[Bed Bug Supplement] Investigating Realistic Control Options

Supplement - Bed Bug Supplement

One of the industry’s leading bed bug researchers makes her predictions for what’s going to happen in the battle against bed bugs in the next 10 years.

September 29, 2015

According to Dr. Dini Miller, professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., pest management professionals can usually eliminate bed bugs from single-family homes using current tools such as liquid and residual chemicals, heat and fumigation. However, bed bug issues are only increasing. Asked to predict what PMPs might expect related to bed bug control over the next 10 years, Miller shared her thoughts at NPMA PestWorld 2014 last October.

“For single-family homes, if somebody wants to get rid of bed bugs, is cooperative and is willing to pay you whatever it takes to get them out of there, no problem,” Miller says. “Where we’re seeing bed bugs really settle in today is multi-unit housing, and that’s very concerning.”

Multi-Unit Dilemma.

Miller expects bed bugs to continue to thrive in multi-unit housing for several reasons. PMPs and facility managers don’t have any real control over the residents, plus residents in heavily infested units often have more serious problems in their lives, so bed bugs take a back seat to other concerns. Various construction elements also present challenges when implementing bed bug prevention and treatment. In addition, the time and labor to inspect and treat these buildings is considerable. Ultimately, the owners of multi-unit dwellings can’t afford ongoing bed bug management.

“The expectation that we can eradicate bed bugs in a multi-unit building is not realistic. In addition, bed bug remediation is something that many apartment managers and owners did not pay for in the past, but last year they may have paid between $100,000 and $600,000 for treatment. Can they afford to pay that amount every year from now on?” asks Miller.

In an effort to educate stakeholders in the multi-unit housing industry last fall, Miller and her associate, Molly Stedfast, conducted a webinar for more than 3,000 participants. One of the first comments Miller made to the apartment managers was that if they didn’t want bed bugs to be a part of their jobs, they may want to consider seeking other employment.

“We are seeing managers that refuse to go into bed bug infested-units. They want nothing to do with the problem, and they certainly don’t want to know what pest controllers do,” says Miller. “The managers are part of the problem now.”

Infestations, Density Rising.

When Miller started working with bed bugs in 2004, she would see lightly infested units, but over the last 10 years, she’s seeing not only more infestations but more heavily populated ones. The reasons for these large infestations may include poor property management; residents who don’t address the problem until it becomes massive or don’t want to admit they have bed bugs; as well as those who think they can treat bed bugs themselves. According to Miller, most of the people she’s met through her extension programs don’t even know what bed bugs look like or would not recognize signs of an infestation until it become so substantial that it becomes difficult to treat.

Another problem is that it’s just not realistic to expect residents to properly prepare — especially to the extent that most PMPs require.

“When we accept that, then we will realize are going to have to find another way to deal with the situation as it is. I think we are looking at less preparation and more treatment.”

Reducing Costs.

One of the most significant aspects of managing bed bugs is to keep costs down. An efficient method is to train the facilities managers and staff about bed bug identification, how to recognize signs of infestation, and how to inspect and monitor units.

Miller says this means real hands-on training on how to conduct periodic inspections of the top five locations where one might find bed bugs — the bed (headboard, mattress seams and tag), whatever seat has the best view of the television, any wheelchair or scooter chair, all ceiling/wall junctions, as well as all baseboards and faceplates.

“You may think that you are giving away your business by training facilities personnel, but this is something we need to be looking into. Facilities can’t afford to have you do it, especially in large complexes,” Miller says. “But, please don’t train them for free. If you charge them by the hour, you’ll have a much more attentive audience that’s interested in what you have to say.”

Prevention Techniques.

Another method to reduce costs is to work with the facilities manager and staff to prevent bed bug spread between units by applying residual desiccant dust around the perimeter of each unit. If done properly, bed bugs will not be able to travel to adjacent units without crossing the barrier and picking up a lethal dose.

“Your clients are going to need this because we have class action lawsuits going on and they are going to need to demonstrate they are doing something proactive,” says Miller. “This is something they can do and you can train them. Alternatively, you can do it yourself and charge them for it. If you are servicing a HUD facility, the facilities personnel have to be working under a certified applicator.”

Miller’s team found when a resistant bed bug strain was exposed to either diatomaceous earth or silica aerogel the insects died in less than 36 hours. She says these products last unchanged in wall voids for years at low humidity. However, in order to create a barrier, the applicator must know the building construction and be equipped with endurance tools that can stand up to treating so many units.

During this research project, Miller’s team treated 120 units, completing seven units each day.

