On average, 25 percent of multi-unit bed bug infestations spread to surrounding units. Your challenge is to find the source.
Bed bugs are a tough adversary under any conditions. But when their turf is a multi-unit setting, their strength can take on almost legendary proportions. That’s because bed bugs move and multiply: They will travel through pipe chases, wire conduits, wall voids — some will brashly walk right out the front door! Bed bugs also can travel passively on tenants’ belongings and on their person as they walk through their building’s common spaces. In a very brief period of time, the infestation can spread throughout the building.
How do you get to the source of the infestation and gain control?
Have a heart-to-heart with the property manager.
Educated, collaborative customers are your best defense against bed bugs. Make sure the property manager understands that it is critical for you to have access to surrounding units as you conduct your inspection. “The most important thing we communicate to property managers is that we will not guarantee our bed bug service if we cannot inspect the surrounding units,” says Jeff White, director of innovation, BedBug Central and Cooper Pest Solutions. “Any one of the apartments could be the source of the infestation. If you can’t identify the source, you’ll never get control.”
That lack of control also drives up the cost of pest management efforts, adds Danny White, account manager at Cooper Pest Solutions, who recommends pointing this out to property managers, who are generally cost-conscious. Once they understand that they will get better results as well as an overall lower cost by allowing you to seek out additional infested units, they will be more likely to agree to your surrounding-unit protocol.
Danny also advises discussing the importance of installing mattress and box spring encasements, interception devices and monitors in at-risk units, so you can identify bed bug issues before they escalate. “Request that the building’s maintenance crew become part of the effort, inspecting monitors and interception devices when they enter apartments for other reasons — general repairs and such,” he says.
Be very clear with your customer about what your inspections will entail so they can communicate to their tenants (a) the scope of the inspections, (b) any needed preparation on the tenant’s part and (c) next steps if bugs are identified in their respective units.
Property managers also need to remind tenants of the need for incorporating conscientious sanitation practices into their day-to-day activities and making efforts to limit harborage (clutter, under-bed storage, etc.) available to pests. Just as important, tenants need to understand they should not apply pesticides on their own, since foggers and other treatments do little more than repel bed bugs into neighboring units.
Inspect the units whose tenants have reported bed bugs, and knock those infestations down to a manageable size.
“If you’re able to reduce a population from, say, 10,000 to 20, you’ve dramatically decreased the potential for the infestation to spread,” says Jeff. At Cooper Pest Solutions, infestations are broken down into three categories: low (up to 20 bugs on the first visit), moderate (21-100 bugs) and high (100+ bugs). If you can treat and contain the high-level units quickly, Jeff says, you’ll have a much better chance of controlling the larger situation.
Inspect every unit that shares a wall with an infested unit; if that unit has bugs, inspect all of the units adjacent to it as well.
Although bed bugs tend to spread horizontally before vertically, you should check units above and below as well as to the left and right, says Jeff. If the infestation is heavy, check across the hall, too.
Of course you will treat the units with active infestations according to your company’s protocol and your agreement with the property manager. Then, as a proactive measure, all inspected units, including those that show no bed bug activity, should be equipped with mattress and box spring encasements, which not only prevent the bed from becoming infested but also serve as early detection devices. Interceptors and/or monitors are recommended as well, to ensure bed bugs are detected at the earliest possible moment.
If it’s available, take a look at a schematic of the building.
“When you highlight the infested units of a building, you can see if there’s any trending, which might help you identify relationships between units that give you a clue as to where you might find additional infestations,” says Danny.
Your inspections and treatments should continue until you are confident that the bed bugs have been eradicated from the premises. Again, partnering with property management and maintenance is vital to monitoring the building.
When tenants, maintenance personnel and your own service technicians are all keeping a sharp watch for possible reinfestation, you are much more likely to catch the issue before it becomes a multi-unit problem again.
The author, a freelance writer based in Cleveland, Ohio, is a frequent contributor to PCT. She can be reached at email@example.com.