When you were a child, your parents might have tucked you into bed while admonishing you, “Don”t let the bedbugs bite.”
The thought that there might be something in your bed that would come out of hiding and bite you while you slept might have been a bit frightening. But, you soon realized there was no threat.
Well, the threat of bedbugs is back with us.
A survey in New York showed that six percent of homes report bedbug infestation, with many more likely going unreported. There have been cases of well-known businesses and major hotels reporting problems.
Some experts believe that 50 percent of all homes may be infested within the next 10 years.
How extensive is this problem?
Bedbugs were nearly eradicated from the U.S. and many other countries by the use of DDT by about 1940.
Since the use of DDT was discontinued, there have been very few cases of bedbugs until the last 12 to 15 years. Reports of bedbugs have increased even faster in the last five years and most rapidly in the last year.
The reason for the resurgence is generally attributed to the rise in travel to and from countries that still have bedbugs. They are great hitch-hikers and can be transported from country to country or from one home or building to another on almost any item, including clothing.
Because of international travel, cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando have the greatest incidence of reported outbreaks.
However, bedbugs are in every city of any size. A city not known for international travel — Cincinnati — is also reporting a strong upsurge in reports of bedbugs.
So, what is already a big concern looks like it could explode in the coming years.
Even the thought of “creepy crawlies” sharing the bed will disturb many of your customers. If you have not already been asked about cleaning to remove bedbugs, you likely will get such questions in the future.
Reaction to bedbug bites
The good news is that bedbugs are not known to carry any disease. But they can still cause discomfort.
The bite is not painful, usually not enough to wake a sleeping victim. The bug injects saliva into the site of the bite. This keeps the blood flowing instead of clotting.
A person may become sensitized to the saliva. Bites may not even be noticed at first, but more intense reaction may occur after repeated bites.
Reaction to the bite may occur in a few hours, but more commonly it is not seen until anywhere from three to 11 days later. The bites may be as minor as a raised, red area of the skin or as severe as painful, itchy welts.
There are at least 70 varieties of bedbugs.
The most common species in the United States is Cimex Lecturis. They are blood-sucking parasites less than one-fourth of an inch in length, and reddish brown in color. A full-sized adult is the size of or smaller than an apple seed.
Average lifespan is 10 months, but they can live 15 months or longer, especially if part of that time is in a dormant state. They become dormant when no food is available or when temperatures drop below freezing.
An average bite lasts from 5 to 15 minutes. This will usually feed a bed bug for five to seven days, but they can go several months between meals of blood, especially if dormant. When well-fed, they retreat to a cozy, safe place to hide and sleep until it is time for the next meal.
Early in an infestation, the bugs tend to collect in the same area, especially on mattresses or near beds. They like to hide behind headboards and mirrors in bedrooms.
Bedbugs don”t jump or hop, but they can crawl surprising distances and can climb on a vertical surfaces. Although unusual, some bugs have even been found in a kitchen 30 feet from the bed.
When infestations are larger, the bugs can be found in upholstered furniture, clothing and other locations farther from a bed.
They are attracted by warm bodies and carbon dioxide. The search for warm bodies may be why more activity is reported in warm weather when temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Infestations can be located in several ways. The most common identifier is the dark red to black spots from bloody feces.
Small, almost translucent white eggs are another sign, as are the discarded husks or exoskeletons. A bedbug may shed its outer skin nearly 12 times during its life cycle.
Due to the small size, they can hide in many places. They prefer fabric or wood over metal or plastic. Bugs may enter mattresses through the holes used to sew the ticking (cloth covering).
Many have been found inside screw holes of beds or headboards. This necessitates a slow and thorough search that may require several hours to search one bedroom.
Some dogs have been trained to sniff out bedbug infestations. Under controlled settings, their accuracy is 95 percent or better. However, some experts believe that dogs can only detect bugs located within approximately 12 inches of their noses. That leaves a lot of high places for bugs to still be hiding.
