Fighting Bedbugs at College

The Arizona Republic
Monday, August 15, 2011

PHOENIX, AZ - Parents helping their college-bound kids shop for dorm furnishings this summer might feel pressured to buy sprays, mattress covers and other items promoted as protection against bedbugs, whose presence in the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years.

As Chris Brundige, regional manager for Terminix, knows firsthand, bedbugs have increasingly popped up on college campuses.

"My daughter had a big issue with bedbugs last year," he says. "They battled them for three or four months."

Bedbugs are tiny hitchhikers that can stick to anything they come in contact with. (Their eggs are even stickier.) So if you, say, sit on the couch in a house that's infested, you'll probably bring some home on your clothing. Bedbugs aren't known to transmit disease, but their bites (they feast on your blood while you sleep) are irksome, unattractive and so itchy they can keep you up at night.

Here, for your son or daughter's summer reading, is a crash course in battling bedbugs.

Be careful what you bring in the room.

That sofa sitting on the curb might seem like a bargain, but it could have been put there because it's teeming with bedbugs. Bedbugs love cracks, crevices and other hiding places; they can even hang out in picture frames and bedside stands.

"They stay close to the mattress because they know that's where their next meal comes from," Brundige says.

- Keep your floor and furniture clear of clothes and clutter.

Hang your backpack, purse and jacket on racks, hooks or hangers. Don't pile clothing or coats on the back of a couch or on your bed. Though they can travel along any surface, bedbugs especially love cloth.

Buy a zippered mattress encasement.

"If the mattress is infested, they can't get out and will die," Brundige says.

Skip the sprays.

"I've never used an over-the-counter spray. But a lot of customers use them" before turning to professional pest removal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that the resurgence in bedbugs is due in large part to the insects' developing resistance to chemicals used to treat for them. People using over-the-counter sprays probably contribute to that problem. (Pest-control companies generally use non-chemical approaches such as heating or freezing the insects.)

- Learn to spot them.

Bedbugs are tiny, apple-seed-shaped, reddish-brown bugs that are flat like ticks, only smaller. You might not notice them until you get bitten; their bites cause minor swelling and itching, much like mosquito bites. You might notice small red spots on your mattress (your blood, from when you get bitten). Closer examination may reveal red or brown sticky "pepper" (the bugs' waste) around the edges of the mattress or in the rounded corners where mattress surfaces meet.

If you see signs of infestation, report the problem to whoever's in charge of dorm living. "And keep reporting it until you get the response you need," Brundige says.