The Scourge of Bed Bugs

Once nearly eradicated in the United States, the small, flat, brown bugs with a big bite are menacing cities from coast to coast as they scurry back in alarming numbers.  Why? Increased international travel and immigration, along with the loss of effective insecticides, has helped this insect spread faster than any other urban insect pest.  For example, in April 2018, bed bugs were found in a sitting area at the Kansas City International Airport in Missouri. According to the Kansas City Star, the discovery was made March 28 inside Terminal B. Airport spokesman Kathleen Hefner says the infestation was on an upholstered chair in an area near several restaurants.

History of Bed Bugs

Bed bugs have been a household pest issue for more than 3,300 years, dating back to ancient Egypt. They were first brought to the United States by early colonists, where they thrived for many decades. However, by the 1950’s, bed bugs had been all but eradicated in the developed world, thanks to the availability of new pest control products, coupled with the widespread use of vacuums and washing machines which helped to control the spread of infestations in living spaces.  https://www.pestworld.org/all-things-bed-bugs/history-of-bed-bugs/

The current problem

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The resurgence of bed bugs has created significant concern in the pest management industry and in society overall. Controlling, let alone eradicating, this pest is extremely difficult.

A recent article by The Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA), states:

“With 97 percent of U.S. pest professionals reporting they have treated for bed bugs in the past year, it’s clear that bed bugs remain a pervasive problem,” said Cindy Mannes, executive director of PPMA. “What’s more alarming, is that an overwhelming majority of bed bug calls originate as a customer calling for another type of pest, such as fleas”. This extreme rate of misidentification underscores the need for public understanding of how to spot an infestation, and to hire a professional before it gets out of hand.”

Below are some key highlights from PPMA’s 2018 Bugs Without Borders survey:

1) Almost all (97 percent) pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year. A majority of them say that overall bed bug service work (69 percent) and the prevalence of these pests (66 percent) are increasing.

2) Bed bugs may be easily confused with other pests, as 84 percent of pest control professionals were initially contacted about a different type of pest before identifying them as bed bugs. Many of these contacts (71 percent) were about fleas, followed by cockroaches (28 percent).

3) More than half of pest control professionals noted that they receive the most bed bug complaints during the summer, as increased travel during this time of the year may help spread bed bugs from vacation destinations to homes or even college lodgings to homes as students go on summer break.

Bedbug bites

4) The top three places where pest professionals encounter bed bugs are single-family homes (91 percent), apartments/condominiums (89 percent), and hotels/motels (68 percent). However, bed bugs can be found in high numbers in a variety of other places:

  • Nursing Homes – 59 percent
  • Schools & Day Care Centers – 47 percent
  • Office Buildings – 46 percent
  • College Dorms – 45 percent
  • Hospitals – 36 percent
  • Public Transportation – 19 percent

5) Bites are the most commonly reported sign of an infestation (92 percent) and more than half of people reach out for treatment after discovering bites and welts on their bodies. Although some people immediately develop a skin reaction to bites, others may take two to three days before showing obvious symptoms or any symptoms at all, meaning that people could be unaware of a bed bug problem until a full-blown infestation has taken root.

Bed bug bites around left wrist

6) Typically found in couches and bed frames, bed bugs can also be found in some of the most unexpected places, including stuffed animals, wheelchairs, airplanes, school buses, purses and even inside bedside lamps.

The bed bugs are travelers and hitch a ride whenever they can.  They are now everywhere and treating them is not only financially and physically difficult, but the stigma attached to an infestation can be the cruelest bite of all.

Bedbugs should not be equated with filth or sanitation problems — in hotels or in homes, for that matter. Bedbugs are very elusive, transient pests. They are often found in other areas besides the bed. And they are hardy. They can live for several months without eating and can withstand a wide range of temperatures from nearly freezing to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Bedbugs can be controlled with vigilance, constant inspection and treatment by professional pest control companies.

State Guidelines

Every state most likely has guidelines and policies in place for controlling infestations and other nuisances.  As residents of Missouri or Illinois, are you aware of the policies our state holds up?

https://npmapestworld.org/public-policy/state-advocacy/illinois/

http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pdf/Structural_Pest_Control_Code_Changes_03012013.pdf

https://npmapestworld.org/public-policy/state-advocacy/missouri/

https://agriculture.mo.gov/plants/pesticides/licensing.php

Identification

You can find information here on the United States EPA Website about bed bug identification and bed bug life cycle information.

Life cycle

After mating, females lay white, oval eggs (1/16″ long) into cracks and crevices.

  • An individual bed bug can lay 200 to 250 eggs in her lifetime.
  • The eggs hatch in 6 to 10 days and the newly emerged nymphs seek a blood meal.
  • Immature nymphs molt five times (they shed their outer exoskeleton) before reaching adulthood.
  • There may be three or more generations per year. All ages are found in a reproducing population.
  • Under normal circumstances adult bed bugs will live for about 2 to 4 months.

Bed bugs need to feed at least once before each molt, although they could feed as often as once a day.

Bed bug nymph, Cimex lectularius

Young nymphs can survive without a blood meal for days up to several months. Older nymphs and adults can survive longer without a blood meal up to a year under favorable conditions.

Prevention while traveling

Looking to avoid bed bugs? Bed bug prevention is a lot easier than eliminating an existing infestation. As the public’s awareness of the bed bug resurgence grows, focus on bed bug prevention has also grown. Many Americans are modifying their behaviors to minimize their risk of an infestation.

Adult bed bugs can live for several months without eating, making them especially hard to control. Once inside a hotel or home, bed bugs spread rapidly from room to room – through pipes, in vacuum cleaners, on clothing and luggage. In a hotel, bed bugs can even spread to neighboring rooms, since guests are may end up moving to another room.

If you stay in a hotel or motel, keep these bed bug travel tips in mind. It is important that you take some precautions to ensure that your room is bed-bug free before you settle in. In a recent survey by NPMA, 75% of pest control professionals indicated that they have encountered infestations of bed bugs in hotels and motels. The NPMA recommends the following tips for bed bug prevention when traveling:

  •  At hotels, pull back the sheets and inspect the mattress seams, particularly at the corners, for telltale stains or spots.  If you see anything suspect, notify management and change rooms/establishments immediately.
  • Thoroughly inspect the entire room before unpacking, including behind the headboard and in sofas/chairs.  If any pests are spotted, change rooms/establishments immediately.
  • If you do need to change rooms, be sure that you do not move to a room adjacent and/or directly above/below the suspected infestation.  Bed bugs can easily hitchhike via housekeeping carts, luggage and even through wall sockets. If an infestation is spreading, it typically does so in the rooms closest to the origin.
  • Consider placing your suitcase in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the duration of your trip to ensure that bed bugs cannot take up residence there prior to departure.

Remember: bed bugs travel by hitching rides. After your trip, inspect your suitcases before bringing them into the house. Vacuum your suitcase thoroughly before storing away. Consider using a garment hand steamer to steam your luggage, which will kill any bed bugs or eggs that may have hitched a ride home.

Wash all of your clothes – even those that have not been worn – in hot water to ensure that any bed bugs that may have made it that far are not placed into your drawers/closet.

Bed Bug Treatment

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Like most professional pest control companies, Double G Pest Control uses a variety of methods, including chemicals, such as diatomaceous earth, and heat treatment. With heat treatment, heaters are brought into a unit, which is warmed to a temperature well above 120 degrees for several hours, killing the bugs.

When you know you have bed bugs, you must evaluate each situation to determine the right course and best treatment.  First you must isolate the problem, find the bugs, and plan your approach.  Successful treatment can take several weeks of repeated treatment and monitoring to eliminate the bed bug problem. This is why the cost of treating and eliminating bugs is so expensive.

Because bed bugs are capable of surviving for long periods of time between feedings, during the day they hide seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, dressers, tables, cracks and crevices, behind wallpaper, electric outlets, or under any clutter or objects around a bed. Check for any blood staining on mattresses, which is also a sign of infestation.

Hotels are a prime source of bed bugs but not the only source. Nearly every resource said the best practice for staying in hotels is to walk in, place luggage in the bathtub, then check around the bed, under the edges of the mattress, and in the curtains before unpacking and making yourself to home.

Most hospitals and home health care staff are now taking precautions as well with incoming patients.

Much of the information below on treatment is taken from this website and its excellent article.

The reality is that bed bugs are one of the most difficult pest problems to eradicate quickly. By far, the best solution for bed bugs is to hire a pest control company with experience successfully controlling bed bugs. Unfortunately, this can be expensive and beyond the means of many people. If you feel you cannot afford to hire a professional, and want to attempt do-it-yourself bed bug control, there are some things you can do. With diligence and patience and some hard work you have a fighting chance of getting rid of bed bugs in your home.

If you live in an apartment or condominium, it’s best to alert the property manager.  A coordinated bed bug control effort using a pest control company is generally needed in such situations. Bed bugs readily move from apartment to apartment, with many people unaware that they have a problem. If one apartment is infested, adjoining units (left side, right side, above and below) should be assumed to be infested unless shown otherwise through inspection or monitoring.  Simply asking tenants whether they have bed bugs is not enough.  In one recent study only half of apartment residents whose homes were determined to have bed, bugs knew (or admitted) they had a bed bug problem.

