It’s clear that bed bugs have become a widespread problem in the United States once again, with reported incidences in all 50 states. The 2013 Bugs Without Borders Survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky, and released in April of this year, found that bed bug infestations in the United States continue at high rates. In addition, bed bugs are still the most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites.
Bed bugs are easily transported from place to place unknowingly by people, luggage, purses and used furniture. Recent research shows they also move between apartments and between homes in multi-family dwellings. Bed bugs are very cryptic, so people often don’t realize they have them until the infestation becomes very large, and by then, difficult to control.
According to Dr. Phil Koehler, professor of structural pest control and urban entomology at the University of Florida, a promising approach to managing the current bed bug pandemic is to prevent bed bug introductions from becoming full-blown infestations with multiple life stages.
The main method for preventing introductions from becoming infestations is to engage customers in a bed bug monitoring program to prevent introductions from getting out of hand. Yet, according to A Strategic Analysis of the U.S. Professional Turf and Ornamental Pesticide Market — The 2012 Season, only about one-third of pest management companies servicing accounts for bed bugs report employing monitoring devices as part of their service.
At NPMA PestWorld 2012, the National Pest Management Association’s annual conference and exposition, Koehler described several methods for detecting bed bugs and shared some ongoing research efforts aimed at finding more effective methods to treat them.
ENHANCED VISUAL INSPECTION. PestWest offers the Contrasting Specimen Inspection Kit (CSI), an enhanced visual inspection kit that includes specialty orange glasses and a 455 nm range blue-light lamp that are commonly used in the forensics industry to detect blood serum, which fluoresces. The blue-emitting light source is used to identify latent signs and other physical infestation evidence, while the orange glasses block the blue light so the examiner can see the fluorescence of the eggs and blood serum.
“Using this kit, the inspectors must know what they are looking for, but unfortunately a video camera does not capture much fluorescence, so there’s not a video for training purposes,” Koehler says. “As such, it takes a great deal of training to know what you are looking for in order to use these tools effectively.”
Recently introduced to the market, a Bed Bug Fecal Spot Detection Kit, from Bed Bug Blue, includes cotton swabs as well as developer tape and fluid. The inspector wipes the swab over the suspected fecal spot, and then applies it to the developer tape. After adding developer fluid, the spot on the tape will turn blue, indicating it is a fecal spot up to two years old.
According to Koehler, while the kit can confirm whether it is a bed bug fecal spot or not, it does not differentiate between active or old infestations.
DNA DETECTION. Research Associates Laboratory, and several other labs, offer an easy and effective method to detect bed bugs using their DNA. It is available to consumers as well as the pest control industry, so customers may have already sent in a sample for analysis prior to calling for an inspection. One simply swabs areas where bed bugs typically hide, completes an analysis request form and sends it in to the lab. Results are returned in about 24 hours and are 99 percent accurate.
Bed bug DNA detection can help determine where bed bugs have been and differentiate bed bugs from other insects and mites. However, it cannot help determine if treatment has been successful because their DNA remains active for more than one year.
BED BUG DOGS. Koehler says bed bug detection dogs make it much easier to identify bed bugs, provided that the dog has been trained and handled properly. Well trained and properly handled dogs can detect even small infestations and can distinguish between active infestations (live bugs and viable eggs) and evidence of past infestations such as dead bugs, feces and cast skins.
“At the University of Florida, we’ve tested dogs that have a defined training and handling regimen,” Koehler says. “And recent testing on the accuracy of bed bug sniffing dogs at the university shows that the dogs have a 98 percent accuracy rate and can differentiate between live bugs and dead bugs or past infestations.”
There are many canine schools that train dogs to detect bed bugs, but Koehler encourages companies to do a thorough investigation to ensure the dogs have been trained well and handled properly. NPMA has taken the lead to develop Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs, which include standards for canine bed bug detection team certification. NPMA’s Canine Detection Division also provides guidelines for selecting a trainer for an insect detection canine for pest management firms considering purchasing a canine for insect detection.
There are also several different forms of artificial bed bug sniffers on the market, such as the BBD-100 from TDS, although false alerts are a problem according to Koehler. \
“The gas has to be contained in order for it to work properly. If there’s a situation where there is a lot of air flow, it won’t be able to detect the bed bugs, even if there are hundreds of them next to the device,” Koehler says.
