Bed Bug Monitoring, Prevention and Elimination
Sunday, May 1, 2011

People spend about a third of their life in bed, so it's no surprise the recent bed bug epidemic has left many scared to slip between the sheets. It's up to facility managers to help ease that anxiety by becoming educated on all aspects of a beg bug infestation so they are prepared to handle, and hopefully prevent, a problem.

Here's what you need to know about bed bugs:

What They look like
According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), bed bugs have a mahogany to rusty brown coloring (unless they've had a blood meal, which would make them reddish). They have six legs and are usually just under one-fourth inch long with a flat, broad oval shape.

Where you'll find them
Bed bugs like to be in small crevices near a human environment. This includes behind baseboards, wallpaper, upholstery, mattresses and in furniture crevices. It is important to know that bed bugs are not related to cleanliness. "They're an equal opportunity pest," says Missy Henriksen, NPMA's vice president of public affairs. "They can be found in even luxury hotels as well as budget properties."

How to spot an infestation
NPMA says that typically the first sign of a bed bug infestation is often the appearance of small brownish or reddish dots on bed linens. These are fecal spots or dropping from the bugs. Anyone who has been bitten by a bed bug will likely notice swelling around the bite, sometimes in the form of red, itchy welts. According to Steve Free, owner of The Bug Stops Here, a pest control company in New York, bed bug bites typically occur in clusters or tracts, and they are usually found not only on your arms and legs but also on your back and belly.

If a tenant thinks they have an infestation, Free recommends thoroughly inspecting the beds: strip them down, examine the bedding, and then place the mattress against a wall and examine it with a flashlight and magnifying glass. Pay special attention to the lip of the mattress where it's sewn together because that's the type of crevice bed bugs prefer. Look for the small brownish/reddish spots or castings where they shed their skins.

Who to call
If the evidence points to bed bugs, Henriksen highly recommends calling in a pest control specialist to evaluate the problem further and diagnose the appropriate treatment. When it comes to selecting a specialist, Free recommends checking each company's licensing as well as any online reviews. Bed bug treatment is a sensitive process, and you'll want a specialist with a stellar reputation. For similar reasons, Free also recommends choosing a company that has a long track record so you can avoid the possibility of dealing with a start-up that is only trying to cash in on the bed bug epidemic.

Available treatments
Henriksen says treatment for bed bug infestation depends on the environment, so you'll need a specialist to diagnose the appropriate solution.

"For instance, it might not be wise to use a heat treatment in a wax museum or crayon factory or a candle manufacturer," she says. "A professional may decide not to use pesticides in a nursery or intensive care unit of a hospital; though it's important to note that some products have EPA-registered labels that could allow for this use."

According to the Office of Environmental, Health and Safety Management with the University of Indiana, the most effective approach is through Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which might involve a combination of any of the following methods:

  • Steam, heat or cold treatments, which kills all life stages
  • Physically removing the bed bugs and eggs using a vacuum
  • Chemical application through pesticides

When discarding any infested bedding or furniture, it should be wrapped in plastic labeled "infested with bed bugs" or made unsalvageable so that people don't try to pick them up secondhand bringing the problem into their homes.

Talking to tenants
When it comes to an infestation, the bed bugs are not your only problem. You must inform your tenants and ease their concerns as much as possible. Here is a list of things you should do to prevent a panic:

  • Free says to immediately inform your tenants that bed bugs cannot transmit diseases, as that is a popular myth.
  • Henriksen says to emphasize that bed bugs are not a result of poor hygiene or sanitation. This will lessen any feelings of embarrassment your tenants may have.
  • The more education, the better, says Jan Bergthun, New York chapter member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). You might not want to scare people who don't even have an infestation, but Bergthun says it's better to address the problem directly to prevent rumors from flying around. Put up notices in common areas saying that there was a problem and you've taken care of it. But also include information that outlines infestation warning signs and, when possible, include a picture of a bed bug to help with identification. Bergthun says this should not only calm tenants but also empower them to feel in control.
  • Provide a prevention plan. The most common way bed bugs enter a home is by hitching a ride from another location.

Henriksen says to provide tenants with the following prevention advice:

  • When staying in a hotel, put suitcases in the bathroom and inspect the beds for any signs of bugs (they are less likely to be found in the bathroom); upon returning home, inspect the suitcase and wash all clothes in hot water and dry on hot cycles.
  • Use caution when bringing any secondhand furniture into the building. Inspect each piece for bugs.
  • Do not place purses on dressing room floors or place shopping bags down in one's home. Remove the contents, discard the bags quickly.

Nobody wants a bed bug problem, but sometimes they happen even when taking precautionary measures. The key is to remain calm and ease anxiety among tenants, and then take informed, active steps to solve the problem.