Editor’s Note: In this excerpt from the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, veteran PMP Richard Cooper shares his “real-world” recommendations for preventing bed bugs from becoming a problem in your accounts. If they do become a problem, here’s how you can stop them in their tracks.
Eliminating an established bed bug infestation can be very difficult, so it is always best for pest management professionals to take steps to prevent the introduction of bed bugs in the first place. The key to prevention and early detection is education. In the event that bed bugs are introduced, early detection of the infestation is critical. Infestations that are detected early can typically be eradicated easily; however, the longer an infestation remains undetected, the more difficult and costly it becomes to eliminate.
Pest management professionals can provide clients with educational material informing them about bed bugs, where they come from, steps to avoid them, how to recognize the signs and symptoms, and what to do if they suspect bed bugs. For example, clients can be educated to avoid purchasing used furniture or second-hand items or at least to carefully inspect them beforehand. Even new furniture or bedding should be inspected carefully at the time of delivery, as items can become infested during transport in delivery vehicles that are infested. Care also should be taken when renting or leasing furniture. Tips also can be provided regarding the steps that can be taken when returning from travel, or when children are returning from college or overnight stays at camps or friends’ homes.
In addition to education, policies and procedures to reduce the likelihood of bed bug introductions can be instituted in high-risk environments such as shelters and group homes. In these settings, preventive measures also might include inspection of personal belongings prior to entry, hot laundering of clothing, stuffed animals, and other items that can tolerate a hot wash or hot dry cycle. The use of heat chambers and other novel methods have become more commonplace in an effort to minimize the likelihood for the introduction of bed bugs via personal belongings.
Prevention is not always possible and can be more difficult to accomplish in multi-occupancy settings, such as apartments or dormitories where bugs can migrate from surrounding units that are infested. Facilities such as hotels, medical facilities or shelters are at risk for infestations on a daily basis as people come and go. In these types of settings, early detection takes on an especially important role and may be the single most important factor when it comes to eliminating a bed bug infestation. All too often bed bugs go undetected for several months or more, allowing the infestation to become well established and entrenched within the structure, making their elimination difficult and costly. Examples of preventive measures that can be taken include:
Mattress & Box Spring Encasements. Mattresses and box springs can be encased with encasements specifically designed for bed bugs. Once encased, bed bugs are unable to get inside the box spring or mattress where they can remain hidden from detection. Instead their movement is restricted to the exterior of the encasement where they can be readily detected during inspections.
Interception Devices. Pitfall traps or other passive mechanical barriers can be placed under the legs of beds, sofas, and other furniture to intercept bugs as they migrate to these areas in search of a blood meal.
Daily Routine Inspections. Steps aimed at checking for obvious signs of infestation can be incorporated into the daily activities of caregivers and housekeeping staff in lodging facilities.
Confirming a Bed Bug Infestation
In the event that bed bugs are suspected in one of your accounts, the first step should be to confirm that an infestation actually exists. Bed bugs are often suspected simply due to the presence of physical symptoms (e.g., itchy welts). In the absence of a sample, it is important to conduct an inspection to look for evidence of bed bugs. Evidence may be seen in the form of fecal deposits (otherwise referred to as spotting), caste skins (exuvia), carcasses or live bugs.
Care also should be taken when examining suspected evidence of bed bugs to avoid misidentification. German cockroach fecal deposits resemble the feces produced by bed bugs but can be differentiated by their rough texture compared to the smooth deposits produced by bed bugs. In addition, the feces produced by bed bugs (dried excreted blood) are water soluble and will smear when wet with a damp cloth while those of cockroaches will not.
Care also should be taken when examining shed caste skins (exuvia). Shed skins from dermestid beetle larvae are often found in many of the same places as bed bugs, such as on mattresses, box springs, under or behind furniture, along baseboards, and along carpeting tack strips. If care is not taken, shed skins from dermestid larvae can be easily mistaken for shed skins from bed bugs. Immature cockroaches are often in the same environments as bed bugs and can be confused by those not trained in proper identification. Likewise, psocids, a common structural pest, are similar in appearance to first instar bed bugs and can be easily confused if not examined carefully. Individuals who are not familiar with bed bugs may also confuse ticks with either immature or adult bed bugs. Bird or rodent mites can bite occupants of structures and also can be easily confused with first instar bed bugs.
Once it has been confirmed the sample is in fact a cimicid, it is important to determine which species is infesting the structure so it is essential that the samples be properly identified. Just because it looks like a bed bug, one cannot assume it is Cimex lectularius. Bed bugs, bat bugs and bird bugs are all similar in appearance and require careful examination for correct identification.
Careful observation and environmental clues can be helpful in tipping off the pest management professional that he or she may be dealing with something other than a bed bug. For example, an alternate host should be suspected when bugs are readily seen on the walls, ceiling, or wall ceiling junctions but are absent from sleeping areas, (and the occupants are not reporting being bitten). While these types of clues are reason to suspect bird bugs or bat bugs, samples should be collected for positive identification. If bats, chimney swifts, swallows, pigeons or poultry are serving as the primary host, different control measures will be required than would be for C. lectularius (common bed bugs) or C. hemipterus (tropical bed bugs). — Richard Cooper
Periodic Intensive Inspections. Detailed inspections of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, head/foot boards and upholstered furniture can be performed on a periodic basis. In hotels, these measures can be performed by maintenance staff as part of the ongoing maintenance schedule for guest rooms.
Periodic Specialized Inspections. Inspections performed by a pest management professional can greatly increase the likelihood of identifying an infestation. Canine scent detection also has become increasingly popular within the lodging industry as well as other multi-occupancy facilities. A specific number of rooms are checked on an ongoing basis ensuring the every room is checked at least once, and in many cases, several times per year.
Use of Active Monitoring Devices. Active monitors employ one or more lures, such as CO2, heat and chemical attractants, to attract bed bugs (typically host-seeking bugs). These devices may prove especially useful for detection of bed bugs in unoccupied hotel guest rooms, vacant apartment units or units that share a common wall with a known infestation.
It’s important to remember no early detection tool or method exists at the present time that is completely effective.
The author is vice president of Cooper Pest Solutions, Lawrenceville, N.J.