've all heard this phrase at one time or another, but I honestly didn't even know bed bugs were a real thing until a few years ago when I was informed to check the bed bug registry before renting an apartment.  Luckily we've never had bed bugs, but I know many people who have, and it makes their lives a living hell for a period of time.  If you've been keeping up with the news in the Vancouver area lately, you'll probably have heard that several libraries have temporarily closed due to bed bug infestations because apparently bed bugs don't just like to sleep around, they love to read too! 

This couldn't have come at a more horrible time for us, since Aias only just recently took an interest in books (2 weeks ago) and we've been scouring everywhere looking for used ones.  The idea of having to spend $10-$20 per book for Aias is not only stressful, but we literally don't have that kind of money.  The idea of not being able to trust library or used books is pretty depressing to us.  Even more depressing, in the last few days I've heard more than one parent say they are going to STOP buying books for their kids or throw away the ones they already have (the horror!) in an effort to avoid bed bug infestation.   Instead of freaking out and writing off books entirely, I've decided to do some research on bed bugs and books, because  it  never hurts to learn more and we all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I called BC Bug Pest and Wildlife Control and spoke to the brilliant and helpful Denise, who was happy to give me some information on books and bed bugs.  Thanks to her help and a little careful Googling, I present to you:

A Few Things You Need to Know About Bed Bugs

- Bed bugs are visible.  Many people think they are invisible but this simply isn't true.  At their smallest they are the size of a pinhead and are, in fact, somewhat translucent, but they are absolutely visible to the naked eye.  As adults they are appleseed sized, flat, oval, and if they've eaten recently they are quite dark.

It's not that bedbugs are necessarily hard to see, it's that they can be hard to find because well, they don't want to be found.

- Heat and Cold can both kill bed bugs.  Bed bugs die at 115° F / 46° C if left exposed for 7 minutes. Bed bugs will also die in below freezing temperatures, but this takes at least two weeks. 

-  Bed bugs feed off human blood, in the dark, while they are sleeping. Of course, bed bugs want to hide near their host during daylight so this is why you may find them in your mattress, baseboards, and of course, inside books that you keep near where you sleep.

- Bed bugs are essentially flat oval shaped bugs. This is why they travel easily between apartments, and in books.  They can wiggle into tiny cracks quite easily.

- The presence of bed bugs does NOT indicate that a person or place is dirty... I was reading a website today that suggested only buying or borrowing books from BBB approved locations in order to avoid bed bugs, but this is absurd. Bed bugs do not discriminate, and they are passed by simple moves such as someone sleeping at a hotel that has bed bugs and leaving a book in a bag or on the table, a bed bug hitches a ride, and BOOM the person takes a bed bug back to their home. 

How to Detect Bed Bugs in Your Books
- First I want to make something really clear; Denise emphasized very strongly that lots of people are really nervous and are focused on using dogs and professionals to detect bed bugs, when really it's actually very simple to detect them on your own.

- Signs of bed bugs in your books are fecal matter (little specs of bug poop), rusty spots, dark rusty stains (squished bugs), and smearing.  You may also see shells that may have been shed or tiny eggs that remain.

- In between tight pages a bed bug will be squished, but bindings are an easy place for a bed bug to hide. Remember, if they are hiding in the binding, you WILL very likely be able to see them.

- Bed bugs are parasites so of course, they want to live near their host. Because of this, they don't travel far.  If your books are in your living room and you sleep in your bedroom, you'll be less likely to find them in your books, except for if you keep the books on your nightstand near your bed.  Bed bugs are very unlikely to live in your living room, travel to your bedroom at night, and then travel back to the living room to hide in a book.

- You'll need to check ALL your books for signs of bed bugs if you suspect they are hiding in your books, because it won't be their favorite spot to hide, but rather an alternative spot to the edges of your mattress.  The reason the libraries are using dogs to sniff are because there are obviously WAY too many books for them to be able to check them all manually.

Now, if you open your books and you see signs of Bed Bugs, definitely extend your search to other areas of your dwelling such as your mattress, etc.  If you think you have them, contact pest control, such as BC Bug Pest and Wildlife Control.  If you are super concerned about used books you have recently purchased and aren't satisfied with doing a check on your own, there are two moves you can take to help prevent a bed bug infestation in your home.

1. Put the books in a deep freeze for two weeks.
2. Purchase "diatomaceous earth" which is an all natural, non-toxic food grade powder that will kill the bugs nearly on contact (it dehydrates and kills them).  Your books may be a bit powdery, but it's probably better than being nervous about bed bugs.  You can also sprinkle this in cracks and crevices in your home.

Ultimately, if you find bed bugs, you will want to take action immediately by calling pest control.  In the case of bed bugs, sooner is much better (and cheaper to take care of) than later.

As for books, I certainly hope that people aren't going to give up on reading them, used or otherwise. Please remember that aside from living in a giant bubble, there's nothing you can do to guarantee you will never have a battle with bed bugs. That being said, there's lots you can do to prevent them and in the event that you do find yourself infested with bed bugs, though difficult and expensive to get rid of, they aren't forever.

I personally am looking forward to attending the Used Book Sale at the Central Library Branch tomorrow, and while I secretly hope this bed bug scare keeps the crowds low (more books for me!), I hope I'll see a lot of you there, checking out the books (and checking them for signs of bed bugs before purchasing!).   I hope you'll consider giving books a chance.  Maybe I'm an exception, but I'd rather risk itching a little than live in a home without books.

We got all these books at the WECC flea market on Sunday for $5 total!
Don't worry, I've checked them for bed bugs (and fleas!)

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