Bed Bug Epidemic: Facilities Should Adopt Infestation-Avoidance Tactics
Challenges to Treating Infestations Make Eradication Costly or Unachievable. Experts Advocate Avoidance Measures First.
Urban entomologists and researchers have established a “Bed Bug University” in reaction to the growing problem of bed bug infestations here in the U.S. Insect experts from all over the world have linked together with IPM (Integrated Pest Management), professionals, public health officials, facility managers, chemical manufacturers, and others to discuss the latest research and actionable strategies for bed bug control, treatment-cost containment, and the social and legal issues of bed bugs in public spaces.
Research entomologists who study the insects have looked at the bed bugs’ anatomy, feeding habits, life cycle, breeding activity, and habitat preferences to gain better insight as to how to destroy them in ways that are safe to humans and pets, as well as being practical and affordable.
Knowing how bugs become established in a building, and having an early detection system in place are key to combating severe infestations which can be very costly or even impossible to eradicate. The challenges are even greater in public buildings like dorms, jails, shelters, group homes, and the like because of the number of people who come and go, and because the facilities are difficult to shut down completely – allowing for total eradication methods to be implemented. There’s also the cost, logistics, and safety concerns of relocating residents, especially the elderly or sick.
The costs of treating severe infestations can be jaw-dropping. Fumigation (different than a “bomb”), programs in a large building can cost as much as $20,000. Often, several types of treatments are needed to lessen re-infestation. One of those other approaches is heat treatment – referred to as structural pasteurization with filtration. The process heats the air inside of an infested building to a temperature which the bugs cannot survive. Disruption of the human inhabitants is less than with chemical treatments; however prevention and early detection are much less expensive measures.
Researchers know how most infestations occur. People and their belongings are the vector; bedbugs won’t live in a building that doesn’t have people because bed bugs dine only on blood. Unlike cockroaches, bed bugs can’t live on food wastes or garbage, so a space can be clean-as-a-whistle and still have bed bugs if people are sleeping there. The bugs are night feeders and are drawn to us by the CO2 we give off.
In the U.S. most bed bugs are introduced into buildings in just a few key ways:
- In used or upholstered furniture and mattresses
- In product packaging like wooden crates and boxes
- In suitcases or other personal affects carried by people
- In household moving boxes (bed bugs can hide inside books, draperies, linens and pillows)
When Free is Not a Bargain
The manager of a needy shelter or group home may be tempted to accept the donation of a used living room set, but if there is even just one pregnant female bed bug hiding in the frame that “free furniture” could end up costing thousands in pest eradication measures. On top of that is the legal liability, interruptions in service, and staff safety issues to consider. With the current prevalence of bed bugs it may cost less in the long run to buy new furniture (that can be easily inspected and washed), than endure multiple rounds of toxic chemical treatments.
Act to Avoid Bed Bugs:
- Do not bring in used furniture, especially upholstered, carved or rustic wooden pieces that have countless joints, cracks, or crevices; especially bedroom furniture, couches, and chairs.
- Select furniture that is easy to inspect and easy to clean. One-piece, platform-type bed frames made of molded plastic are ideal for behavioral health centers and shelters.
- Have upholstered items and draperies heat or steam-cleaned before bringing them into any living space.
- Machine wash clothes, linens, fabrics, etc., with hot water and soap – as long as the item is machine washable.
- Use mattress encasements to keep bugs from getting into or out of mattresses.
Develop a pro-active monitoring program:
- Train staff and residents how to identify the bugs in all 5 development stages, and spot the telltale signs of bug activity.
- Conduct regular and systematic inspections of sleeping areas and nearby furniture. Also check electrical outlets, gaps in mouldings, light fixtures, and nearby air ducts where bugs could hide during the day.
- Caulk gaps in trim work.
- Report even minor cases of bedbugs to the proper agency or authority.
- De-clutter and clean often – bugs hide in boxes books, containers, and stacks of paper. Vacuum carpets and dispose of the vacuum bags outside the building.
- Use only professional exterminators that are trained to treat for bed bugs. Do-It-Yourself treatments usually end up making things worse or can endanger health.
For more information visit Bed Bug Central.
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