“If apartment building owners or managers say, ‘We have zero tolerance for bed bugs,’ that’s fine. But did they ask the bed bugs? The bed bugs don’t care.”
Dr. Dini Miller, associate professor of entomology and bed bug researcher at Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Va., spoke those words at last year’s NPMA PestWorld conference. She stressed the need for bed bug education and training, and recommended a “sustainable and affordable” bed bug prevention protocol.
“We’re located in the state of Virginia — not New York City — but I think we have a serious bed bug problem here. It is a growing problem,” she said. “We’re finding bed bugs in both low-income and high-end multi-unit housing complexes, as well as schools, single-family residences and health-care facilities. I may be only aware of half the problem. The infestations could be two or three times greater than I am aware of.”
Miller sees low-income housing as a “significant and developing problem where bed bugs originate and then radiate out to other sites.”
Residents with bed bug infestations go to work, school or health-care facilities and carry bed bugs with them, she said. The bed bugs are spreading to different locations “in a big way.”
It’s Miller’s contention that there’s a growing need for bed bug training because apartment building managers, owners and maintenance staff are frequently having to deal with bed bug infestations. “If they ignore the problem or avoid infested areas on their premises because they fear that the bed bugs will get on them, they’re intentionally keeping themselves ignorant of the means to solve the problem. They’ve got to overcome their fears and get informed,” she said.
Miller added that she sees “a growing desire to participate in bed bug training programs. The motivation for getting this training is, in part, economical. There’s a huge loss of profitability in apartment buildings when they lose tenants because of bed bugs, and that’s why more apartment management associations are requesting bed bug education.” She suggested that if pest control companies make a concerted effort to educate and train clients on bed bug prevention methods they could improve their bottom lines. “You keep your clients in business by teaching them what they can do themselves (be sure that you charge for the training),” she said. “But also be there for your clients when they get a genuine infestation and need your expertise and services.”
Some Examples. Miller illustrated how some apartment complexes in Virginia that she and her team have worked with were affected by infestations.
“One building — a low-end complex with rents running $300 to $500 a month — only had 20 units, but they were 100 percent infested,” she said. “When I talked to the building superintendent, he was pretty sure that the building had been infested when its new owner purchased it. In Virginia, sellers don’t have to disclose the presence of bed bugs — just wood destroying organisms.
“This owner was paying for bed bug treatments but was trying to get tenants to reimburse him. All of them, however, were on disability or some other type of Social Security and weren’t cooperating. In fact, many tenants were letting friends and relatives sleep over and they were bringing in new bed bugs. This particular complex was also infested with fleas and cockroaches. Bed bugs, fleas and cockroaches — a perfect trifecta.”
HUD Bed Bug Guidelines
Dr. Dini Miller also discussed HUD bed bug control guidelines that were published in 2011.
“Residents there are at risk for repeated bed bug infestations. The HUD guidelines encourage apartment managers and owners to get training and to do periodic inspections, but don’t require them to do so. Also, those guidelines recommend that when an infestation is detected in one site, the surrounding units should be treated in three days, but that may be really challenging,” she said.
Over the period of one year, the owner had paid $8,000 to treat for all of these pests. “He looked at his bottom line and his high frustration level and decided it wasn’t worth it and was going to sell the building to a local church,” she said.
Miller also cited an infestation in another apartment complex with about 1,700 units populated by college students and professionals. “Its higher-end rents range from $600 to $1,500. The complex had been infested with bed bugs a number of times — they get about 20 or 30 new infestations a year, mostly after spring break — and the manager was quite involved in control efforts, something we really encourage. She got her pest control company to educate and train her how to become the resident bed bug inspector.”
Miller said the complex was paying $15,000 to $30,000 per year for bed bug control. “They plan to keep doing this, but are hopeful that costs can be significantly reduced by educating the tenants to prevent infestations,” she said.
Final Thoughts. “Our team is currently working with a housing facility for elderly persons with disabilities. Many units have not yet been infested, but the management is well aware of potential problems and is specifically looking for a prevention plan that they can implement. This is where you, as a PMP can help. You can present similar clients with a plan and train them about prevention techniques — and when they do have a bed bug infestation you can ride in on your white horse and save the day.”
With this in mind, Miller and her team developed some protocols that both staff and residents could use to protect their buildings from bed bugs. “We didn’t know if all of our methods would work so we field tested them and came up with our ‘sustainable and affordable’ protocol,” she said.
“Our protocol recommends hands-on bed bug training for the entire maintenance staff and residents of the complex. Training includes bed bug identification and recognizing the signs of an infestation. Our prevention program includes the use of a mobile heat box, vacuuming, diatomaceous earth application, passive bed bug monitors and mattress encasements. These methods have all proven their utility during our testing.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.