The effective control of bed bugs within homes and structures continues to pose a problem within the pest management industry. While the amount of information on bed bug biology, behavior and control has steadily increased, surveys of pest control companies show that, as an industry, we continue to struggle with controlling this pest. Are these failures a result of the type of control strategies used, product selection or something else? In most cases, failures in the bed bug program occurred before any product was selected and before any treatment was performed. The failure occurred during the inspection phase of the bed bug control program.
The inspection, as with any pest, is the most critical phase of a bed bug control program. Identifying all those areas in which the bugs are found is critical in developing a foundation for your treatment strategies and techniques. However, just locating the bugs is not the only thing that should be done during the inspection process. It starts even before that.
The First Step.
The most overlooked step in the inspection process is learning as much as possible about your customer. The knowledge that you can gather during this initial conversation can help you to identify any obstacles, or challenges, that may hinder the success of your bed bug control program. Things that may be of particular interest include the ages and relative health of the occupants, travel patterns and behaviors, and specific cultural behaviors, just to name a few. It’s also important to note whether the occupant has utilized any control measures prior to your visit. This information can help you to identify those particular areas where bed bugs are most likely to be found, those behaviors or practices that may spread bed bugs throughout the home or structure, and any behaviors that may reduce the effectiveness of your treatment strategies.
Some issues may be easy to identify, such as the presence of clutter or questionable cleaning habits, however, some may not be so obvious. The age and the health of the occupants play a big role in the success of your bed bug control program. As has been reported, a greater number of seniors choose to remain in their homes, or the home of a relative, forgoing a move to a nursing home or assisted-living facility. These older customers often may not recognize the signs of an infestation, or have behaviors that are in direct conflict with our control strategies.
For example, as an industry, we are diligent in discussing the importance of heat in controlling bugs on clothes and other washable items. However, not all people use dryers to dry their clothes. For some, the use of a clothesline is the preferred method. This practice can often hinder our control efforts by not only reintroducing bed bugs into an already treated area, but also spread them to new areas within a home or structure.
A Bed is Not a Bed.
Identifying bed bug “hot zones” also may be a challenge without communicating first with the customer. As the science has told us, the majority of bed bugs are found around a food source, so most inspections begin in the bedroom, and more specifically, around the mattress and box spring. However, depending upon the information you collect from your customer, it is important to remember that sometimes, a bed doesn’t always look like a bed! Oftentimes, people will utilize any type of soft furniture — a sofa, a recliner even an oversized chair — as a place to sleep. Children also are known for creating “beds” or “tents” made of blankets and other soft items, in the corner of rooms, often closest to their favorite toys.
And don’t forget the toys — stuffed animals, special blankets and pillows. These can also present challenges when developing your bed bug program. In some cases, taking one of these items from a child, and on occasion an adult, may be next to impossible. If not addressed during your control program, these can also be instrumental in either reintroducing bed bugs to an already treated area, or move them to a new area.
As part of an IPM process, the inspection is the most critical phase of a bed bug control program. Whether you utilize visual inspections, canine scent detection, active, passive or pitfall traps, or a combination of techniques, the key is to detect the problem early. However, we need to remember, that there is more to the inspection than just finding the bugs.
The author is Rollins’ technical services director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.