Another is called the Electronic Dog Nose Bed Bug Detective.
“I’ve always found it interesting that the Bed Bug Detective won the Popular Sciences 2011 Invention Award, but it has not been proven to work and the prototypes didn’t work very well,” says Koehler.
CARBON DIOXIDE FLUSH. Koehler also tested a carbon dioxide flush using a CO2 cartridge and a bicycle tire inflation regulator. Starved bed bugs responded immediately to the CO2 and they ran from harborages to the top of the bed. They introduced 100 bed bugs, gave them time to hide, and then turned on one of the cartridges. First, they tried to flush them out by spraying the CO2 into the cracks and crevices, but there was no response.
“We thought maybe the bed bugs didn’t want to come out for a host that is moving. The next time we set it down so it was a stationary CO2 source and they responded,” Koehler explains. “However, fed bed bugs won’t respond to a CO2 flush so it has its limitations. If someone had been sleeping in that bed, the bugs wouldn’t have responded the way they did.”
LEAVE-BEHIND DETECTORS. Of the leave-behind bed bug detectors, dual-action detectors are an effective means to trap the insects using the bed bug behavior theory that there are two types of bed bugs: host seeking and harborage seeking. Host-seeking bed bugs are attracted to CO2, kairomones, heat and color.
After feeding on the host, bed bugs then seek harborage using pheromones and their attraction to color, crack size and surface texture. Dual-action detectors utilize both “attraction to host” and “attraction to harborage” cues.
FMC manufactures the Verifi bed bug detector, a dual-action detector. The Verifi bed bug detector provides up to 90 days of active detection, at which point its attractants can be replaced and detection can continue. The Verifi bed bug detector creates a new ongoing bed bug service offering for pest management companies, while generating a recurring revenue stream. The detector is small, unobtrusive and easily installed on walls or behind furniture.
By continuing to detect bed bugs for up to 90 days, Verifi detects that an infestation is present, confirms that treatment was successful and provides ongoing detection to ensure that bed bugs are gone or to identify any new bed bugs that are introduced.
“During our research trials, the Verifi unit detected bed bugs in rooms where they were not obvious with a visual inspection,” Koehler says. “Verifi is a way for PMPs to identify infestations and increase their companies’ revenues by making treatments for infestations that would normally be overlooked. PMPs can also get paid for the monitoring itself, as opposed to just coming in and correcting a problem when it’s out of control.”
Preliminary data show that Verifi will activate bed bugs up to 5 feet away, but Koehler and his team are in the process of verifying that data. In addition, NPMA has given him a grant to study the activity of bed bugs over time and track individual bed bugs to see how much they move to help determine how many monitoring devices to place per room.
PROMISING NEW METHODS. Non-chemical treatments include using heat (e.g., a clothes drier or a heat chamber), a vacuum, mattress encasements and traps. An attractive non-chemical treatment is what Koehler calls the “Bed Bug Heat Box.” UF Associate Research Scientist, Roberto Pereira designed the process to work like a convection oven.
“He put all the infested furniture in the center of the room, and then created an oven around it using insulation boards. Inside the box, he placed two heaters and two fans so that the air is heated and circulated within the sealed box,” Koehler said. “It’s a very simple system to control bed bugs. It doesn’t require any use of pesticides, and the equipment that is used is fairly inexpensive.”
The goal was to get the temperature up to at least 120°F for at least one minute. All of the bed bugs died, even those under the mattress. The treatment also resulted in media coverage for the university. (Visit http://news.ufl.edu/2010/08/02/bed-bug-remedy/ to watch a video demonstration.)
Chemical treatments include sprays, dusts, insecticide vapors and fumigation, where appropriate. Dichlorvos (the active ingredient in Nuvan Prostrips) is still registered for bed bug control, but most treatments require an empty room or container, a minimum of seven days of treatment and at least two hours of aeration time.
“We decided to combine that process with heat in an effort to accelerate dichlorvos vaporization and shorten the time required to kill bed bugs and the eggs,” Koehler says.
They used vacant dorm rooms and placed a fan behind a heater to blow hot air on Nuvan Prostrips hanging from a stand. Using this procedure, the dichlorvos vaporized 60 times faster and bed bugs and eggs were killed more quickly — in one day vs. seven days.
