Schrodinger's bed bug
Most people have at least heard of the 1935 thought experiment of Erwin Schrödinger where he placed the theoretical cat in a theoretical box with the source of radioactivity and poison. The cat is going to die or is either dead because of either the radiation or the poison but don't worry its only theoretical. While sealed, the box contains a cat that is either alive or dead or in a quantum flux between the two states and is declared as both alive and dead.
This may initially seem an odd analogy to connect to bed bugs, but often in the initial stages where there are no confirming signs or if they have found a single live sample; people find themselves in a state that could be described as Schrödinger’s bed bug, the "box" is closed and yet we automatically assume the worst possible scenario. This is most commonly the case situations where people have skin reactions or bite like symptoms but have yet to find the actual cause of the symptoms, be that bed bugs or something else. Often they have stumbled accross bed bugs as a possible cause and have decided it "must" be the cause.
In fact, the anxiety and stress associated with bed bugs or a suspected case of bed bugs often manifests itself in a situation where people start to convince themselves that there is in fact an armada of bed bugs hiding out in some impossible location waiting to literally “mug them” in their sleep. People seem to fail to appreciate the box may not actually contain bed bugs or for that matter, if it did contain bed bugs it may only contain one. A common belief is that that box must contain hundreds, thousands or even millions of pregnant female bed bugs waiting to unleash a plague of biblical proportions.
In some extreme cases, that anxiety and stress itself becomes a lot more damaging than any real infestation of bed bugs because of its ability to be all consuming and to blind people to the basic facts of the situation at hand. Its a simple fact that in high stress situations experience and exposure to the stress allows people to adapt and cope int he same way that a paramedic remains calm and collected when faced with a horrific accident, it is their training, knowledge and dedication to their job that makes them so effective. As such we always advocate calm, collected understanding of the problem as the best way to resolve an infestation.
The ultimate reality of bed bugs is that they are biological creatures and as such their presence in any given environment will always result in identifiable biological markers / indicators / proof being present. These are well documented and any professional with good skills and a solid work ethic should be capable of very rapidly finding the signs that confirm an infestation. Unfortunately, such skills like many crafts are obtained through experience, something that sadly works against the favor of the homeowner or someone working alone on the issue.
In 2009, we found our own solution to the Schrödinger’s bed bug problem, through the creation of our Passive Monitoring solution. In essence, this is our modified version of Schrödinger’s box. I say modified because we worked out a way of using the bed bugs’ natural behavior and biology to answer the question of “what’s in the box” through the inclusion of detection skirt that shows the presence of bed bug activity namely fecal traces and cast skins. We no longer need to open the box to confirm that bed bugs had been present simply by working with their biology and understanding their behavior.
The more complex issue however, is how we work as an industry; community and society to help people tackle the underlying issues that lead people to always assume the worst-case scenario. Until then, all we can do is try to capture many of the situations where people had convinced themselves they had impending bed bugs doom, only to realize later that this was not the case. I hope that with time and with this as an illustration, we can start to find ways to halt the spiral of anxiety and stress to break this negative feedback cycle.
I am sorry to be able to report, as some other professionals can as well; that occasionally we do encounter individuals who are so convinced that they have an infestation of bed bugs that it is difficult to get them to accept that this is not the case. This can be deeply upsetting for both the occupant and the person whose work is being called into question, especially when you are using tools to illustrate that the black speck is in fact a ”bobble” of black thread.
The underlying reasons why this happens with some people and not with others is significantly beyond the research abilities of the industry at this stage. I hope that this document will help people to understand the issue itself and the need to seek long-term solutions.
If you don’t have any confirming signs of bed bugs and have been Passive Monitoring for a significant enough time (greater than 14 days) and still get a significant level of activity (20+ skin reactions) this is a huge step towards working out what it is comes from not hanging onto what it is not. This is especially true when you try to fit your symptoms to a cause rather than looking for the physical evidence and confirming the cause.
There are other pest and non-pest issues such as:
• Carpet Beetle reactions
• Dust mite sensitivity
• Bird mites
• Rodent mites
• Head lice (and other lice)
• Mold spores.
I even know one person who develops a “bite like” skin response due to changes in temperature, a form of cold urticaria.
In most cases, the diagnosis of such causes is a time consuming process and requires data collection and analysis of the location as well as the symptoms. As such, it is something that is very difficult to do with any accuracy via the internet in a text-based process and is even hard to do through video-based inspection of the location.
Additional reading reading
1 The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects Hardcover – 26 Dec 2013 by Jeffrey Lockwood
Good video resources: