When Can a Site Be Declared “Bed Bug-Free?”

Bed Bug Supplement - Bed Bug Supplement

And should people be informed of past infestations?

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In the lodging industry, there is heavy pressure to put rooms back in service since each day a room is out of service impacts the hotel’s bottom line.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Techletter, a biweekly training letter for professional pest control technicians from Pinto & Associates. To subscribe, visit www.techletter.com.

How can you be sure you’ve eliminated the last bed bug in an account? When you find no further evidence, do you assume the bed bugs have been eliminated until something proves otherwise, or do you assume that they probably have not been eliminated despite your efforts? The possibility of eliminating bed bugs depends on the site and the level of infestation. In some sites, such as a single-family home, you have a good chance of getting rid of them, but what about an apartment property? Here you may be able to control, but not eliminate, bed bugs.

When, and even if, an account can be declared “bed bug-free” is a controversial topic. Many factors limit your ability to “clear” a hotel room for return to service, or to declare a vacant apartment free of bed bugs and ready to rent. No detection procedure is close to 100 percent accurate, whether a visual inspection, bed bug dog or monitoring trap. And bed bugs in vacant rooms hide in cracks and voids and can remain for weeks or months without feeding. Surviving eggs will hatch.

WHAT DEFINES “CONTROL?” We still have no way to be certain that a bed bug-infested site is now bed bug-free (structural fumigation may be the one exception). Even if every accessible bug were killed during an initial service, bed bug activity may resume over the next couple of weeks as eggs continue to hatch and bugs in hiding emerge. This scenario is especially likely in reoccupied vacant units when a new host becomes available. Perhaps the best we can say is that there has been no visible evidence of live bed bugs over a certain period of time using accepted detection methods for that type of site. The detection methods used (two different methods are best) and the timeframe will vary, depending on the site.

For example, in an occupied apartment, you might feel confident that bed bugs have been successfully controlled if a final inspection comes up negative and residents have not seen a bed bug or been bitten for 45 days. In hotels, there is heavy pressure to put the room back into service. Because a hotel room is simpler and because hotels often remove the furniture from a bed bug-positive room, you might feel confident that there are no further bed bugs after one week with two service visits and the use of more than one detection method. In any case, you will have to work with the hotel or apartment property manager to develop a protocol for declaring bed bugs “controlled” that is reasonable, practical and works for that specific site.

In some situations where bed bug infestations are severe and there are many conducive conditions, it may not be possible or economically feasible to keep working to control 100 percent of the bed bugs. For example, when you have occupant overcrowding and transient populations in a deteriorating building that is financially troubled, management may have to settle for reducing bed bug populations to a level that can be managed on an ongoing basis.

PAST INFESTATIONS. Once the question has been answered as to how long a room/apartment should remain out of service after bed bug treatment, the next question is whether hotel guests or new apartment renters should be notified that the unit used to have bed bugs. If so, for how far back should that disclosure apply? The answer to this is usually up to the property manager, but mandated disclosure of an apartment property’s bed bug history is already in existence or being proposed in many cities. This is a troubling trend for hotels that would rather not have to share bed bug information with potential guests.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky (see note) conducted a nationwide survey of approximately 2,000 business and leisure travelers and asked those very questions. Almost 80 percent of travelers felt that hotels should be required to disclose previous bed bug infestations. When this group was asked how far back, about two-thirds of leisure travelers wanted to know if their room had seen any bed bug incidents within the past 12 months, and the remaining third wanted to know about any bed bugs in their room ever. Business travelers were slightly more lenient about disclosure periods.

In an additional survey question, travelers were asked how they would feel about a posted notice in a hotel that said, “We strive to provide a good night’s rest to our guests with a hygienic sleep environment. We take proactive steps to assure your wellness with weekly room inspections, use of bed bug-proof encasements, bed bug-sniffing dogs and professional pest control inspections twice per year.” The largest number of both business and leisure travelers said they would stay and would feel better knowing that proactive measures were being taken. The second largest response group said they would appreciate that the hotel was taking measures, but would prefer not to be told about it!  

Authors’ note: Bed Bugs and Hotels, Traveler Insights and Implications for the Industry. Penn, J.M., H. Penn, M. Potter, and W. Hu. American Entomologist, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2017.

The authors are co-owners of Pinto & Associates.