1. Know your Enemy:
Like most people I was previously ignorant abut the life cycle of bed bugs and how they operate. The large females lay eggs (up to 20 at a time) after a blood meal and the eggs hatch in about a week. The small "nymph" bugs start off like tiny pink maggots that can bite. They then transform into small black "baby bugs" the size of a pin head. THESE are the worst since they are hard to see except on white bed linen and they HAVE to feed by biting several times a day. It is almost as if bed bugs in their various life stages act like like organized and intelligent guerrilla infantry. They come out only in the dark when you are asleep and they can hide in the smallest of hiding places even the tiniest crack or gap will do.
They hide out in "nests" that are eventually made evident by the dark-colored feces and the shed outer skins as they grow. Once you have seen one of these nests you will know what to look for. They can also bite through normal bed sheets (leaving bloody spots) and usually hide out within a few feet of your sleeping place. They can run fast and walk hundreds of feet. Something that I heard about (and saw with my own eyes) was the large bugs hiding on the ceiling ready to drop onto a victim. Adult bed bugs can survive well over a year without a blood meal.
Bed bugs were once almost extinct after the 1940s with the advent of vacuum cleaners and DDT but they are now resurgent (even in expensive hotels) since DDT was banned, and because of public ignorance ("...only dirty homeless people have bed bugs"'). The bugs have also become resistant to conventional insecticides, especially those based on the safe and widely used pyrethrins (originally extracted from Chrysanthenum plants) which attack the insect nervous system.
Their resistance to pyrethrins is attributed to metabolizing the pyrethrins more rapidly. This is countered somewhat by other ingredients such as piperonyl butoxide (that blocks the metabolizing enzyme) and/or by using in combination with other classes of insecticide, Physical methods such as steam cleaning (the bugs are sensitive to heat) are also useful as is the use of diatomaceous earth (DE). This dehydrates the bugs and may also clog the spiracles of insects, thus "suffocating" them. Getting rid of their hiding places by reducing clutter and regular vacuuming is also important.
INFESTATIONS ARE EASY TO PREVENT, BUT HARD TO END!
. As an alternative to being bitten, there are available bedbug traps (some very elegant with warmth and CO2 generation) but usually with only a chemical attractant on a glue pad. They are good for detection, rather than eradication. Incidentally, bed bug bites are typically three bites in a row ("breakfast, lunch and dinner"). You may not feel the bite, but there is profound itchiness and therefore scratch marks also.
2. My Nightmare Begins
I was blissfully ignorant of the above facts and had moved onto my boat in 2012 and used to work on my iMac computer, sitting at the dining table, I also used my computer for watching movies, while I lay on the side berth in the dark. Sometimes I took naps on the rear quarter birth but routinely slept all night in the front V-berth. I had noticed some odd little bite marks sometimes, but put it down to tiny "midge" mosquitos present at the marina or return of a previous skin condition due to mites.
In February 2013, I was watching a movie in the dark, while lying on a white bath towel. I was a little drunk at the time and had fallen asleep. I was awoken because I thought that there was something crawling on my arm. I grabbed the area between my finger and thumb - It was a bug!
I then got up and to my horror I saw a seething mass of black bugs crawling on the white towel. I was horrified and sprayed the towel with some regular roach spray, threw the towel out and lay down on another clean towel. Then I happened to look up at the wooden bulkhead and was horrified to see lots of little pink maggots coming down towards me like zombies in a horror movie! I sprayed them and moved onto another side bunk and tried to sleep but could not. The next day, I sprayed under the cushions and into the locker below and was horrified to see what looked like THOUSANDS of bugs!
3. Dealing with the Problem:
I took a hot shower and moved off the boat, for about 6 weeks, while I tried to tackle the problem. I slept in a large panel van that I was converting into a storage and office facility.
The next day, I sprayed my minivan and saw lots of those pink larvae (bedbug nymphs) that I had killed. On the boat, I opened up the inspection holes that I had made previously for a plumbing job and sprayed each cavity with insecticide while also sprinkling with diatomaceous earth (DE).. You can see at least 30 dead bugs in the example photograph below.
For About 6 weeks I would go into the darkened boat at night with a searchlight and spray any live bugs I could see using the oil-based J.T Eaton Bed Bug Killer This kills on contact (but no residual effect) and contains natural pyrethrins and piperyl butoxide. It is recommended for initial large scale "knock down" of the bugs. Pyrethrins are less toxic than most insecticides.
During the daytime I moved all loose objects, including the cushions. out of the boat and into plastic bags that were fumigated with spray and kept outside. I could now see little nests on the the side seams on most all of the cushions I had slept on. The cushion backrests had a mesh layer that was full on nests. After killing the bugs, this mesh was removed and the plywood backs painted with white paint that was also used to seal the edge of the fabric where it was stapled to the wood, This eliminated another obvious hiding place.
I kept spraying on a daily basis even in the engine compartment, battery compartment, and marine sanitation area. The aim was to keep going past several life cycles of the bugs in order to eliminate the infestation. I used lots of diatomaceous earth that I bought from a hardware store.
Finally, I sealed off all gaps in the panelling where bugs could enter and exit. As I used silicone sealant and (for larger gaps) polyurethane foam. Each clothes locker was lined with rubber mesh covering a layer of diatomaceous earth.
At this point I had not seen live bugs or nests for a while and thought the job was complete. But see Part 2 for the sequel!
4. The psychological effects of bed-bug infestation:
For a long time afterwards, you imagine something crawling on you. Every time you see little black specks you squash them to see if they are bugs filled with blood! You have friends who won't; let you come into their living space or (one guy) even shake your hand!. I WILL NEVER FORGET! that episode of my life.