“There are reasons why this worked well, but also some limitations,” says Koehler. “Heating strips is not prohibited on the label, but it’s not on the label as a treatment, per se. They are working on getting EPA-approved directions on the label, in conjunction with AMVAC.”
Currently, Koehler and Pereira are conducting research to determine use rates, equipment needed for heating and vapor circulation, timing for the most effective control and ventilation procedures to clear dichlorvos residues.
“Remember, these are only experiments. This research will be used to develop the new label directions for Nuvan plus heat treatments,” Koehler says. “Until a new label is developed, pest control operators should carefully follow the current label directions.”
The author is a contributing writer for PCT and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NPMA, BedBug Central Announce Global Bed Bug Summit
The National Pest Management Association will host the Global Bed Bug Summit, an educational conference and expo designed to provide advanced technical training, as well as management courses related to the business of bed bugs. Sponsored by BedBug Central, the Global Bed Bug Summit will be held Dec. 5-6, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in Denver, Colo.
This event is a merger of BedBug Central’s North American Bed Bug Summit and NPMA’s Bed Bug Forum. “For the past three years, BedBug Central has hosted the annual North American Bed Bug Summit. During that same time period, the NPMA also hosted an annual Bed Bug Forum. And, while the audiences for each event were not exact, it is clearly evident that a merger of these events could only serve to benefit the pest management industry,” stated NPMA Executive Vice President Bob Rosenberg. “So, with that in mind, BedBug Central and NPMA have created an event that plays to the strengths of both organizations and provides the pest management community with a high-caliber, comprehensive program that addresses both technical and business-oriented topics.”
“While this event is new, we are pleased that it will be retaining some of the tried-and-true elements from our past Summits,” stated BedBug Central CEO Phil Cooper. “The trade floor will continue to be referred to as ExpoCentral, and will remain open during sessions; the ‘Beer Tasting’ and ‘Night with the Experts’ will be prominently featured; and BedBug Central’s Jeff White and NPMA’s Jim Fredericks will oversee the program development. BedBug Central and NPMA are committed to ensuring attendees receive a tremendous experience — complete with fantastic content and a relaxed and fun atmosphere.”
For hotel reservations, call the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel at 888/627-8405 to receive the NPMA group rate of $139 per night. Learn more at www.npmapest world.org.
PMP Gary Geiger is in
a New York State of Mind
How does a Florida pest management professional become the first bed bug fumigator in New York City? The answer: Sheer determination.
It all started when Gary Geiger, owner of Geiger’s Pest Services in St. Petersburg, Fla., took his daughter to New York to see a Broadway play. The year was 2007.
“I was watching the news in the hotel room and kept hearing about bed bug problems,” said Geiger, a former Air Force nuclear weapons specialist. “I’d been working in the pest management business for more than 10 years at that point and knew all about fumigation. When I got home, I found out how to get a New York license and flew back to New York to sit for the exam.”
Geiger then set up a bed bug fumigation business. He formed a partnership with a neighbor, who handled marketing and scheduling customers online. Meanwhile, he contracted with a fumigation yard in Queens, partnered with a New York pest management firm and worked out an arrangement with a local moving company. He rented an apartment in New York for the weekends.
“What we fumigated were trucks,” explains Geiger. “We’d go into an apartment, empty it out and put it into a truck. We’d then fumigate the truck. Our pest management partner would treat the apartment; then the moving company would put the contents back.”
After flying in from St. Petersburg on Friday night, Geiger fumigated on Saturday, opened the truck and ventilated on Sunday, and flew back to Florida Sunday night. “The travel was tough, but I’d take the kids and explore New York,” he adds. “All in all, it worked pretty well until about 2010, when the partnership fell apart.”
Bed Bugs Spike in Florida. Geiger still has an interest in the New York business, but now has people on the ground there and only travels up every month or two. For the most part, he’s focused on his firm in St. Petersburg, where he says bed bugs have spiked in the last year or two.
“We did 11 bed bug jobs in 2011 — and last year it rose to 175 jobs,” notes Geiger. “I have 15 technicians, and four of them now specialize in bed bug work.”
Essentially, Geiger’s Pest Services encompasses four businesses:
• Termite work and real estate inspections
• Residential and commercial pest control, with a bed bug side business
• Lawn and ornamental
But bed bugs have quickly become a focal point of the Florida business, which services residential as well as commercial accounts.
