How To Deal With Anxiety Over Bed Bugs

Bedbugs Can Come With a Serious Emotional Toll, too. Taking These Steps Can Help.

Medically Reviewed by Ross Radusky, MD

Here’s the good news about bedbugs: They don’t transmit diseases and aren’t a sign of how clean a person is. And yet having to deal with bedbugs can be incredibly distressing from a psychological standpoint. (1,2)

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Bedbugs are particularly disturbing because they invade such an intimate and personal space, says Katherine Maloy, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York City. It’s your bedroom, the place where you wind down at the end of the day. Thinking that bedbugs might come into your or your child’s bed in the middle night can certainly incite fear, as can the distress of having to deal with an infestation. (3)

Dr. Maloy says most people’s fear of bedbugs falls into one of two categories:

  1. A real fear, as in people who are currently dealing with a bedbug infestation.
  2. A perceived fear, meaning people are afraid they have them even though the issue has not been confirmed. About half the time, a homeowner mistakes another bug for a bedbug. Carpet beetles, for instance, look like bedbugs and tend to live in bedrooms just like bedbugs, but they don’t bite. In some cases, this fear might inspire a person to take drastic measures to clear out their home without having confirmed an issue in the first place. (4)

Dealing With Bedbugs Can Lead to Sleep Problems, Social Withdrawal, Anxiety, and More

Living through a bedbug infestation can involve a roller coaster of emotions. Simply dealing with the logistics of having bedbugs — packing up and washing your belongings, as well as potentially having to vacate your home for a few weeks — can be stressful and exhausting. “It’s expensive, it’s a lot of work, and it’s socially isolating because if people find out you have them, they won’t want to come over,” Maloy says. “It takes a lot of concerted effort to get rid of them, and it’s very overwhelming.”

Add to that logistical nightmare the time you have to spend in limbo waiting to see if the bedbugs return after treatment.

“There’s this sort of uncertainty of, ‘Are they gone, or are they not gone?’ That really aggravates [people],” Maloy says. “There’s this period of time when you’re sort of waiting to see if they come back, and that’s a lot of uncertainty that’s very hard to tolerate.”

Dealing with bedbugs can also result in:

  • Having Trouble SleepingWhether it’s a fear of actual bedbugs or perceived, it can be tough to relax and fall asleep at night. (5)
  • Nightmares(6)
  • Social WithdrawalEven though having bedbugs isn’t a reflection of one’s cleanliness, there’s still a stigma attached to it. Some people assume they won’t be welcome at friends’ houses if everyone knows they have a bedbug issue at home, so they may voluntarily isolate themselves and minimize social interactions.
  • Flashbacks to Infestations That Have Occurred in the Past
  • Anxiety and DepressionMaloy says dealing with bedbugs can be very troubling to someone’s self-image, and if it’s not dealt with appropriately, it could lead to anxiety or depression.
  • Worsening of Other Mental Health IssuesThe time, money, and unknowns involved with treating bedbugs can be stressful for anyone, but it’s particularly stressful for people who are in a vulnerable state already. “[Having bedbugs is] difficult to sort out for the average person,” Maloy says. “If you layer on top of that a psychiatric illness or anxiety disorder, it can be extremely destabilizing.” One case study from 2013 profiled a 62-year-old woman with bipolar disorder who ultimately committed suicide following a repeated bedbug infestation where she lived. (6)

In a study published in January 2012 inThe American Journal of Medicine,researchers observed that the psychological effects of dealing with bedbugs maps to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, though more evidence is needed to establish that link in a more conclusive way. (7)

How to Cope With Anxiety and Depression

Taking Swift Steps to Get Over the Emotional Toll of Bed Bugs Is Important, Too

The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences says if you have bedbugs, there’s no reason to panic. Even though it can be disturbing, there are ways to successfully get rid of bedbugs, and they don’t pose a threat to your physical health. (8)