Dogs may alert on dead bodies or exoskeletons from prior infestations, or something else that captures their attention. Positive alerts must be verified by actually finding living bugs.
With the cost of treatments often running more than $1,000, some of the best advice you can provide your clients is how to prevent bedbugs from making their way into their home or business.
Don”t provide them a free ride on your clothing or belongings. Those who regularly travel from foreign countries or areas of the U.S. known to have infestation are already taking what could be considered extreme measures, but may well be the standard prevention in the future.
- When entering a hotel, do not place suitcases or other bags on the bed or dresser or wooden counters. Use a folding stand for suitcases or simply carry the items individually.
- Take a minimum of belongings into your room. Have these items sealed in plastic bags or similar containers. Open the plastic. Remove an item when you need it and close the bag. Place items you will be taking with you in other plastic bags. Some experts even keep their belongings stored in the car rather than the room so as not to provide an opportunity for bugs to hitch a ride.
- When returning home from a trip, items can be removed from the plastic bags before bringing them into the home. Placing them in the sunlight for a few hours may be sufficient to kill the pests. The plastic bags get disposed of after unpacking.
- Whenever possible, items are placed in a dryer at moderate heat settings. The Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute in Laurel, MD, reports that even items tagged as “Dry Clean Only” can safely be treated in a dryer at moderate temperatures without harm, as long as they stay dry.
Most chemical treatments are of limited effectiveness. Some that had a 99 percent kill rate in lab conditions only killed about 25 percent (or less) of bedbugs in real-world setting.
It is believed that the bedbugs grown for lab use do not have the resistance to pesticides found in most real-world populations.
Pesticides that have proven somewhat effective work only by direct contact. Bedbugs do not carry the pesticide back to nests or burrows in the way that some other pests do.
One needs to hit each and every bedbug directly. That is likely to be ineffective given the tiny holes they can hide in.
Bedbugs can also hide from pesticides or simply move into adjoining rooms. This spreads the infestation in a home or to other dorm rooms, hotel rooms or apartments. They can move back later after the pesticide has worn off.
The most effective measures are preventative:
- Don”t bring anything into the home that could carry a bedbug.
- Standard vacuuming is of almost no help. It misses the places that bugs hide. A very targeted, slow and deliberate vacuuming can be helpful, especially in the early stages of an infestation, but is not going to be 100 percent effective. It simply helps to keep things in check.
- Steam cleaning (HWE) is more helpful than vacuuming, but still can”t be guaranteed to be 100 percent effective.
Once an infestation is growing, there are three practical ways to deal with it.
- Throw effected items away.
- Put anything possible in laundry with water temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For items that cannot be laundered, they are put in a dryer as discussed previously.
- Encase mattresses, box springs and pillows in sealed plastic cover. This keeps bug inside and away from you.
Hot and cold
Bedbugs are sensitive to temperatures. Cold temperatures at or below freezing can cause them to go into an inactive or dormant state, but they can become active again after warming up.
To kill bedbugs, freezing temperatures must be maintained for several days or the temperature must get down to at least a negative 27 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes. This makes freezing treatment impractical in most situations.
Placing items in plastic bags and putting them out in the sun may help. Temperatures must be monitored with a thermometer to maintain a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes; hotter temperatures and more time is better. If several items are in the same bag, the bugs will find the coolest spot, so the entire bag and all the contents must be above that temperature.
Vapor steamers can reach the required temperatures, but as they cover such a small area, it is not always practical to keep even a single item (a mattress for example) above 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
The thermal death point for bedbugs depends upon how long the temperature is maintained. There is some variation among experts about exactly what temperatures and for what length of time is necessary.
Several companies offer heat-based treatments to eradicate bedbugs. One organization claims a patent on a treatment that raises temperatures to as much as 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep in mind that, in most states, one cannot offer pest control services unless they are properly licensed to provide that service.