[Bed Bug Supplement] Bed Bugs: The Global Challenge

An international panel shared their best management practices for controlling what many consider the “pest of the 21st century.”

It is well known that during the past decade in the United States there has been a significant increase in the number of bed bug cases. But it’s not just a problem affecting this country. At PestWorld 2012, panelists from the United Kingdom, Australia and United States were invited to share their best pest management practices and provide insights into the epidemic that is spreading across international borders.

UK Perspective.

Simon Forrester, chief executive of the British Pest Control Association, discussed the bed bug problems that are being faced in the UK, particularly London, which is the bed bug capital of the United Kingdom. London is about the size of New York City, with a very active and diverse population (it is home to one-eighth of UK’s population). The United Kingdom also has the world’s highest number of international tourists, which offers its own set of challenges when it comes to dealing with pest problems.

In the 1930s, roughly 10 percent of housing in London was affected by bed bugs and there were few effective treatments at that time. But the bed bug issue in London dropped off quickly during that decade and in years to follow, mainly due to new government legislation aimed at improving conditions in London housing.

From the 1960s through the mid-1990s, the bed bug population was less than 1 percent; however, things changed at the turn of the century when bed bugs started showing pesticide resistance.

Issues with these pests are still prevalent in London and bed bugs were a serious concern during the London Olympics. The events took place in East London, a somewhat economically depressed area of the city, which contains some of the highest incidents of bed bugs in the UK. There also were fears that bed bugs would be brought from overseas, with the influx of travelers to the area; thankfully, that did not end up being the case.

The UK has a thriving private sector pest control industry, which is about two-thirds of the market. Local authorities also handle about 30 percent of the industry, focusing mostly on providing services to those in social housing and economically depressed areas. Quite often, pest control services in the UK are subsidized and performed for customers at no charge.

In the UK there is no regulation or certification for pest control , so it is possible that seemingly anyone could go out and begin treating. Another problem is the easy access to products that don’t work well, which means that the industry has the challenging task of policing itself.

The UK’s process for identifying bed bug infestations is similar to how it’s done in the United States. Pest professionals rely on surveys, visual inspections and passive and active monitors, as well as canine units. Before treatments are made, rooms are prepared and clients are given guidance on what will be happening; what steps will need to be taken; and specifications about how to properly disassemble a room.

Treatments primarily used in the UK are heat and cold, which is sometimes difficult in high-density housing. The cost is sometimes prohibitive as well. Also used are vacuuming and steam treatments, and since the upsurge in bed bug cases, new systems have been introduced; however their effectiveness has not been consistent, Forrester said. Because of resistant bed bugs, service professionals use a variety of pesticides, although spray treatments are rarely used.

There is a great deal of information available to the public. Local authorities produce leaflets for the general public, landlords and health care professionals, and there are also many training opportunities available.

According to Forrester, the UK is facing three main challenges. The first is a lack of public access to bed bug research. A lot of bed bug info controlled by hoteliers and pest control professionals would be a massive help if it were shared, Forrester said. The second challenge is ensuring that codes of practice are being used by everyone. The final issue is that there needs to be affordable techniques available that are appropriate for lower income areas and customers.

Aussie Perspective.

Greg Mills, managing director of Allpest, a leading pest management company in Western Australia, discussed unique issues his company faces. Allpest’s main corporate office is located in Perth, Australia, one of the most isolated cities in the world. The company has 200 employees throughout Australia even though it only has four branches across a state that covers more than 1 million square miles. Allpest prides itself on having state-of-the-art training facilities and a fleet of 140 vehicles.

Part of the company’s code of practices relies on a senior operator writing a management plan for each individual job, with that individual choosing the appropriate technician for each job.

All of Allpest’s bed bug work practices are based on The Australian Bed Bug Code of Practice, which has been developed by the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association. Mills sits on the code’s Working Party. The Code of Practice, which is in its 4th edition, is free to the public (www.bedbug.org.au). Mills says his firm uses the Code of Practice as a way to justify cost and methods. The company also works with chemical and equipment manufacturers to conduct efficacy tests and trials.

Mills discussed three different case studies to shed some light on bed bug issues they deal with in Western Australia. The first looked at bed bug infestations in low- to no-income areas, where there are increasing pest issues and little government assistance. Problems often are ignored and delayed due to costs and the longer that happens, the worse they get. Residents of these households also often have second-hand furniture, which makes infestations more common.

The client at the center of the first case study would have had to pay upwards of $2,000 to treat a bed bug infestation that had been growing for months. Allpest stepped in to make this treatment, which usually would have been handled by the government. But private firms doing such treatments is not feasible in the long term.

In case study two, Mills discussed the treatments Allpest performed at a multi-story hotel. The hotel featured multiple floors of double-brick construction, with rooms that had built-in furniture. The owner of this particular hotel was unwilling to dismantle the furniture, making it difficult to treat for pests.