Still, they can definitely threaten your mental health. So if you’re struggling with a bedbug issue or having trouble getting over a past infestation, Maloy suggests:

  • Treat the bedbug issue in your home quickly and efficiently.“Be as proactive as possible when dealing with the issue,” Maloy says. “A lot of times people hide it from their landlord and they hide it from their neighbors because they don’t want to be known as the person who brought bedbugs into the apartment building.” But it’s important to ask for help to get rid of the bedbugs as soon as possible so they don’t continue to reproduce and create an even bigger problem.
  • Recognize the issue is not a reflection of you or your hygiene.Maloy recalls that during a bad bedbug infestation in New York City several years back, people were being bitten while staying in the city’s most luxurious hotels. Recognizing that bedbugs can affect anyone, anywhere can help you feel better. “It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you — you were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Maloy says. “Try to remind yourself: ‘This isn’t a judgment of me. This is something unfortunate that’s happened to me that I have to deal with.’”
  • Remember, it may not be bedbugs.If you’ve dealt with bedbugs before (either recently or a while back), any itch or bite can incite a panic that they’re back. But realistically consider if the itch or bite you’re getting alarmed over might in fact be a mosquito or other type of bite. Particularly if you haven’t seen the bugs or noticed other warning signs, it may not be bedbugs.
  • Seek professional help if needed.Ask yourself, Is this interfering with my life? If it is getting in the way of your happiness, your relationships, or your ability to work, then it may be time to reach out to a professional. “It’s the same thing I tell people who come in and ask, ‘Am I depressed? Do I have an anxiety disorder?’” Maloy says. “If you’re so preoccupied by it and so stressed that you’re not sleeping, you’re thinking about it all the time, you’re not talking to your friends, or you feel like the world is ending — then you probably should go talk to a professional.”

Bugging out: Bedbugs stir extreme anxiety

Sufferers have made themselves ill with pesticides — and even burned down their houses

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Having a case of bedbugs can cause people to feel so desperate they make irrational decisions that can cost them more than just money.

Sandy Rubenstein, a bedbug buster in Yarmouth Port, Mass., says she’s seen a woman washing herself with an ointment intended for horses, people sleeping in mosquito nets, and wrapping their beds in plastic and double-sided tape. She watched as folks threw out everything they owned and tried using hamsters as deterrents, hoping the bugs would bite the rodents instead of them.

When you’re on the outside looking in, it’s hard to imagine why people would spray themselves with poisonous pesticides. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an elderly woman in North Carolina died after using large amounts of pesticides and coating her body with bug spray and flea powder. More than 100 people have made themselves sick using pesticides to kill bedbugs. Some people have been so anxious to get rid of bedbugs, they burned their houses down. It may take weeks or months to get rid of the pestilence, but victims say the psychological effects of the ordeal can last a lifetime.

“You can kill the bugs in people’s beds, but you can’t kill the bugs in people’s heads,” says Rubenstein, who started the company PureHeat after spending 18 months (and $40,000)battling between 2007 and 2008. “It’s a paranoia that stays for life. You never get over having bedbugs.”

Annie Lynsen of Silver Spring, Md., has a current case of bedbugs in her apartment, and she’s doing her best to cope. She discovered the bedbugs after spending weeks thinking she and her husband were being bitten by mosquitos. Then, in mid-September, she saw a bedbug crawling up the mattress.

The apartment is in disarray while the couple waits for the exterminator to come every two weeks. They’ve laundered and bagged their clothes, pulled furniture two feet from walls and live in chaos. They can’t visit friends, can’t have guests, and feel nervous they’ll miss celebrating Thanksgiving with relatives.

“I know there are bedbugs in my bed, and I have to sleep there anyway because I don’t want to spread them elsewhere. That’s really the horrifying part,” says the 31-year-old marketer. “We have sleepless nights and nightmares. I feel like this is the night something is going to come out and bite me and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me in the next eight hours.”

