Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bed bugs have been on the rise in the last few years, so much so that I feel crawly traveling. If I stay in a hotel, I have a routine I follow when I get to my room. I rip apart the bedding and look under the mattress for signs that bugs have been there. I also keep my luggage in the bathroom so nothing lurking in the crevices along the floor decides to hitch a ride home with me. Yes, I'm a little obsessive.

The truth is, we’ve been blessed with no major bug issues. Except for our resident spiders and centipedes, which remain hidden most of the time, along with the persistent stinkbugs and flies that manage to get inside somehow, we live relatively bug free. In fact, I have been most of my life. When I was growing up, the only bed bugs I heard about were in the old nursery rhyme, “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

But that wasn’t so for our ancestors. They dealt with bugs on a regular basis, including cimex lectularius, or the common bed bug. Here are two excerpts from The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia by Mrs. E.F. Haskell (1861) which give instruction about how to prevent an outbreak.

March, -- The nits or eggs of all vermin which have lain dormant through the cold months, will now begin to hatch, and unless preventives are promptly applied, the increase of bedbugs and cockroaches will be without number. Search for the bugs, kill all that can be found, and oil all bedsteads with corrosive sublimate*, mixed with turpentine; lift boards and barrels in the cellar; scald all the bugs under them with boiling water; spread bread and butter with arsenic, to lay in their haunts; wet crevices with the preparation of mercury, mentioned above, and prepare the same in whiskey for the edges of shelves where food is stored; but be careful that none is dropped on the shelves to come in contact with food, as it is a deadly poison.

Bed-bugs, -- Young housekeepers should have every bedstead oiled before setting up, with the following receipt, and continue to use it once every year, in the month of March. If there are bugs in the house and besteads, oil the cracks of the rooms where they are, and the besteads, every month, until they disappear, and afterwards yearly. To one pint of spirits of turpentine, add on ounce of corrosive sublimate, put it in a bottle and shake well. Apply with a feather. Label the bottle, “Bed-bug Poison.”

*Corrosive sublimate is a white poisonous soluble crystalline sublimate of mercury, used as a pesticide or antiseptic or wood preservative. It's also called bichloride of mercury or mercuric chloride.


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