Pesticides alone are not the answer to bed bugs. Most of the commonly used pesticides today, including professional products and consumer products advertised for control of bed bugs, are at best moderately effective at controlling these pests. Pesticides must be used with care for safety and with attention to proper application to work well. Aerosol “bug bombs” or “fumigators” are also mostly ineffective in eliminating bed bugs. Aerosol insecticides mainly kill insects that are exposed, and out of their hiding places, not those hidden behind baseboards, in cracks and crevices of the bed, under carpet edging and in walls. Steps for do-it-yourself bed bug control

Ozzy, Toby and Becca The Bed Bug Scent Detection Beagles

Determine which rooms are infested. Bedrooms are the principal locations for bed bugs; however, any room where people sleep in the home may provide harborage for bed bugs. Living rooms with sofas and sofa beds are the next most common sites for bed bugs. Typically, an infestation starts in one room and spreads slowly to other places where people sleep.  The sooner you find and treat bed bugs the easier it will be to get rid of them.  Wait too long and bed bugs may be found throughout your home.

Don’t throw your bed away.  It’s generally unnecessary to throw away beds or bedding. It is expensive to replace bedding, and chances are that any new mattresses, box springs or beds you bring into the home will quickly become re-infested.  The money to replace a bed or mattress might better be spent on hiring a professional.

Create a safe place to sleep.  This is critical because staying in your own bed will reduce the risk of bed bugs spreading throughout your home. If you move to another room to sleep, the bed bugs will eventually follow.  Then you’ll have bed bugs in multiple rooms. Make your bed a safe place to sleep by:

Stripping and vacuuming the mattresses and box springs and encasing them.  Double bag your bedding and wash in hot water and dry for at least 30 minutes (discard the inner bag after putting bedding into the washer, as it could have bed bugs).  After vacuuming suspected bed bugs from the bed, take your vacuum cleaner outdoors and remove and discard the bag.  Purchase a good quality set of bed-bug-proof encasements for your mattresses and box springs. Bed bug-proof encasements are fabric sacks into which you slide your mattress or your box spring. The zippers on bed bug encasements are designed to be tight enough to prevent even the smallest life stages of the bed bugs from escaping. Also, good bed bug-proof encasements are woven to prevent bed bugs from biting you through the encasement. A good encasement will trap all bed bugs in the mattress and box spring inside, and will be smooth on the outside, providing few places for bed bugs to hide. Sears, Target, Walmart and other stores may sell bed bug-proof encasements, but these can also be purchased online. A good place to look for different brands and reviews of mattress encasements is Amazon.com (whether you buy there or at a local store). Go to http://www.amazon.com and search for “bed bug mattress protectors”.

Killing all bed bugs on your bed frame and headboard. Normally this would be done by a pest control professional. Approximately 70% of all bed bugs in the typical infestation are located on the mattress, box spring and bed frame.  You’ve encased the mattress and box spring and taken care of that problem.  Now you must make sure that your bed frame is bed bug free. Vacuuming alone won’t do this.  Vacuuming can remove many bed bug adults and nymphs, but it isn’t very good at removing eggs.  For this job you’ll need insecticide sprays and possibly dusts to treat every crevice and void in your bed.  For insecticide spray and dust options see below. Remember that insecticides can be hazardous if you don’t follow label directions.  Read the whole label before spraying or dusting.  The label directions are the law and failure to follow the label not only puts you and your family at risk, it is against the law.  Homemade sprays, by the way, are usually less safe than commercial insecticides.  Stick with the legal stuff.

Isolating your bed from the rest of the house.  If you don’t use a bed, purchase a frame that gets your mattress off the floor and install bed bug interceptors under all feet of the bed frame to keep bed bugs off your bed while you are sleeping. Interceptors are special platforms or cups that are purchased to prevent bed bugs from climbing on to your bed.  An interceptor can be as simple as a sticky card placed under a bed post (sticky and messy).  Better are one of the commercial pitfall traps made specifically for this purpose.  The Climbup™ Bed bug Interceptor and BlackOut BedBug Detector (Google them) are two such products sold online. Relatively inexpensive, these cups trap bed bugs attempting to climb (or exit) the bed. If you have encased your bedding, treated your bed frame thoroughly and installed interceptors, you will be instantly protected against bed bugs.  Don’t take out your clean bedding or put it back on the bed until the bed has been treated (and dried) and encasements installed. And note that for this method to be effective, beds and bedding must not touch the floor, furniture or walls.  This would provide bed bugs other ways to climb onto the bed and foil your defenses.