“Generally, when I get a bed bug call, the problem is already severe,” says Geiger. “The trigger point is 30 days — by then, you’ve almost reached critical mass. More than likely the homeowners have fogged or treated on their own, which makes the problem worse. It irritates the bugs and now they’re in the nooks and crannies, hiding out. So they’re not as easy to find.”
Geiger recently started using FMC’s Verifi bed bug detectors as part of his bed bug protocol. As the first devices to provide up to 90 days of active detection, FMC says, Verifi detectors employ three attractants to lure bed bugs. After 90 days, attractants can be replaced and detection can continue.
“What I’ve learned is that everyone has post-traumatic stress syndrome with bed bugs,” explains Geiger. “This happens because of the expense, the disruption, the shame, the sleepless nights — you name it! Verifi helps with all that — it helps give my customers peace of mind.”
Now, when he finishes a bed bug job, Geiger also installs Verifi units. “We place them near the beds or wherever the bed bug activity was,” he adds. “They are very easy to inspect, which is a beautiful thing. The homeowner wakes up every morning and looks in the tray and if there’s nothing there, he’s relieved.”
One of Geiger’s commercial accounts is a major mental health facility with multiple buildings and satellite houses. Patients ride a shuttle bus back and forth between training centers, classrooms, outlying housing and the central facility.
“If one person with bed bugs gets on the bus, people going to five different locations could spread them,” he says. “But they also have severely mentally ill patients who may think they have bed bugs when they don’t. If they call us, we’ll first do a thorough inspection and if we can’t find bed bugs, we’ll place Verifi units there and do follow-ups to prove they have them or not.”
Geiger has found bed bugs in a Verifi unit after 90 days. But his protocol calls for inspecting the units every seven days until 90 days have passed and the attractants have expired.
“After that, they own the units,” he notes. “If they want to pay us, we’ll refill the attractants and keep on inspecting. With the mental health facility, their maintenance guy is really good. He can replenish the attractants himself — we work together.” Geiger has tried the passive monitoring devices and found they don’t work for him. “There’s nothing on the market like Verifi,” he says. “It fits very well with our bed bug protocol. It’s just what we needed to satisfy our customers.”
To watch videos of Geiger, visit www.pctonline.com and click on “online extras.” Learn more at www.fmcprosolutions.com. Source: FMC Professional Solutions
Mattress Cover Also
Comfort Guard RL from American Bedding Manufacturers is a soft-knit, washable mattress cover that is a breathable, waterproof take on American Bedding’s bed bug-proof cover design, the firm says. The Comfort Guard RL is washable and dryable in temperatures up to 140°F. The product is bed bug-proof, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and stain-resistant. This inverted-seam mattress cover is environmentally friendly, containing no heavy metals or phthalates, the manufacturer says. American Bedding Manufacturers says the Comfort Guard RL has been independently certified bed bug-proof and protects against bed bugs, pests, dust mites, mold, allergens and bacteria, and is ideal for use in hotels, adult rehab centers, nursing homes, rescue missions and single-family homes.
For more information about the product, visit www.americanbeddingmfg.com.
BASF Offers Proactive
Bed Bug Treatment Protocol
BASF has created a proactive treatment program that combines both newer chemistries and recent bed bug behavior research. The BASF Proactive Bed Bug Treatment Protocol utilizes non-repellent, non-pyrethroid products and semiannual treatments to control potential infestations before they occur, the firm says.
Considering how time consuming and costly it is to eradicate bed bugs, it’s prudent for hotel and property managers to take precautions and avoid infestations in the first place. And BASF says incorporating the Proactive Bed Bug Protocol is a smart business decision. It includes:
• Reducing occupancy “downtime,” customer complaints and potentially costly litigation.
• Providing effective and economically viable treatment with two applications per year.
• Limiting human exposure compared to curative treatments (the Protocol utilizes crack and crevice, spot and void treatments).
• Controlling other common pests such as ants and cockroaches.
The Protocol uses Phantom termiticide-insecticide, Prescription Treatment brand Phantom pressurized insecticide and Prescription Treatment brand Alpine dust insecticide to kill pyrethroid-resistant and non-resistant bed bugs. According to BASF, as non-repellents, these products don’t disperse or “lock in” pests. In addition, they utilize different classes of chemistry as a resistance management tool.