Lynsen thought she did everything possible to avoid bedbugs, including encasing the mattress in a bedbug-proof cover, and keeping her luggage off the floor in hotel rooms while traveling this summer. But she acknowledges she forgot about the box spring, where she found an infestation.

“We’re better now than when we first discovered them,” she says. “We couldn’t shake the feeling of being unclean and having this idea of things under the bed trying to get us. Now, I’m stronger because I know something is being done.”

Feelings of being out of control are what makes people suffer most, says Myrtle Means, a clinical psychologist with offices in the Detroit area.

“That causes the greatest distress,” she says. “Don’t focus on the what ifs, focus on what is. ‘I have bedbugs. What do I do to get rid of bedbugs? I can call an exterminator.’ You begin to feel helpless and hopeless and like the situation is unmanageable. Bedbugs are manageable.”

After she instructs clients to call an exterminator, she suggest they identify what is causing the greatest amounts of stress and anxiety such as not having the money to handle the situation, possibly having to move or throwing away their belongings. She also suggests reading the book, “Anxiety, Phobias and Panic,” and trying relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and imagery, imaging themselves in a calming place such as on a beach or lying in a hammock.

Although she sees bedbugs daily, Rubenstein manages her own paranoia by being extra cautious. She tosses her clothes in the dryer when arriving home, pulls back the sheets and headboards in hotel rooms, and never puts her luggage on the floor. She warns people to stop bringing home used furniture unless it’s from a reputable dealer and certainly avoid taking items from a roadside. Check on elderly friends and relatives, who may be unaware of bedbugs. Taking precautions, she says, are much better than dealing with bedbugs.

“Your bed is your sanctuary; it’s where you go to relax,” she says. “When you get them, you think they are crawling on you all the time. You wonder where they are hiding and you can’t relax. It makes people suffer on their jobs and in their personal lives.”

Is the Thought of Bed Bugs Causing You Anxiety?

Bed bugs have been making headlines as their recent infestations hits cities and towns all over the world. These non-discriminating pests are known to infest roadside motels and even luxury homes. More and more people learning that having a bed bug infestation is not an indication of their home’s cleanliness or lifestyle, but quite simply a matter of bad luck. This so called bad luck has made itself infamous in the exterminator industry, costing families and homeowners alike thousands of dollars to rid of an infestation. It’s not just money however that’s on the line when it comes to a bed bug infestation. In fact, recent attention has been brought to the debilitating psychological effects that just one infestation can have on an individual.

Bed bugs violate our most personal space; our homes, our rooms and our beds. Despite it being a known fact that bed bugs do not discriminate, embarrassment is the initial and most significant feeling expressed by many once bed bugs are discovered. This shame tends to open up other emotions; denial, anger and fear – a terrible combination when it comes to accepting the reality of the situation. In addition, people who experience bed bug infestations often end up being ostracized by the community and treated almost like lepers by people who are aware of their infestation. Enduring the feelings of being a social outcast can cause long term damage to a person’s social profile and can even lead to severe social and situational anxiety.

Bed bug infestations can also lead to physical discomfort that can cause long term psychological damage. People who have suffered with infestations have been records to display sleeplessness and increased nervousness and anxiety. Some individuals have even exhibited signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Delusory Parasitosis. In a study of over 400 individuals who lived in bed bug infested homes it was found that:

  • 29% suffered from sleeplessness
  • 22% suffered with emotional distress
  • 20% had anxiety
  • 40% were in a constant state of stress

These individuals and others like them have also indicated that their sleeplessness is a result of anxiety before going to bed or suffering from delusions.

“You try to sleep at night but every slight movement in your bed, every small itch keeps you alert and makes you think they’re there, they are in the bed with you. You spend the whole night like that, and eventually it’s like they are still there, controlling every aspect of your life.” Was a quote shared by an individual who had to live through three home infestations.

