By Jennifer Brumfield, Training and Technical Specialist, Western Pest Services
While they aren’t talked about as frequently in the media as they were a few years ago, the bed bug resurgence shows no signs of abating. In fact, a recent study conducted by the National Pest Management Association shows that bed bug infestations in the United States continue at high rates. Nearly 100 percent of pest control professionals who responded to the 2015 Bugs Without Borders survey reported treating for bed bugs in the past year. Compare that to 15 years ago when only 25 percent of pest professionals reported treating for bed bugs and you can see the numbers speak for themselves.
Bed bugs can be difficult to eradicate and they can easily spread, which means control can be particularly challenging for condo or apartment communities with residents in close quarters. Researches at Rutgers University recently conducted an investigation into the movement of bed bugs within apartments and found that extensive movement occurred between apartment units – these pests can travel between walls, through air ducts as well as across hallways. So in time, one unit’s bed bug infestation can become the entire building’s problem if not handled properly.
Close quarters aren’t the only characteristic that makes bed bug detection and remediation a challenge in this environment. Here are a few more:
What does this mean for residential communities? You should always be on guard. There is a lot of misinformation out there surrounding bed bugs though, so it’s important to understand the truth in order to make the best decisions when trying to prevent or control a bed bug infestation. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.
Let’s start with the basics. Bed bugs are small, wingless insects. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed, but nymphs (immature bed bugs) are much smaller. They seek blood meals from human hosts at night, then disappear during the day under mattresses, into cracks and crevices, behind headboards and base boards, under couch cushions, etc. Because they’re nocturnal, it can be difficult to spot bed bugs. The good news, however, is bed bugs often leave behind other clues that they’re around. Look for reddish-brown stains (also known as fecal smears) on bedding, furniture, carpet or wall surfaces, and small, red welts on the skin.
Bed bugs are more than a nuisance. These pests multiply quickly – in the span of a few months, one bed bug can become a couple hundred – so an infestation left untreated can become a serious problem. This can lead to expensive remediation processes. Bed bugs can also lead to litigation and negative word of mouth, ultimately lowering occupancy rates of properties and increasing legal costs. There are also health concerns connected to bed bugs. While there is no proof that bed bugs can spread disease, they can cause itchy, red welts, allergic reactions and even affect victims mentally, causing fear, and stress.
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent bed bugs. But there are several things you can do to help detect bed bugs early and prevent a full-blown infestation
First, educate your community about bed bugs. Include information about bed bugs in community newsletters, discuss the issue at community meetings and post bed bug information in common areas. Tips like thinking first before bringing in used furniture and remaining vigilant when traveling can help. You can also provide tips on what signs to be on the lookout for and what to do if bed bugs are suspected. You may even consider developing a reporting protocol.
What should you do if bed bugs are suspected? First and foremost, a pest management professional should be contacted immediately. If bugs are seen, it’s also very helpful to try to capture one and keep it in a container for a pest management professional to examine. An experienced and licensed professional can properly identify and treat an infestation. In addition to completing a visual inspection, a professional may utilize DNA testing or canine detection teams to identify the pest.
If beg bugs have been detected, selecting the appropriate treatment is essential. Treatment varies and will depend on the specific situation and severity of the infestation. A pest management professional can help determine the best treatment method. Suggested treatment methods may include:
Research is underway across the world to continue to look for new ways to battle bed bugs. A team of researchers at New Mexico State University, for example, is trying to develop a bed bug repellent that can be applied to luggage or other personal items during travel. In the meantime, however, it’s important to remain vigilant against bed bugs. Educate your community about bed bugs and work with residents to proactively monitor for this elusive pest. If you don’t have a bed bug plan already in place, including inspection and reporting protocols, work with a pest management professional to create one. And finally, be sure to work with a pest management professional should any issues be suspected – do not try to handle bed bug treatment on your own. While do-it-yourself bed bug treatment products are available, research has found that many of the ingredients in these products are not effective. What’s more, these products are often misused, which can not only allow bed bugs to spread but cause health concerns. Remember, bed bugs are resilient and infestations can be difficult to overcome, but an experienced professional can provide effective treatment.
Jennifer Brumfield is a Training and Technical Specialist and Board Certified Entomologist for Western Pest Services, a New Jersey-based pest management company serving businesses and homeowners in major Northeastern markets.