The Protocol benefits PMPs’ customers in that it’s a tangible, known expense property managers can budget for, it costs significantly less than reactionary spending, and it increases potential business because of consumer demand for bed-bug-free rooms, BASF says.
For more information, visit www.pest control.basf.us to download the BASF SmartSolution for Bed Bugs.
New Booklet Equips
North Carolinians to
Combat Bed Bug Infestations
The North Carolina Pest Management Association (NCPMA) released a booklet designed to educate North Carolinians about preventing the spread of bed bugs. “Bed Bugs: Your Guide to Prevention, Detection & Treatment” includes in-depth information about bed bugs and how to prevent the further spread of the pests.
The booklet, which was created in partnership with the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension office, provides tips for identifying bed bugs and possible bed bug infestations, ways to prevent bed bug infestations in a home and tips for treating and ridding a home of a bed bug infestation.
“We realize that there are a lot of misconceptions and confusion about bed bugs and few resources to help clear up that confusion,” said Lee Smith, entomologist and board member of NCPMA. “We’ve developed this booklet to help people understand what bed bugs are, how they move from place to place and how to prevent spreading them into new places. We hope this serves as a useful tool for the people of our state.”
This booklet is available from NCPMA and its member companies.
“The most effective way to manage the spread of bed bugs is by educating the public about this pest and how they can control it. This booklet does just that,” said Dr. Mike Waldvogel, extension specialist and extension associate professor at North Carolina State University. “The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension office is proud to work with NCPMA to produce this booklet and help show North Carolinians how they can take an active role in combating the spread of this pest.”
“Bed Bugs: Your Guide to Prevention, Detection & Treatment” includes tips, graphics and information that will help the public better understand bed bugs. Some highlights of the booklet include:
• Identification: A comparison of images of bed bugs and other similar bugs to help people properly identify the pests.
• Prevention: Tips for preventing the spread of bed bugs from the most well-known sources such as vacation stays and used furniture.
• Inspection: A complete guide for inspecting a home and furniture including diagrams identifying the most popular and hard-to-find bed bug hiding places.
• Treatment: A comprehensive list of ways to treat and rid a home of bed bugs.
To learn more, visit www.ncpestmanagement.org or call 800/547-6071.
of ActiveGuard Mattress
Allergy Technologies announced that it has expanded the availability of its ActiveGuard Mattress Liners in Florida through distribution by Southern Chemical & Equipment.
Southern Chemical & Equipment, known for its “no fine-print” guarantee, now distributes ActiveGuard to its PMP customer base. The distributor is located in Sarasota, Fla., and services PMPs typically within a 50-mile radius of its base location. ActiveGuard Mattress Liners make an ideal addition to Southern’s portfolio of products, according to Steve LaCroix, the company’s owner and operations manager.
“We’re proud to be carrying Allergy Technologies’ ActiveGuard because it’s a product that’s proven, tested and provides long-term performance,” said LaCroix. “My business focuses on serving small and mid-sized PMPs and they work with us because of our customer service and reputation, so delivering products that perform is a necessity. We envision a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Allergy Technologies.”
Joseph Latino, chief operating officer for Allergy Technologies, says the partnership with Southern Chemical & Equipment expands ActiveGuard’s presence in Florida.
“This new distribution agreement provides us with greater presence in Florida, which we have recognized as an area of the country that has become an expanding epicenter for bed bug infestations,” said Latino. “Being able to broaden the availability of ActiveGuard to reach PMPs of various sized companies is essential for the product’s growth, especially in this key southern market.”
To learn more, visit www.allergytechnologies.com.
Top 15 Cities with Largest Increase in Bed Bug Calls
Terminix this summer released its list of cities experiencing the largest increases in bed bug activity, with Sacramento, Calif., (pictured below) taking the top spot with a 54 percent jump in bed bug customer calls compared to the same time last year.
The 2013 list of cities with the highest increases in bed bug infestations include:
1. Sacramento, Calif. (54 percent increase in customer calls over last year)
2. Milwaukee, Wis. (53 percent)
3. Las Vegas, Nev. (50 percent)
4. Columbus, Ohio (47 percent)
5. Baltimore, Md. (46 percent)
6. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. (41 percent)
7. St. Louis, Mo. (40 percent)
8. Cleveland, Ohio (36 percent)
9. Louisville, Ky. (31 percent)
10. Denver, Colo. (28 percent)
11. Los Angeles, Calif. (27 percent)
12. San Francisco, Calif. (26 percent)
13. Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas (25 percent)
14. Nashville, Tenn. (17 percent)
15. Houston, Texas (15 percent)
Terminix created the list by compiling and analyzing bed bug-specific call volume to its more than 300 branches throughout the country. The rankings represent cities with the biggest percentage gains in bed bug customer calls from January 2013 to May 2013 compared to the same time period in 2012. Eight of the cities — Columbus, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Baltimore, Louisville, Cleveland and San Francisco — are also among the top 15 cities in total number of bed bug customer calls year-to-date for 2013.
