Editor’s note: Stay tuned to future issues for addtional articles from PCT’s Virtual Bed Bug Conference. Sponsors for PCT’s June 2017 event included Allergy Technologies, BedBug Central and EcoRaider.
Earlier this year, Larry Pinto, entomologist and publisher of the industry newsletter Techletter, spoke to attendees of PCT’s Bed Bug Virtual Conference about bed bug best practices. The following article features 13 bed bug tips and tricks from Pinto, Rick Cooper and Sandra Kraft, who together wrote the Bed Bug Handbook (and the soon-to-be released 2nd edition).
Pinto said that these best practices are not in any way “standards of care” for proper bed bug control, a term often heard in lawsuits. He didn’t suggest that using different practices is somehow improper or substandard. These are simply opinions on what he and his team consider best practices to avoid treatment failures, dissatisfied customers and other problems.
1. Use Methods and Materials Supported by Science
“Caveat Emptor! Bed Bug Product Buyers Beware,” was the title of an article published a few years ago in UK’s Pest magazine. The article warns PMPs that they can’t always believe a manufacturer’s hype. It’s a reminder that we have to be mindful of the products we use.
There are a lot of bed bug products, both chemical and mechanical. Our industry has used some products for years while others are new. One challenge is that many of these products haven’t been independently tested to demonstrate effectiveness against bed bugs, and “green” products require no EPA registration. Many insecticides aren’t effective against bed bug-resistant populations. Some large-scale, heat-generating equipment doesn’t generate the B.T.U.s necessary to kill bed bugs in real-world settings.
“Some products are even ineffective against all bed bugs, resistant or not, yet they’re hyped and regularly used by the industry,” said Larry Pinto, who is co-author of the Bed Bug Handbook, and owner of Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md.
Pinto says products should be independently tested, preferably in the field, by a university or government lab to demonstrate effectiveness. Choose the best tools available that are proven effective and supported in the pest control literature. Keep up on the latest research.
2. Do Not Depend Solely on Insecticides
Insecticides remain the industry’s number one tool for controlling bed bugs, even though there are well-documented limitations of their effectiveness. Some companies depend exclusively on insecticides, most often in low-income residential properties where cost is a major factor. Relying exclusively on insecticides “is almost always a mistake and it’s almost always a recipe for trouble,” Pinto said.
“Non-chemical controls are very often the most effective tools for preventing and eliminating bed bugs,” including the physical removal of bed bugs and eggs using vacuums; destruction of bed bugs using steam, heat or cold; installing mattress/box spring encasements or mattress liners for protection and prevention; and placing interceptor traps to reduce the number of bed bug bites.
“I don’t see as much use of non-chemical methods as I would like to. Few companies integrate supplemental tactics such as steaming and spot freezing, container heat treatment or other non-chemical methods, which have been shown to significantly improve control of bed bugs, especially when you’re dealing with bed bugs resistant to insecticides or when preparation and cooperation is poor,” he said.
Change your perspective and “apply insecticides as a supplement to non-chemical tactics, rather than the other way around,” Pinto suggested.
3. Don’t Ignore Insecticide Resistance
“Design your bed bug service to overcome resistance using multiple tactics, chemical and non-chemical, and only use methods and materials supported by science,” he said.
Bed bugs quickly develop resistance to insecticides. There are high levels of bed bugs resistance to synthetic pyrethroid insecticides throughout the U.S. and recent research found moderate to high levels of resistance to neonicotinoids in some areas.
“Don’t ignore the potential impact of resistance on the effectiveness of your bed bug service,” Pinto added. It’s best to assume any population of bed bugs is resistant to pyrethroids and possibly other insecticides. Choose insecticides that have been shown to control resistant bed bugs. Bed bugs remain susceptible to direct spraying with a contact insecticide. Choose the right product formulation, as one may be more effective than another against resistant bed bugs.
4. Use Bed Bug Monitors
Sticky traps used to be the only monitoring tool for monitoring for bed bugs, which were “remarkably ineffective at capturing bed bugs.” Early bed bug monitors were expensive and complicated to maintain. Today, there are a wide range of monitors that are simple to use and very effective. “Unfortunately, there are still some being marketed that are conceptually flawed, impractical or ineffective,” he said.
Well-designed monitors can detect very low levels of bed bugs where visual inspections reveal nothing. They can isolate beds from wandering bed bugs and help avoid premature termination of treatment services by verifying no bed bugs are being captured after several weeks.
