Author Brooke Borel gave a presentation and fielded questions on her book Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World in the UC Davis Memorial Union this past Thursday, June 4th.
Borel, a freelance science writer based in New York City and a contributing editor for Popular Science, said she loved science as a child, and originally wanted to pursue a career in science. She also loved to write, she said, but it wasn’t until later in her career that the two came together.
“I finally discovered that I could combine these two joys of science and writing into a career,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to hear from people behind work, rather than hearing about it,” he said. “Whether it’s a book or research or art, it’s much more interesting to hear from the people who did something.”
Borel decided to research bed bugs and write the book after being a victim of these pests three times—once in 2004 and twice in 2009.
“I was really shocked that first time when I found out it was bed bugs,” she said. “This is before they were in the news a ton. I’d heard the term before, but I didn’t know that it was actually a specific species. It was really interesting to me that they even existed.”
Humanity has had a long history with the bed bug. Common for thousands of years and referenced in literature for centuries, the advent of DDT and other control methods significantly lowered the world bed bug population after World War II. The insects experienced a resurgence in the late 21st century, however, possibly because of the increase in air travel, Borel said.
The book was published in April 2015 after three years of off and on research, Borel said. During that time, she met with bed bug specialists and worked alongside them in the field.
One unexpected lead took Borel to the Czech Republic, where she helped researchers find bed bugs in a bat-infested attic. She said that although it was difficult at first, she eventually became accustomed to moving through the bats and their guano, locating live bugs, catching them and dropping them into the collection jar.
Borel said that the fourth chapter of the book, discussing the various resistances against insecticides some bed bugs have developed, presented the most difficulty during the writing process. She cut down its length, but it remains the longest chapter of the book.
“It’s always hard with something like that to decide which parts to keep in for the general audience and which parts to explain more lightly, but still get right,” she said. “I think that was the most challenging part.”
Copies of the book were on hand for sale at the event, and Borel had an appropriate flourish for signing them.
“Thanks for coming. Sleep tight!” she wrote on the title page—then took a custom stamp and ink pad and dotted the page full of bed bugs.
— James Eldred
CORRECTION: The original article identified the insects collected in the Czech Republic as “bat bugs”, suggesting a species related to but distinct from bed bugs. The insects in the attic were actually regular bed bugs (Cimex lectularius). Sorry about that.