Kill the Bed Bugs

  •  Make sure the methods you select are safe, effective and legal. See What’s Legal, What’s Not for more information.
  •  Consider non-chemical methods of killing bed bugs. Some will be more useful than others.
  •  Heat treatment using a clothes dryer on high heat, black plastic bags in the sun or a hot, closed car (pest management professionals have other methods that are not suitable for non-trained individuals to use).
  •  Cold treatment can be successful in the home environment if the freezer is set to 0o F. You must leave the items in the freezer at that temperature for four days. (Always use a thermometer to check the temperature, since home freezers are not always set to 0o.)
  •  Reducing the numbers of bugs with these and other non-chemical methods is helpful but is unlikely to entirely eliminate the infestation.
  •  If needed, use pesticides carefully according to the label directions or hire a pest management professional.
  •  Look for EPA-registered pesticides.
  •  Bed bugs must be listed on the label.
  •  Use foggers (bug bombs) only with extreme care. Improper use can harm your health or cause a fire/explosion.
  •  Because foggers work with a broadcast spraying action, they should not be used as the sole source of bed bug control. The spray will not reach the cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide.
  •  See Should I Use a Fogger?
  •  Every few days after you complete your initial cleanup and control processes, carefully look for any evidence of bed bugs.

If you see bed bugs, that means that either the initial cleanup missed some individuals or that eggs have hatched (finding and removing or killing all eggs can be very difficult) and retreatment may be needed.

If repeated treatments are needed, consider using pesticides with different modes of action.

Desiccants (drying agents) can be particularly effective in some situations since they work by drying out the bug (which means the bed bugs can’t develop resistance to it).

If using desiccants, be sure to use only products registered as a pesticide.

Do not use pool or food-grade diatomaceous earth – this type of diatomaceous earth can harm you when you breathe it in. The pesticide version uses a different size of diatoms, which reduces the hazard.

Desiccants can be very effective; however, they can take up to several months to work.

Treat other areas in your home.  This is perhaps the most challenging part of do-it-yourself bed bug control.  If you catch an infestation early you may not need to do anything more than treat and isolate your bed as described above.  But if an infestation has spread to other parts of the home, bed isolation may not be good enough. Here is where professional help may be needed, especially if you’re not up to moving furniture. Still determined?  Here are some tips that may improve your chances of success:

Prepare the room by separating treated from untreated furniture.  This will involve moving all your furniture to one side of the infested room (Remember, you’ve already assessed which rooms you think are infested.  You may not need to do this in every room).  The process is important because if you treat half of the items in a room and leave other areas untreated, bed bugs may return to the previously treated areas from untreated sites. Take all clothes from drawers, infested closets, etc. and double bag them in clear plastic bags (clear bags are easier to see where things are). Also, double bag all personal items (toys, papers, books, electronics, CDs, or anything that could serve as a hiding place for bed bugs) and set them aside until they can be carefully treated, cleaned or inspected.

BedBugFeces

Systematically treat the room–all cracks and crevices around windows, outlets, blinds, pictures, posters and clocks on walls, baseboards, under edges of carpets and any other crevices or void areas in the room. Remember that immature bed bugs are very tiny. Dozens of bed bugs can hide in a recessed screw hole in a bed frame or dresser. Therefore, it’s important that no hiding place be overlooked. Treatment can include vacuuming, but should not be limited to vacuuming only. Vacuums do not remove eggs, and will likely not remove all bed bugs from deeply infested cracks and crevices. Vacuums can remove many bed bugs from mattresses and the exterior of box springs (remember to immediately double-bag the vacuum bag after cleaning and dispose of outside in a trash can or dumpster). Sticky tape is another method of picking up bed bugs from furniture, walls, etc.

Systematically examine and treat all furniture (beds, bed frames, dressers, chairs, couches, night stands, etc.) following the same procedures and recommendations above. As a piece is treated it can be returned to the parts of the room that have been treated.  Note that furniture should be taken apart, drawers and cushions removed in order to inspect and treat every nook and cranny. When treating upholstered furniture, pay attention to each welt, button and fold. You may wish to discard low-value, stuffed furniture that is infested and too difficult to treat.  After spraying, return each article of furniture to the part of the room that has been treated. Do not reintroduce any furniture or other items to the treated room until they have been thoroughly cleaned, inspected or treated.