Recent research has shown that mass trapping using monitors and interceptor traps has been successful in suppressing low-level populations of bed bugs. Another study demonstrated that interceptors placed both near and away from beds are more effective at detecting bed bugs in apartments compared to bed bug canine scent detection teams or visual inspection by a professional. The bottom line: Monitors and intercept traps are very effective and should play a much larger role in bed bug service.
5. Confirm All Infestations
Confirmed infestations are those in which a technician has seen live bed bugs and viable eggs. In rare instances, shed bed bug skin, spotting and blood smears may be considered confirmed evidence, although there’s a risk that it’s from a previous infestation. Infestations are not confirmed even if a bed bug dog alerts, unless the alert is confirmed.
Residents reporting bed bug bites or sightings of “bed bugs” don’t qualify as confirmed evidence. Non-professionals may confuse other pests with bed bugs, such as immature cockroaches, ticks, head lice, domestic beetle larvae and other arthropods.
“Bites” aren’t proof of bed bugs. Itchy welts can be caused by a number of pests and their bites are indistinguishable from those of a bed bug, “no matter what dermatologists think.” Medical conditions and drug reactions also may cause a similar reaction.
In general, you shouldn’t provide bed bug service, especially insecticide-based service, without evidence of an active infestation. There are exceptions, including preventive treatment under heavy bed bug pressure or when there are multiple reports of bed bugs, especially in sensitive sites such as schools, theaters, medical facilities, offices or where public perception or liability risk is the major concern. In these cases, it’s usually better to use non-chemical measures. Residents and managers have to understand that if no confirmed evidence of beg bugs is found that treatment, whether chemical or non-chemical, is “preventive.” Document this in writing, preferably with a customer acknowledgement.
6. Develop & Follow Bed Bug Service Protocols
Service protocols serve many purposes, including standardizing service. They inform customers about technical details of the service, the scope of service, what to expect and customer responsibilities, such as access, preparation, and the need to inspect neighboring rooms or apartment units. Written protocols provide technicians with a checklist. They’re also good support documents for sales presentations and valuable in disputes or lawsuits.
Protocols don’t have to be long, involved documents. A page or two with a synopsis or checklist that briefly describes the service the company will provide is sufficient. Information to include in protocols:
- Brief description of inspection process and its limitations.
- Scope of service, including areas to be treated, extent of treatment, rooms and units to be inspected.
- “Neighboring units,” as you define, that need to be inspected and risks of noncompliance.
- Preparation requirements.
- Description of initial and follow-up services, tools and tactics to be used, typical sites treated, monitoring tools, etc.
- Instructions such as treating infested materials, installing encasements, vacuuming, clutter reduction and furniture disposal.
- Methodology for determining when follow-up service will be discontinued.
- Miscellaneous information to help manage customer expectations.
- Service guarantees and warranties.
7. Don’t Limit Service Only to Rooms with Bed Bug Activity
Research has shown that bed bugs are much more mobile than we previously believed, even in low-level infestations. It’s a mistake to limit treatment to rooms where there’s evidence of bed bugs or in which residents report being bitten. Bed bugs may be present in other rooms, but at levels too low to detect during a visual inspection.
8. Inspect Units That Neighbor Infested Sites in an Account
Inspecting a room, apartment, or hotel room that neighbors an infested site is critical. Opinions vary as to what a “neighboring unit” is and which ones should be inspected, but try to inspect any unit with a common wall, ceiling or floor — rooms that are on either side, above and below. Bed bugs can travel across and down hallways, so add the room or unit across the hall to your list. A strategy for hotels is to inspect a block of nine rooms: the infested room, the rooms on either side, as well as the three units directly above and three units directly below.
Bed bugs naturally disperse into new locations when their population grows, they’ve been disturbed or their current site has been vacant for more than a few days. Unless you inspect neighboring areas and know the extent of the spread, you can’t de
termine the scope of services required. The more you inspect, the greater your chance of finding bed bugs and controlling them.
Continue to inspect neighboring units throughout the service period, since insecticide applications and other service activities may drive bed bugs into new areas. If they’re found in a new area, inspections should be expanded to include units neighboring the newly discovered infestation. At some point, it may be prudent to inspect all of the units in a section of the building, or the entire building or complex, perhaps using canine scent detection.