People who also suffered from infestations noted their neighbors and friends treated them differently, even after an infestation was resolved. Some admitted that when neighbors were later infested, they were blamed for bringing the bed bugs into their home. Friends of recently infested individuals also refused to visit and sometimes even declined social outings for fear of catching bed bugs. This constant outing by friends and even family has made infestation sufferers develop social anxiety, where they become inept in social situations due to the traumatizing effects of a bed bug infestation.

Infestations can also induce stress as the potential loss of possessions, the time demands in preparations and the high cost of a professional extermination weighs down on the situation. For some people this can be extremely overwhelming and in one unfortunate documentation, a woman was triggered to commit suicide after experiencing a repeated infestation.

A bed bug infestation can definitely bring about a significant change to quality of life, but there are ways to reduce or eliminate the psychological effects associated with a bed bug infestation.

Recovering From a Bed Bug Infestation

    • Prevention
      Being ahead of a bed bug infestation is your best method in avoiding another one. Purchasing mattress liners or mattress protectors are an excellent way of inhibiting the infestation of bed bugs. These pests are known to live and nest in mattresses, so by blocking off their primary shelter you significantly decrease your chances of an infestation. If you have both a mattress and box spring, be sure to encase both items to maximize protection.
      • Travel Smart
        Although some sufferers of bed bug infestations opt out of traveling after a recent infestation, others do not have a choice. However just because you go to a hotel or a home that could potentially be infested, doesn’t mean you have to bring it home with you. When you enter your hotel room, make your first stop the bathroom where you leave your bags and other personal items on the tile floor. Bed bugs are more likely to be found I cabinets, drawers and within the furniture or bed. Next inspect the bed for any signs of bugs, this includes black spots (fecal matter) or blood stains. Move your search to the hanging pictures or furniture in the room to be ensure that there are no pests in the room. Additionally, if you need to move items in the main room be sure to place them on sheets of plastic or in plastic bags. Laying your bags on a table or on top of a plastic sheet can help prevent the bugs from moving into your luggage. They have difficulty traveling across smooth surfaces and are likely to make no effort if plastic sheeting is in their way.
        • Make Some Changes
          Though there may be psychological damage, sometimes you can trick your mind or at least offset its focus on your bed bug trauma. Purchase new bedding and linens. Some people have reported that the simple act of throwing away their previous infested linens brought some comfort and closure for them. Additionally, try to change the layout of your room or move your bed. Sometimes the configuration of a location can trigger memories, but if you are forced to look at a different angle of your room, your mind might forget that an infestation even happened in the first place.
          • Combat Your Stress and Anxiety
            Your stress and anxiety after an infestation does not need to stay with you. In fact, there are ways to combat stress that include exercising, picking up hobbies and eating right. Having bed bugs can put you in a poor physical and mental state and can cause you to lower your quality of life, but you can pick it back up by doing what you did before the infestation or picking new routines. Exercise releases endorphins that help elevate your mood and the sheer work you put your body through can also lead to more restful nights. Eating good, wholesome foods can also help stabilize your brain activity and the chemical processes that are engaged in your body on a daily basis leading to equilibrium. Additionally, some people pick up dietary supplements to help regulate their body such as multivitamins, fish oil, and even stress and anxiety supplements like KalmPro that have helped elevate their moods and relieved their anxiety symptoms.

          Bed bugs can definitely be more than a ‘nuisance’ especially to those directly affected. But it’s not an experience that should define your quality of life. Your mental and physical health can be very frail after an infestation but if you take the right steps you can be on the road to recovery and be bed bug free in body, mind and spirit.

          Infestations May Trigger ‘Bedbug Psychosis’

          A bedbug infestation may trigger feelings of depression, paranoia, anxiety.

          May 17, 2011— — He spent months fighting bedbugs with sprays and fumigation, but the bedbug infestation at Lucas da Silva’s house only got worse. At the peak of its severity, da Silva could flip over his mattress in the middle of the day, and bedbugs would appear everywhere, crawling around as if they owned the joint.