Cryonite Service Center Opened in Tennessee
Located in the southern part of Sweden, Silvandersson Sweden AB is a glueboard and gluetrap manufacturer that delivers product to more than 50 different countries throughout the world.
In 2008, Silvandersson bought the patent for Cryonite and has, since then, developed and refined the system to operate more reliably and efficiently. Organizing the Cryonite Service Center in the United States is Silvandersson’s first step to establish a physical presence in the North American market. “Clearly, the United States of America will continue to be our largest market for Cryonite,” said Kenneth Silvandersson, the firm’s CEO. “The Cryonite Service Center will allow us to get a better feel for the needs of that market while improving service for existing customers in the U.S.”
Cryonite has been in use for some time and according to the manufacturer, it has proven to be a safe, fast and effective method to fight bed bugs, German cockroaches, stored product pests and other crawling insects. Over the past five years, an increasing number of PMPs have chosen to use Cryonite as a tool to fight pest problems in hotels, hospitals, schools, food facilities, residential homes and other sensitive areas, the firm says. This has increased the demand for service and support to Cryonite customers.
Silvandersson and PC Logistics of Tennessee are offering basic service for all Cryonite users in North America. The American staff of Cryonite Service Center has been trained in Sweden to be able to perform warranty repairs and service on both purchased and leased Cryonite units.
For more information, visit www.cryonite.com.
Marketers of Unproven Bed Bug Products Settle With FTC
In a significant enforcement action, the Federal Trade Commission reached settlement with two companies making deceptive claims about their cedar oil-based bed bug products. The settlement orders impose almost $5 million in fines.
Two marketers of unproven cedar oil-based remedies for bed bugs and head lice have agreed to enter into settlements with the Federal Trade Commission that prohibit the allegedly deceptive claims, and require pre-approval from the Food and Drug Administration for any future treatment claims about head lice products.
The settlements resolve deceptive advertising charges the FTC filed last year against Dave Glassel and the companies he controlled, including Chemical Free Solutions, alleging that they made overhyped claims that their BEST Yet! line of cedar-oil-based liquid products would treat and prevent bed bug and head lice infestations.
According to the FTC, the defendants falsely claimed that their natural, BEST Yet! bed bug and head lice products were invented for the U.S. Army, that their bed bug product was acknowledged by the USDA as the No. 1 choice of bio-based pesticides, and that EPA had warned consumers to avoid chemical solutions for treating bed bug infestations.
Under the agreed-upon settlement orders, the defendants are prohibited from claiming that their BEST Yet! products by themselves can stop or prevent a bed bug infestation, or are more effective at doing so than other products, unless they have competent and scientific evidence to make the claims.
The orders impose a $4.6 million judgment against Glassel who is facing bankruptcy, and a $185,206 judgment against Chemical Free Solutions, which will be suspended due to the firm’s inability to pay.
The FTC will continue to pursue its case against the remaining defendants: Springtech 77376, Cedar Oil Technologies Corp. and Cedarcide Industries. Source: FTC
The risk of bed bug lawsuits is high...and growing. It’s that “yuck” factor: bugs sucking your blood in your bed while you sleep. More attorneys include bed bug litigation in their portfolio of services. Recent jury awards, such as the $800,000 in compensatory and punitive damages awarded to an Annapolis, Md., woman for being forced to live with bed bugs, will only make attorneys more aggressive in pursuing bed bug litigation. Also, expect to hear soon about class-action lawsuits asking for damages in the seven-figure range for widespread bed bug infestations.
Bed bug lawsuits are typically filed against apartments and hotels. But pest control companies may be named as codefendants. It might be the plaintiff (the party filing the lawsuit) that designates your company as a codefendant. More often, though, it is actually your own client...or to be more accurate, your client’s insurance company...that decides to throw you to the wolves. It generally happens during the pretrial process, months or years after the incident. Your client’s lawyers decide that, since you are the pest control expert, you should share in the potential liability. So they designate your company as a third-party codefendant. It’s a cold, cruel world out there in lawyer-land.