Not inspecting neighboring hotel rooms or apartments is a real liability in lawsuits for both property managers and pest control companies. “If you’re not doing it you better have a good, documented reason for not doing it,” Pinto said.9. Inspect All Common Areas
If there are multiple, on- going bed bug infestations, it’s important to regularly inspect and monitor common areas. Apartment or condominium complexes, retirement housing, group homes and even some office buildings may provide onsite community services, such as laundry rooms, party or game rooms, dining areas, or rooms with TVs or computers. People unwittingly pick up bed bugs on clothing and possessions from infested sites and the hitchhiking bed bugs are transported to the common areas. Residents also can pick up bed bugs in such areas and take them back to their apartment or condo. Install monitors in common areas and check monthly. If bed bug activity is detected, initiate service and increase inspection frequency.
10. Have a Plan for Vacant Rooms and Residences
Once a room or residence is vacant, bed bug behavior changes significantly. Their usual host and hiding places are unavailable and they may wander. Their locations are now unpredictable and often inaccessible in the vacant unit. They’re more likely to hide beneath carpeting, behind moldings, and within ceilings, walls and floorboards. They even may go into kitchens, bathrooms and cabinets.
Treating vacant residences can be problematic, because it’s difficult to know where to treat or if the bed bugs will be active enough to interact with the areas that have been treated. Typically, a technician will spray the baseboards, carpet edges, and inside cracks and voids in bedrooms, but many bed bugs will have moved on to other more protected sites. Bed bugs can survive for weeks or months in these sites and then reappear when the new occupants arrive.
11. Consider Offering a Low-Prep Option
Preparation before bed bug treatment can be very labor intensive and may include bagging, laundering, drying or dry cleaning all clothes and bed clothes, emptying all drawers, removing drapes, standing mattresses and box springs against the wall — even disassembling bed frames. Some residents may not be able to physically prepare the apartment and in low-income housing residents may not be able to afford the cost of laundering and dry cleaning. In cluttered apartments, there may be no space to put bagged materials and no way to move the furniture.
“Another major problem with intensive preparation is that it disturbs the bed bugs, it gets them moving out of typical sites around beds and other sleeping areas into atypical sites, often deep inside voids and other hiding places,” Pinto said. “Intensive client preparation often makes effective bed bug control more difficult rather than more effective.”
Some companies don’t require customer preparation, especially for an initial service visit. Residents are simply asked to provide access to the apartment. That way, the bed bug environment is left undisturbed, making it easier for technicians to evaluate the infestation. In this case, technicians bag items and tag them indicating to the resident the appropriate treatment, which must be completed. “Some companies offer an add-on for a fee to take the laundry to a commercial laundry or dry cleaner.” Technicians should provide residents information on what’s required prior to follow-up treatments, such as emptying packed closets.
Companies using a low-preparation approach “report faster and more effective control of bed bugs,” which is reinforced by research in heavily infested, affordable housing communities, Pinto said.
12. Consider Preventive Treatments Where Appropriate
Experts disagree on the need for preventive insecticide treatments for high-risk sites, due to poor efficacy and the potential of unnecessary insecticide exposure of residents.
Some professionals are using preventive treatments, although there isn’t much science that supports insecticide barrier treatments. Inaccessible wall voids are difficult to locate and reach, making it difficult to create a significant dust barrier. “Another possible preventive treatment is a light application of insecticide dust into living areas,” Pinto said. “Recent research using silica gel has been encouraging and researchers suggest that the propagation and spread of an infestation can be reduced by applying an ultra-light deposit of silica gel around the perimeter.”
Non-chemical measures, including heat treating new tenants’ belongings before moving in, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of introducing bed bugs into non-infested sites. This protocol also may be useful in other high-risk sites, such as school dormitories and hospitals. Encasements, sealing cracks and crevices, and replacing bug-friendly upholstered furniture are also effective non-chemical, preventive measures.
13. Make Sure Service Documentation is Complete and Legible
“Unlucky number 13 is here because those of us who are expert witnesses in bed bug lawsuits are regularly blown away by the poor record-keeping from both the property management company and the pest control company that becomes part of the case,” Pinto said.
Inadequate service records appear all too frequently in the pest control industry. Inaccurate or missing information may include the technician’s name, treatment address, treatment dates, details of bed bug infestation levels and locations, or the presence of clutter. State-required information also may be incomplete or missing. Illegible handwriting is problematic. Electronic records are best and also serve as a treatment checklist, but handwritten records are fine as long as they’re legible.
“Nearly every legal case I’ve worked on, at least 50 or more, has had issues with documentation that put the defense at risk or actually cost them the case,” Pinto concluded.
The author is a Florida-based freelancer and a frequent contributor to PCT magazine.