          Exterminators were expensive and none could guarantee that the appleseed-size vermin would disappear forever, said da Silva.

          In frenzied desperation, da Silva, 23, of Orlando, Fla., took his Brazilian grandmother’s advice and turned to kerosene. She told her grandson that Brazilians use it to combat all sorts of vermin.

          He doused his home. He covered bookcases, the upholstery, tables and chairs with the combustible hydrocarbon liquid.

          But the kerosene offered only a week of relief until the bugs came back in droves.

          After nearly two years of fighting the vermin, he and his family eventually threw away their mattresses and beds, and moved into a new home.

          Still, even though da Silva now lives free of the parasites, the experience still haunts him.

          "It’s like a phobia," he said. "Sometimes I lay down at night and itch somewhere and get worried that I have bedbugs again, even though nothing is there."

          Da Silva might be pleased to learn that his feelings are not that unusual, according to a new study. Researchers found that bedbug infestation, and often the media frenzy surrounding the vermin, may increase the risk of mental health problems and exacerbate pre-existing psychiatric conditions.

          "Bedbugs, mice, rats roaches — they’ve bothered human beings, and they have been around for many many years," Dr. Evan Rieder, a psychiatrist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and lead author of the study, told MedPage Today. "But there’s something about the sanctity of the bedroom and the bed and the fact that bedbugs are attracted to warmth and attracted to blood, because that’s how they feed, that really violates something that’s really personal to the human experience."

          Ten people, ranging in age from 21 to 75, participated in the study, but the researchers presented a detailed review of six of the 10 cases at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Honolulu. After a bedbug infestation, some participants experienced anxiety, depression, controlled bipolar disorder and monosymptomatic delusional disorder in which one imagines that bugs are crawling all over the skin.

          For other participants, it didn’t take an actual infestation to trigger anxiety and symptoms of paranoia. Rieder said some of them exhibited tactile hallucinations. Even though they did not have a history of an infestation nor a history of psychosis, the participants were convinced that bedbugs were crawling on their skin. Rieder said the swirling media coverage surrounding the vermin may play a part in the paranoia that surrounds this condition.

          "If you look at the media on a global basis, bedbugs are all over the place, and the incidence in the media, in newspapers, magazines, TV reports, has been going up steadily since the year 2001, so there may be some media-driven frenzy," Rieder told MedPage Today.

          Bedbugs May Increase Risk of Mental Health Problems

          Any doctor seeing patients with bedbug infestation and pre-existing psychoses "should be on alert," Rieder said. "These people can decompensate even if they’ve been medically stable for a significant period of time."

          Researchers said it’s unclear why a bedbug infestation threatens the mental health of some more than others, but they hope to research the topic further, as bedbugs are not going away.

          "Most people are very upset when they call us," said Steve Nelson, a co-owner of Chemtech Exterminating Corp. in New York City. "They are on the phone, crying. It’s very disconcerting — a nightmare for most people."

          Nelson said that he and other exterminators often act as stand-in psychologists, reassuring the customers that they will help them get through this mentally exhausting ordeal.

          "People are . taking their home and turning it upsidedown," said Nelson. "We feel bad, but we tell them we’re there to help and we reassure them that we will get rid of the problem."

          As for da Silva, he said he empathized and understood why bedbugs may wreak havoc on a person’s psyche.

          "You’re living in a house where you’re not at peace," said da Silva. "Then you barely sleep and you wake up and you’re tired. That could definitely have a huge impact on anxiety and depression."

          While da Silva didn’t need psychiatric help to manage his bedbug storm, the experience is not over for him.

          "It’s always in the back of my mind," he said. "Even though they’re gone, I worry that a friend might have them, and it’ll just be brought right back to the house. All of a sudden, they’re everywhere."