No, you cannot prevent someone from suing you. But you can take steps today to protect yourself in court tomorrow. Then, even if a plaintiff wins a judgment against you, you can reduce the amount of damage you sustain. Here’s how.
Document, Document, Document. Poor documentation kills you in court. A detailed paper trail, which today may be an “electronic” trail, is your best defense. Remember, you are typically defending yourself in court years after the original service. The salespeople that sold the work and the technicians that did the work may no longer work for you. If they still do, they certainly won’t remember many details. No matter how good the original work was; no matter how many times your technician pleaded with the client to let him inspect the adjacent units; no matter what was or wasn’t done, if you can’t show the judge and the jury the proof of it, you risk being skewered in court.
I’ve seen many examples of poor documentation in the cases I have worked on: unreadable handwriting, missing service reports, reports with the wrong dates and addresses, reports with just the technician’s name and date but everything else blank, or a single entry with ditto marks (“) down a series of columns. I commonly see service reports with no details on pest levels, customer cooperation, clutter, etc.
Those are examples of bad documentation. Here are examples of good documentation:
• Written service protocols including details of your various bed bug services.
• Bed bug-specific service agreements (see next section).
• Documented inspections with photos where appropriate.
• Legible and complete service reports (computerized is best) for each and every visit, which include the following:
– Rooms infested and levels of infestation in each.
– Conducive conditions (clutter, crowding, structural problems, etc.).
– Level of cooperation, and specific descriptions of cooperation shortfalls.
– Special problems and safety issues.
– Specific control action taken, including state-required information on pesticide applications.
– Recommendations for repairs, corrections, improved cooperation, etc.
– Follow-up actions required of the customer.
• General guidance on the need for additional treatments, inspections, preparation requirements, preventing future infestations and the like.
• Written notes for each customer refusal to follow guidance (such as not allowing inspection of adjacent units) and other shortfalls not recorded on service reports.
• Receipt/acknowledgement signatures from a customer representative each time you provide service and whenever you provide the customer with guidance, information, criticism or recommendations. This can be oh so useful in court.
Save all documentation in the customer’s file until there is no risk of a lawsuit. How long is that? I don’t know. I have seen lawsuits where the pest control company was named as a codefendant three years after the service. I would say save for 10 years to be safe, but ask your attorney.
CONTRACTS & Warranties. Create service agreements/contracts and warranties appropriate to your bed bug service. Many contract issues are unique to bed bugs. Examples include the high risk of reintroduction, the need for cooperation and actions by residents and staff, and the variability of bed bug conducive conditions from site to site.
The service contract should describe the specific services to be provided and the areas that will be serviced. There should be a section that describes the customer’s obligations to keep the facility in a condition that does not promote bed bug infestations, and the requirements for preparation for service.
The contract should include disclaimer limitations of liability for damages from bed bugs, bites, disease, injuries, loss of use or income, property damage, etc. In addition, the contract should specifically exclude damages for replacement of infested or treated items (mattresses, furniture, rugs, etc.), medical expenses for bed bug bites, moisture damage, and other potential damages caused by bed bugs or bed bug service, excepting gross negligence.
Be very conservative with your bed bug warranties. Don’t overpromise results. Many pest control companies only warranty that they will provide the service described in the service contract, and not that they will eradicate or eliminate the bed bugs.
Warranties, service contracts, service agreements and similar documents related to bed bugs should be prepared by an attorney or, at the very least, reviewed by an attorney to ensure that the documents protect your interests under state and local laws.
Control Tools & Procedures. Lawsuits against pest management professionals often turn on whether the service met what is called the professional “standard of care” for bed bug control. In legalese, a professional standard of care is defined as the level of care, diligence and skill that is prescribed in a professional code of practice, or as other professionals in the same discipline would act in similar circumstances. If you do not meet the standard of care, you may be considered negligent.
In my view, this term is problematic for bed bug control since (1) we in the United States do not have a code of practice for bed bug control (as does Australia, for example), and (2) the technology is evolving so fast that many new bed bug tools and procedures enter the marketplace with no independent testing, government or otherwise.
