Experience: I am human bedbug bait

I’ve been a publican for most of my working life, and if you’d told me 10 years ago that instead of being behind a bar I’d be sleeping with bedbugs for money, I’d have thrown you out for being drunk. Back in 2016, pub work began to dry up. I got chatting to David Cain, an acquaintance who runs the bedbug control company Bed Bugs Ltd, and told him I needed a job. He offered me work doing the deep cleans after they treated properties for infestations. Two weeks after the treatment, I would go in, strip the bed and do another clean to make sure there was nothing left. I’d clear up any treatment residue, give everything a good scrub, look for eggs, nymphs, and any signs of faecal or live samples. I was really grossed out.

Usually, if it’s a low-level infestation it can be eradicated in one session – if you catch it early it’s not as difficult to get rid of as people make out. We use a super-heated steam treatment and everything is completely green, which means you don’t have to leave your property or throw anything away.

For the first few months, I was just like, “Oh my God, this is disgusting.” It was horrendous. I was calling my daughter before I left work, saying, “Run me a bath, leave me a bin bag and dressing gown,” and I’d strip off at the door to make sure they wouldn’t come home with me. And they never have.

After I started to understand them and the way they behaved, I became absolutely fascinated by them. I still find them disgusting, but they are very clever creatures. They predate man; they used to live in caves on bats and then evolved to live off people.

About four years ago, David said: “I’ve been treating a hotel room, but they don’t want to let it out until they know for sure the bugs have gone, so do you fancy sleeping with bedbugs?” Bedbugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide we breathe out, and some clients will want to keep a warm body in the bed for two weeks to confirm the treatment has worked. I thought he was joking. He was like, “We’ll pay you!” And it all went from there. By that time I wasn’t as freaked out by them. I react violently to the bites, so it’s easy to tell when they have all gone. I’m always well stocked with antihistamines.

Normally I’m asked to sleep in hotel beds, as they obviously can’t take paying customers until the problem is gone. I’ve also slept in student accommodation and private residences that people rent out. I only need to sleep over in the night – I always bring separate bedroom clothes – but it turns out they’re often rather nice hotels. So, after my first night in a hotel, I went home, packed a bag and said to my family: “I’m not coming back for two weeks.”

That first time, I stayed up in the night and was hypervigilant. I did end up with a couple of bites, but managed to catch all the bugs. And then I had 12 more nights’ sleep in a lovely hotel, and didn’t get bitten again.

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Some hotels have a special monitoring system so they know what to look for, and they’ll get in touch with us. If they need someone to sleep over, I’ll get a phone call: “Want to sleep with bedbugs?” To which my reply is normally: “How nice is the hotel?” It’s a weird job. Not a lot of people are willing to do it – I’m the only one I know of at the moment. On a recent job I came away with 30 bites, including three on my face.

I always take a sleep bra and big knickers with me, because they will go to the first available bit of flesh. So if you’ve got some parts covered they’ll find somewhere else. Cycling shorts are good as they’re tight down to the knees. One of my essentials is sticky tape. I usually put loads of little strips on the headboard so I’ve got them handy. Once you capture the bug on the tape, you then fold it over and seal the edges because they will wriggle free if they have the chance. Then I’ve got a live sample to send to the office. When I get home, I go straight to the garage. I’ll strip down, my clothes will go in the washing machine and I’ll jump straight in the shower.

Before all this, I thought bedbugs were a thing of the past. But now, with this job, I’ve learned a lot more about the sneaky little buggers than I ever bargained for.

As told to Naomi Larsson Piñeda.

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