          Additional reporting by MedPage Today’s Kristina Fiore

          Bed-Bug Madness: The Psychological Toll of the Blood Suckers

          Researchers are starting to explain the anxiety many victims feel.

          Right now, everything I own is in garbage bags piled up in the middle of my kitchen and bathroom and filling my shower. It’s been that way for a week and a half and will continue to be so for at least another week on top of that. If you live in a major city, you might know what’s coming. If not, welcome to the hell that is bed bugs.

          This isn’t the first time I’ve had bed bugs. Nor the second. It’s the third, and this time it’s taken two visits from the exterminators to (hopefully) rid our apartment of the tiny beasts. Luckily we were able to catch the bugs early before they got a real hold on the apartment. Unluckily, that’s mostly because rather than mosquito-esque little bumps, my bites turn into hardened ping-pong ball sized welts that itch for over a week. So when we have bed bugs, I know pretty quickly. And each time everything goes into bags. I stop sleeping. I avoid furniture on the street. I refuse to enter libraries.

          I used to joke that I had bed bug PTSD. There’s a certain kind of anxiety that the seemingly invisible biters incite. But in fact, it might not be a joke. Research is starting to show that bed bug infections can leave people with anxiety, depression, and paranoia. And that’s normal. In fact, it would be weird for you not to be freaked out, says Stéphane Perron, a doctor and researcher at the University of Montreal. “ If you have bed bugs, and if you don’t care, that’s not a normal reaction. You should be worried. I would consider it a normal reaction to a stressor.”

          Perron has published a number of papers on the psychological ramifications of bed bugs. In one study, he and his team looked at apartments that had been reported to the Montreal Public Health Department for unsafe conditions. Some of those units were infested with bedbugs, but not all of them. Perron and his team gave the tenants of these buildings a series of questionnaires that assessed all sorts of health impacts, including psychological ones. All told, 39 of the units had bed bugs, and 52 of them didn’t. When they compared the psychological results between those two samples—a method that helps to control for factors that impact mental health like socioeconomic status—they found that tenants with bed bugs were far more likely to report anxiety and sleep disturbances than those without.

          Another study by medical entomologist Jerome Goddard at Mississippi State University examined posts on bed bug related websites like Bedbugger.com. When they compared those posts against a checklist of PTSD symptoms they found that 81 percent of people writing these forum posts were describing psychological and emotional effects often associated with the disorder, things like hyper-vigilance, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and depression. “ One person scored high enough to actually be considered a PTSD patient,” Goddard says. ( The comparison they did here isn’t diagnostic. In other words, Goddard can’t actually diagnose anybody with PTSD from the results.)

          In another study, researchers sent out questionnaires to seven different cities. They got 474 back. In the survey, they asked people to describe their reaction to the bites. Beyond the physical reactions, 29 percent of people said they suffered from insomnia, 22 percent reported emotional distress, and 20 percent said they had anxiety due to the bugs.

          There are a number of reasons to take these preliminary studies with a grain of salt. For one, researchers don’t know anything about the mental state of the participants before they got bed bugs. And that’s important. In one case study that Perron published, a woman with a prior history of mental health issues got bed bugs and eventually committed suicide. “ The bed bug is a stressor like many other stressors,” Perron says. “For people who are vulnerable, it may result in having a pathological fear of bedbugs or even delusions of parasitosis,” when a person falsely believes they are infested with bugs. So knowing the mental state of people before they were infected is key, and missing in these early reports.

          It’s early days for studies like these, and Goddard is the first to admit that they aren’t perfect. But they’re a start. “I think all these things sort of added together, suggest that at least bed bugs are associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance,” he says. “Now whether or not a person can truly have PTSD I don’t know.” And they do suggest that there’s something particular about bed bugs that sets them apart from other biting insects like tics, fleas, mosquitos, and chiggers.

