Roaches, Bedbugs, fleas…and biostatistics

A long time ago, I bought some ramen  packets,and 1 was filled with bugs.  I wrote to the company to complain, and I should have saved the letter.  The response from ‘community relations’ was that, “generally the  bugs are  rendered unrecognizable in the manufacturing process…” and she sent along some coupons for free ramen. That made me feel whole.

Also, a long time ago, I lived in a three flat  that had horrible roaches.  The landlord would  have an exterminator come in  every  three months, but  that was just keeping them under control.  I  owned a dog grooming shop at the time, so I brought home flea bombs, six per unit, and I asked my neighbors to set them off every Monday for  three weeks.  The first night I got home—amazing.  Dead  roaches  all over, we had to sweep and vacuum them up.  The next week, there  were  still a lot, but about half as much as the first week, and the next week hardly any, but  roaches came crawling out of the walls and dying for  the next couple of weeks.  I didn’t charge my landlord. We had  a problem, we fixed it.

I have had dogs with fleas.  the conventional wisdom is that if you see 1 flea on a dog, there are  20 in the environment.  Of course, you have to either steam clean or wash everything & treat the dog, possibly bomb the yard as well as the house…but if you have squirrels or rabbits or any other  rodents,. you will NEVER  get rid of them.  This is why the preventives are a good idea for most dogs.  Sometimes, you will have a dog with 1 flea who will get a flea allergy & rash, some dogs will have hundreds and not be scratching at all. But fleas carry tapeworms, so should not be ignored.

We recently had a bedbug  problem. This is a very big problem in Chicago this year.  They travel easily.  One problem is that so many people live in multi-unit buildings.  When you  have so many  households, with so many ‘cleaning styles’ (or should I say  lack of cleaning), no matter what you do, you will NEVER BE RID OF BEDBUGS.  Why?  As I said, bedbugs travel. They hide in the walls. They also hide in clothing and furniture. Roaches are   generally in the walls & on smooth surfaces, but  generally avoid  live animals, Fleas will gravitate to the warmest animal, usually a dog or a cat, and only go to humans when the host animals can’t support their numbers. They also like soft surfaces rather than hard or solid surfaces.  Bedbugs go all  over.  It doesn’t matter how clean you are.  If you go on public transportation, or to a restaurant, a movie, or a waiting room, they hitch a ride somewhere on your clothes, fall off, go into the walls, come out and get into the folds of your furniture, back to your clothes, etc.Alla over the city we are finding  mattresses, chairs, couches, pillows, clothing in alleys. Sometimes, there will be a sign:  BEDBUGS.  now, the city requires those disposing to wrap contaminated items in plastic, but it is hardly enforced.

The ‘cure’ for bedbugs is thorough cleaning or dangerous chemicals.  Exterminators suggest putting anything that will fit into a hot dryer for  1/2 hour.  Heat will kill them.  A friend suggested putting double stick tape by the trim by the floor boards, but what we did was steam clean the affected furniture, and keep an eye out.  We think we’ve  done a good job eliminating them.  I didn’t have tenants in my lower flat while this was going on, so it was us who brought them in.

That isn’t good enough for a friend of mine who owns a six flat.  She brought in a bedbug sniffing dog ($250—400), then had to pay an exterminator $2500  to do her building.  She won’t be happy until she sees a receipt from an exterminator.

An exterminator told me what to do, and when I asked how he’d determine  if we had an infestation, sine HE didn’t think the dogs were reliable, he told me  he’d do a visible search.

We’ve done that. They are about 1/3 the size of a fleas as nymphs. Very small, like specks of sand or dirty.  Now, since we have not been bitten in several weeks, we believe we’ve been successful, although we keep looking for them.  We both feel that we don’t want to poison our environment unless absolutely necessary.  We haven’t been bitten in weeks  and remain vigilant.

I know we have mice.  As long as I have tenants leaving cat food out all day, and  not doing dirty dishes for days, that’s how it goes.  Recently, my tenants have been good.
When I was in graduate school, studying environmental  management, one  of my instructors  started one course with  statistics, so we could get an idea in our heads what was statistically dangerous and how to determine what was real and what was media frenzy.  It takes a lot to get me excited about  perceived hazards these days.  My friend is panic-stricken, and had gotten several of our mutual friends  all stressed out.  People who have lived where they live over  10 years and have never steam cleaned a rug, or taken their drapes down to wash.  People who go all over and sit all over.  They don’t care about the statistics.  I may as well treat for elephants.   You  know how it is when you  have an issue with bugs.


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