Kalamazoo College Nips Bedbugs in the Bud, with Thermal Treatments, Bug-Sniffing Dog

Monday, August 22, 2011

KALAMAZOO - Thanks to 140-de­gree thermal room treatments and a bug-sniffing dog, when Kalamazoo College students return to their resi­dence halls Sept. 7, they can be assured their rooms will be bedbug-free.

This is one college that's decided to get aggressive and nip in the bud a problem plaguing residence halls everywhere.

Dana Jansma, associate dean of students, said that when a few stu­dents showed up in the health center with bug bites last year, the college sprang to action. "This has been a hot topic among colleges and uni­versities," she said. "We've been for­tunate that it's been this long" before Kalamazoo College joined the ranks of the infested.

"We had prepared for the inevitable," Jansma said.

The college called in Rose Pest Solutions, which did heat treatments on the handful of affected student rooms.

"They bring in trucks and ma­chines, and they heat the room up to over 100 degrees," she said. "The students must take out anything that would melt."

Students were asked to open closet doors and desk drawers so the heat would penetrate. "The point is to have all of their belongings in there," she said, to catch any of the bugs that may have hidden in clothing, books or other items.

Once the lethal temperature level is reached - 120 to 140 degrees - it's held for six to seven hours. "It takes care of all the bugs in the entire room," she said. "You don't have to use chemicals, and it gets everything they get into."

Jansma said the surrounding rooms were treated as well to prevent the insects from fleeing when the heat went up.

It did the trick.

But just to be sure, this summer while students were gone, the company brought in a dog trained to sniff out bedbug infestations the way other animals go for drugs.

All six residence halls and eight free-standing houses got the all-clear, Jansma said.

Of course, how long the rooms stay pest-free is anyone's guess.

Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said 54 percent of pest-treatment professionals have treated bed bugs in college dorms this year, compared to 35 percent in 2010.

That's just one statistic included in the association's recent "2011 Bugs Without Borders Survey," done in collaboration with the University of Kentucky.

Other survey highlights:

• 99 percent of pest professionals have encountered bed bug infestations in the past year (up from 95 percent in 2010).

• 73 percent of pest professionals believe bed bugs are the most difficult pest to treat.

• 80 percent of pest professionals have treated bed bugs in hotels and motels, compared to 67 percent in 2010.

• 38 percent have treated bed bugs in office buildings, compared to 18 percent in 2010.

• 36 percent have treated bed bugs in schools and day care centers, compared to 10 percent in 2010.

• 31 percent have treated bed bugs in hospitals, compared to 12 percent in 2010.

"One of the most significant findings is that bed bug encounters have become much more common in public places than the previous year, in some instances increasing by 10, 20 or nearly 30 percent," Henriksen said.

Jansma said she would not be surprised if the insects found their way back to Kalamazoo College. She said she's learned more than she ever really wanted to about the pest, including that "(bedbugs) are very good hitchhikers."

"If you get one on your desk and someone walks into the room and sits on the desk chair," she said, "it can hop on that person's back" and be down the hall within minutes. If the bugs return, students should be prepared.

"When we had the first case, we sent out a mass notification to tell them what to look for and what to do," Jansma said.

And if trouble re-emerges this year, the college will call the exterminators back, even though the treatment ran "into the thousands" of dollars, she said.

"It's worth every penny, and it's something we are obligated to do to keep our students healthy and safe," Jansma said. "If we had let it go, it could be a disaster."