Treat or isolate your bagged items. For washable items research shows that dry cleaning, washing in hot water for 30 minutes, or tumble drying for 30 minutes on high will kill all stages of bed bugs. Non-washables are a little trickier.  Items that aren’t needed for a while can just be stored. It takes 2-5 months to kill bed bugs by isolating them in bags (the warmer the temperature, the shorter the survival time for starving bed bugs). Heating bags by placing in direct sunlight is one of the most effective methods during the warm summer months.  Seven pounds of items placed in clear bags in direct sunlight on a 95 degree day will get hot enough to kill all bed bug life stages in one afternoon.  Also, placing bagged items in a chest freezer (0 degrees F) for 8-10 hours is lethal for bed bugs and their eggs. Some toys may be disinfested by cleaning with hot soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol.

Select and use insecticides safely. There are no magic sprays that kill bed bugs very well.  Most commercial insecticides will kill bed bugs if applied carefully and directly to the insects and their hiding places. An exception is “Bug bombs”, or aerosol foggers. Foggers are mostly ineffective in controlling bed bugs. Because bed bugs hide in crevices and voids where aerosols do not penetrate, they are able to avoid contact with these insecticides. Their use is not recommended. Some of the products you may find helpful include:

Desiccant dusts.  Two low toxicity dusts with good effectiveness include silica aerogel and diatomaceous earth (DE).  Both of these dusts are low risk to humans, and work by desiccating, or drying out, bed bugs that come in contact with it. Silica aerogel is, in some studies, superior for this purpose.  It is sold under various trade names including Tri-Die™ and CimeXa™.  Diatomaceous earth can also be effective.  Look for DE for insect control–it is not the same product as diatomaceous earth used in swimming pool filters, which is dangerous to breath. Some pest control companies now use desiccant dusts extensively in bed bug control. These relatively inexpensive dust can be purchased online or in garden centers or hardware stores. Look for products labeled for indoor use and lightly dust all accessible crack, crevices and voids.  A paint brush is useful for applying these dusts to seams and crevices in sofas and mattresses, along baseboards and inside drawers and dressers.

Low toxicity contact sprays like SteriFab™ or Bedlam® are likely to kill bed bugs only on contact. Alcohol- and soap-based sprays, are only partly effective. All of these products, once dry, are likely to provide no further control. Eggs will not be killed by alcohol-based sprays, so repeat treatments are usually needed. Be careful when using sprays containing alcohol because they may be flammable.

Two plant oil-based products were recently evaluated and found surprisingly effective against bed bugs and their eggs.  EcoRaider™ and Bed Bug Patrol™ received top ratings compared to other over the counter sprays in a Rutgers University study.

Pyrethroid sprays are among the stronger and longer-lasting pesticides, but most bed bugs are resistant to these sprays to some degree. Special care should be taken when using pyrethroid sprays, especially when children are present. Only use pyrethroids in places indicated on the label. Do not spray electrical outlets with any type of liquid spray. Spraying should be done when children are not present, and all label directions followed carefully.

Track your success. Interceptor cups under your bed posts are also one of the best ways of keeping track of your success with bed bug control. Check the cups regularly and empty into a trash bag or bucket of soapy water.  You may even want to keep track of how many bed bugs you catch weekly so that you can track your success. Wipe out the interceptors and make sure they are clean. Some devices, like the Climbup Interceptor, require redusting with a very small amount of talcum powder to make them slippery again and reduce the bed bug’s chance of escape. Note that talc is not toxic to bed bugs, but simply makes it harder for them to climb out of the cup.  The talc should be barely visible, and more is definitely not better.

Pesticides should always be used with caution, and especially when used indoors.  Never use a pesticide for bed bugs that does not bear clear directions stating that it can be used indoors.  Never spray yourself, children or pets with a pesticide.  And follow the label safety directions carefully.  Pesticide labels contain directions for use that are not merely suggestions.  Failure to follow directions exactly is illegal and can result in poor control and possible harm to yourself and family.

Summary

If all this sounds like a lot of work, the fact is that it is.  A well-informed client, working with a trained pest management professional, provide an effective team in combating bed bugs. Fortunately, there are multiple methods of control that are available to pest management professionals, including vacuuming, steaming, freezing, heat treatments, use of mattress and box spring encasements, fumigation, and the professional and licensed use of appropriate insecticides. Because of the complex nature of bed bugs, multiple service visits may be required to ensure they are properly eliminated.

For more assistance on getting a bed bug problem identified and controlled, contact us at Double G Pest Control for assistance.

We can be reached at (217)440-2847 or (573)713-0035.

Additional Resources.

https://www.pestworld.org/media/560193/bmp-brochure_pestworldorg_logo.pdf

https://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/citybugstest/files/2016/06/ENTO-033.pdf

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/emergingdiseases/Getting_the_Bed_Bugs_Out_Guide_442175_7.pdf

 

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