The manufacturers, of course, say they work, but it typically takes years before a university or other independent organization tests these products and publishes the information. This means that the primary way the industry determines whether or not many new tools or procedures are effective in the real world is by trying it on their customers! This puts PMPs at risk in court, of course.
Probably a more useful standard for PMPs is to act “reasonably.” Which control procedures and practices are reasonable is difficult to define but certainly include using products and tactics that have a history of success, that are supported in the pest control literature, that generally conform to best management practices or guidelines (such as NPMA’s), and that are scientifically defensible.
The practices that cause you trouble in court are those generally seen by industry professionals as being problematic or substandard, such as using insecticides that have a history of significant bed bug resistance, not inspecting rooms or units adjacent to infested sites, not following manufacturer’s instructions (such as for insecticide applications or heat treatments), not providing follow-up inspections and service, and not spending adequate time for inspections and service.
Technician Qualifications and Training. Everyone now knows that bed bugs are far more difficult to control than other pests. Your bed bug technicians need rigorous training on bed bugs, inspections, prevention and all the other facets of bed bug control. NPMA’s Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs lists 12 categories of training information that technicians need at a minimum. You can be sure that plaintiff attorneys are aware of these recommendations. Make sure that your technicians have such training and, just as importantly, that you can document that training with attendance records, course materials, reading list check-offs and the like.
Customer Communications & Education. Make sure that a prospect, a customer or a resident has realistic expectations about bed bug control. Use candor to adjust expectations. Explain verbally and in writing how difficult it is to control bed bugs, that it requires a partnership between all the parties, that there is no silver bullet, that it can take multiple service visits, that bed bugs can reinfest, etc. Customers should clearly understand their responsibilities.
Provide information on bed bugs: The more handouts, the better. Explain your service preparation requirements.
These communications should begin at the initial sales contact and continue throughout the contract. Be sympathetic to your customer’s position if problems arise.
A word of warning: Everyone at a company needs to be careful what they say to managers and residents. For example, no matter what the service agreement says, if the sales staff or the technician says “your bugs will be gone in a week” that is what the customer will expect.
If a technician or sales rep means to say to a resident, “If you have a really badly infested piece of furniture you may want to dispose of it” but instead says, “If you have bed bugs, you need to dispose of your things,” you may have a problem. If that resident believes that they must throw out everything and finds out later that disposal is unnecessary, the court can find you liable for the cost of replacement. I have seen this happen in two court cases.
Furthermore, it is amazing how often an item that was purchased for $200 10 years earlier mysteriously turns into a $5,000 heirloom. Awards for replacement of personal possessions can easily reach $50,000 or $60,000, or more.
Other Actions to Limit Risk. Pest management professionals providing bed bug management services to their clients should take a number of other actions to ensure they don’t find themselves embroiled in a costly lawsuit.
• Check the labels of your insecticides for permitted sites of application (especially uses on mattresses, beds or accessible surfaces).
• Periodically spot-check your technicians’ reports for legibility, clarity and completeness.
• DON’T require unreasonable preparation by residents.
• DON’T mandate disposal of beds or other possessions.
• Consider the health impacts of your insecticide treatments, especially to those who are ill, aged, bedridden, and to children and pets. Avoid treating the same sites repeatedly with long-lasting, residual insecticides.
• Inspect units adjacent to infestations, and if you can’t, document why and get a signature.
• Don’t base actions ONLY on findings of bed bug dogs, whether negative or positive.
• Active infestations should be verified by finding live bugs; and don’t declare there are no bed bugs just because you didn’t find any.
• Make sure the client has reasonable expectations of your service.
• Review your insurance with an expert to make sure that you have the proper coverage matched to your specific bed bug services.
Larry Pinto is an entomologist and industry consultant with Pinto & Associates. He writes extensively about bed bugs, including coauthoring the Bed Bug Handbook, speaks regularly at training sessions on bed bugs and their control and regularly consults on bed bug lawsuits. You can contact Pinto at www.techletter.com.
Included in August PCT is the feature "Holy Cow...Bat Bugs and Bird Bugs," by Michael F. Potter, Kenneth F. Haynes, Jennifer Gordon, Erich Hardebeck and Eric Arnold. The authors compare and contrast ded bugs, bat bugs and bird bugs are strikingly similar in appearance. Distinguishing them and knowing their habits is now an industry imperative.