          When I tell people I have bed bugs, they say things like, “So, you’re setting fire to everything you own, right?” The EPA acknowledges the urge. “ There is no need to throw out all of your things,” they assure visitors to their bed bug information page. But after weeks of garbage-bag living, the prospect of just lighting it all on fire and leaving doesn’t seem so unreasonable. And several bed bug studies note the extreme lengths to which people go to get rid of the bugs—everything from actually setting things on fire, to attempting to self-treat with loads of toxic chemicals. Even my exterminators are aware of the trauma the bugs incite. At the bottom of the two-page preparation guide for treatment, they write:

          NOTE: Bed bug infestations are very traumatizing and it may take time to get over what you have experienced. There have been many cases where people feel they are still being bitten, even though the bed bugs have been eradicated from the home. Before you contact our office due to bites, please ensure that you are actually being bitten and that you do not have a rash or scratches from something else.

          (When I read that passage to Perron he explained that it’s actually highly unlikely to continue to feel like you’re getting bitten once the bugs are gone. “ I’m surprised they put that in their pamphlet, because no, it’s quite rare,” he says. More likely, the company simply doesn’t want its customers to bug them.)

          There are a lot of reasons the tiny insects incite such insanity. Bed bugs strike you where you’re most vulnerable. Sleeping becomes impossible. Every tiny movement, every air molecule that touches your skin in just the wrong way, becomes a bug. I pecked out most of this post on my iPhone during a sleepless night. Thankfully my boyfriend is a heavy sleeper, and doesn’t notice when every half-hour throughout the night I leap out of bed, grab my headlamp, and root around under the covers searching for the insect I was so sure I felt.

          Then there are the garbage bags. If I have one tip for you from all this, it’s to use clear garbage bags. This isn’t just about being able to see which bag holds what as you unpack. It’s about looking around your apartment every day for several weeks at a vast sea of black garbage bags—pushing past them as you try to weave through the living room into the kitchen.

          I’m not alone in my fight against bed bugs. A 2013 survey called Bugs Without Borders estimates that 99.6 percent of exterminators got calls about bed bugs last year. In New York City alone there were 9,233 complaints about bed bugs in 2013. And according to the pest control company Orkin, New York City isn’t the worst city for the suckers. In fact, the Big Apple is number 17 on their list, behind Chicago, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, and 13 unlucky others. There aren’t good numbers on exactly how many bed-bugged units there are in the United States, but the public has been whipped into a frenzy about the insects for years. This year, they were spotted on the subway system in New York City and I considered giving up transportation all together.

          But, of course, despite how common they are, you can’t tell anybody you have bed bugs. Admit you have them, and forget having anybody over again.

          I am lucky, though. My landlords responded quickly to each call about the bugs, and after a few weeks of garbage-bag living we are always back to normal. That’s not the case for many people, who might live in buildings with landlords who aren’t as responsive, or in places where the landlord has no responsibility to deal with the problem. Exterminators are expensive, and the whole process is time consuming and costly. None of this was a barrier for me, but it is for a huge number of people. “ The very poor can’t do anything about it, and the rich, it’s a pain and it costs a lot of money but sooner or later they’ll get rid of them,” Goddard says. And it’s true. I can see the light at the end of the bedbug tunnel. And once it’s over, my madness will likely subside.

          Both Goddard and Perron say that more work needs to be done to truly understand the ways in which bed bugs mess with our minds. But in the meantime, doctors should be aware of the potential risks. Goddard says he’s not sure whether doctors know to watch for psychological impacts when patients come in with bites. “ I suspect those doctors just say call an exterminator. I don’t think they would think ‘Oh my gosh this person has some severe emotional distress.’” Perron agrees. “ I would say that the goal of this research is to say we should deal with it because it has more than skin deep consequences. It has consequences especially for a vulnerable individual. ”

          As for me, I’m starting to sleep again. And tomorrow I’ll begin the long process of unpacking the seemingly endless piles of garbage bags. It will all be over soon, and I didn’t even have to set anything on fire.

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