Allpest treated the hotel over the course of one year, often treating the same levels multiple times before the issue was corrected. They also conducted inspections in all neighboring units, as well as the units above and below the most highly infested room. However, it wasn’t a cut-and-dry case. This hotel’s infestation required several treatments, even after technicians believed that the bed bug problem had been eradicated. In this case, Allpest realized the infestations on different levels of the hotels were unrelated, as one level had common bed bugs, while the other had tropical bed bugs. In all, it took Allpest eight months to realize what treatments would and would not work. The problem? The tropical bed bugs were resistant to all pesticides that had been applied. The rooms infested with resistant bed bugs were eventually treated using diatomaceous earth, heat treatment and cleaning.

Case study three focused on a mine site, which was a 1,500-man camp in a remote location. Western Australia is about 3.8 times the size of Texas, yet the population density of this area is 350 times less than Massachusetts. Just as there are issues in crowded metropolitan areas, this type of remote location comes with its own unique challenges as well.

One problem is that there are stringent Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws and procedures. It is also not cost effective for pest managers to travel to such areas and there is little training or accommodation available for them when they do. There are also expensive safety courses required for those who choose to fly out or even drive to such remote sites for what might end up being a three-hour bed bug job.

In order to get around some of these issues, Allpest has created a Bed Bug Minesite Handbook, which includes a bed bug flow chart, a complaint procedure, infestation reports and frequently asked questions to help the process run a bit more smoothly. There is also face-to-face training with the head office, site management, catering management, the cleaning staff and other workers.

The treatment process for bed bug work in isolated areas has several steps. First, there is a phone discussion with the client. The next step is the immediate isolation of potential infested areas or items by the mine site staff. The pest manager would then fly to the mine site to inspect potential sites and neighboring areas, such as laundries or common areas. He would then develop eradication management plans, which include work method statements, OHS issues with site safety officers and job hazard analysis, before seeking approval to implement treatment plans. Once the pest manager has approval, he would begin the treatment management plan and return in 14 days to conduct a follow-up. Mills’ team at Allpest has developed a training program for all mine site workers to help in the detection of bed bugs on site and also to help all employees recognize bed bugs at accommodation places while traveling in the hope that the number of bed bug infestations are reduced at mine sites.

U.S. Perspective.

Andrew Klein, president of Assured Environments, a third-generation business that is both the oldest and largest pest management company in New York City, discussed his knowledge of the bed bug issues that have plagued the city.

By 2004-05, there was a huge uptick in the occurrence of bed bugs and Assured Environments decided it would be a thought leader when it came to offering bed bug treatments, setting out to discover the best ways to find and treat these insects.

The bed bug pandemic has changed Assured Environments as a company, Klein said. In 2010, Assured Environments was at the epicenter of the bed bug crisis and became a fixture in the media, leading the firm to hire a large number of new technicians and outfit them with new equipment. However, in 2011 bed bug incidents seemed to drop off unexpectedly, leaving the company expecting double digit growth that never happened.

This experience taught Assured Environments the valuable lesson that the pest control business is rather unpredictable, especially when it comes to bed bugs.

At first, Assured Environments only provided bed bug control services to its current customer base — the firm didn’t reach out to new customers.

Originally, existing customers that had problems were paying large amounts to get rid of bed bugs at all costs. But as the amount of bed bug infestations continued to rise, there was more competition from competitors, which forced Assured Environments to modify its pricing system.

Bed bugs are an easy sale for salespeople, but Assured Environments learned that allowing them to solely concentrate on selling bed bug treatments actually holds them back from selling other services. Klein says they are constantly grappling with ways to get salespeople to find general pest control accounts instead of focusing solely on bed bugs.

In 2010, it was difficult for Assured Environments to manage its clients when they would call panicked after reading a story about bed bugs or hearing a report on the news. In 2012, the hysteria definitely calmed down, but the bed bug issue remained prevalent. Most of Assured Environments’ bed bug work is on the commercial side, from office buildings, hotels, etc. Klein says he thinks people are living with bed bugs in their homes and spreading them around to public places. He also says many people have come into this industry offering cheap treatments for bed bugs, but they don’t know how to properly treat them or prevent them from coming back.

Assured Environments also has convinced people to proactively go through apartment buildings with canines, which are able to detect infestations earlier, and Klein says that if you are able to train your canine teams properly and accurately, you will also be able to properly inspect.

Final Thoughts.

Although every pest management company is faced with its own obstacles depending on which part of the world they are based in, what is evident is that the bed bug epidemic is far reaching and widespread. Bed bugs are not just a problem occurring in a small geographic area, but rather one that has expanded on a global scale. By learning the best pest management practices of companies from around the world, perhaps the challenge of treating these problematic pests can become more manageable.


The author is a Cleveland, Ohio-based contributing writer for PCT magazine.

December 2013
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