“We were working from nine to four. It took about 40 minutes per unit. All units were occupied, highly cluttered and nobody did any prep work. Yet, we were able to deal with it.” Miller says. “This is a proactive application, and you will be helping your clients by keeping their costs down.”

Based on her experience, current treatment preparation instructions are not realistic, Miller said. In the case of elderly or disabled residents, PMPs will no longer be able to walk away from units that are not prepared for treatment. So, what can be done in unprepared units?

“Vacuuming!” says Miller.

Vacuuming helps reduce populations before treatment by picking up small instars that hide in shed skins of older nymphs. PMPs and facility managers must take care to document vacuuming efforts.

“We’ve got a backpack vacuum and we insert a knee high stocking into where the attachment goes to the hose, so all of the bugs and debris go right into the stocking,” Miller says.

Miller also suggests using passive monitoring with pitfall traps positioned near the head of the bed. However, monitors don’t work if they are not checked.

“Pitfall traps are the least expensive, but do not give them away because they will have no value to the customer. I’ve been in complexes that were given traps months ago and they are sitting unopened in an office,” Miller says. “Work with the facilities manager to place them in each unit and have the staff inspect the monitors once a month. Alternatively, you put them out and charge for monitor inspection by the hour.”

Another suggestion Miller makes is to not ask people to wash clean clothes.

“For pretreatment, the clothes dryer is our No. 1 line of defense. Don’t have people wash anything. There’s no reason to get the bed bugs wet, it just makes them harder to heat,” Miller says. “If they want to wash their clothes later, fine. But if they’re washing clean clothes to meet your pretreatment needs, it’s not necessary.”

Steam also can be an effective tool when PMPs see bed bugs. Miller says if you can’t see any bugs, there’s no reason to steam an entire mattress.

“I was at a fire rescue station and they had seen a couple of bed bugs. A company came in and steamed every mattress,” says Miller. “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if you don’t see any bugs in front of your steamer head, you are wasting your time. Why would you steam several mattresses if you don’t see any evidence of bed bugs?”

Chamber Treatments.

In the last few years, Miller is seeing more demand to treat residents’ belongings with chamber heat or chamber fumigation. Consider apartments where people are moving out and don’t want to take bed bugs with them, or people who are moving in that may bring bed bugs with them.

“You might want to think about purchasing a portable chamber that you can take into apartments. Or talk apartment managers into purchasing something themselves, so that they have it available for people moving in or out,” says Miller.

Miller is a believer in whole-home heat treatment, as long as it is done properly, using multiple sensors to ensure that the hard-to-heat locations get hot enough to kill the bed bugs (122OF).

“If your clients are using heat, they need to record when each sensor made it to the bed bug lethal temperature to show that what you did was successful,” Miller says.

Finally, Miller says chamber fumigation is going to be an increasingly important tool to treat personal belongings. Why? Residents’ vehicles.

At this time, fumigation is the only way to eliminate bed bugs from vehicles. If an apartment is infested with bed bugs, most likely the tenant’s vehicle is as well. Shelters often ask residents to store belongings in their cars. Residents may have homeless relatives that they drive around. Miller says vehicles need to be considered each time a unit or structure is treated for bed bugs.

Recently, Miller worked with Connor’s Termite and Pest Control, based in Virginia, to test the ability of chamber fumigation to eliminate bed bugs from a car using Vikane gas fumigant. Prior to sealing the car inside a 40-foot shipping container, the team hid three replications of live bed bug adults, nymphs and eggs (contained in nylon stockings) inside the front seat, in the glove compartment and underneath the floor mats. Once the chamber was sealed to meet specifications for the fumigation, they introduced 15 pounds of Vikane for four hours with a one-hour aeration period, an amount based on proven calculations. In similar applications, PMPs could use less fumigant by extending the exposure time.

There was 100 percent mortality for the nymphs and adults. The eggs did not show any kind of stress after 72 hours, although at five days, indentations appeared in the egg shells, and all the eggs were dead.

As far as predicting the next 10 years, Miller says insecticides work, but no one should expect 100 percent control of bed bugs from them alone due to resistance issues. After a treatment, if someone finds a bed bug or two, she recommends using monitors and inspecting on a regular basis. Properly conducted heat and fumigation chambers work well for personal belongings because these items cannot be treated with insecticides. Perhaps most important, pest management professionals must provide customers documentation that they had fewer bed bugs after treatment than they did before.

For the industry, the next decade may be a long haul, but Miller says she hopes it will be filled with new learning experiences and fresh ways to think about how to manage bed bugs for those that service multi-unit structures.

“Facilities manager and resident training may be the single most important thing you can do,” Miller says. “Please teach them what a bed bug looks like and charge them for your time.”


Christine Brazell is a freelance writer who frequently writes about the pest management industry.