Overview and Precautionary Steps: What Can Be Done?
Bed Bugs: Overview
Bed bug related incidences and occurrences in hotels, homes, apartments, condos, and even dormitories have grown exponentially over the past few years. Every day, more and more bed bug related stories appear in the news, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Recently, bed bugs have begun appearing on college campuses across the country. At this time, there have been about fifty (50) news stories about bed bugs and college campuses in this past month alone.
As you may be aware, bed bug activity has increased on a worldwide basis and has become a major problem in the United States, Australia, the UK, and many other developed and third world countries.
These insects are very efficient ‘hitchhikers’ and rely on people to transport them on their belongings from one location to the next. They cannot jump however; they are dispersed in a wide variety of ways that include rental furniture, luggage, second-hand furniture, and any other item that may have been exposed to an infested environment. When someone stays in an infested environment, the bugs are very efficient at traveling with the individual to their next destination, which could unfortunately be from residence hall room to room.
Bed bugs are prevalent in all socioeconomic sectors and do not discriminate on one’s social status. As a result, guests of some of the finest hotels in the world have been surprised to learn that their accommodations were infested with the tiny blood-sucking insects. While it is true that more and more lodging facilities and residence halls are experiencing problems with bed bugs, in many cases, the activity is limited to a very small percentage of rooms. Often, infestations are present for several months or more before bed bugs are seen in obvious locations, such as on the mattress. Instead, early infestations tend to be in more secluded environments, such as underneath, or even inside the box springs where they remain undisturbed and well hidden. As a result, populations are often not detected until they become well established.
Students, parents, and residence life should be equally educated on the growing problems of bed bugs and what can be done to stop the spread of infestations. Rick Cooper, Technical Director of BedBugCentral, and one of the industry’s leading bed bug experts, and Jeff White, Research Entomologist and resident bed bug expert at www.BedBugCentral.com, took a few minutes to provide me with some valuable information about bed bug behavior and what can be done to help control them on college campuses.
What can students and faculty members do?
Students and staff must be extra diligent when dealing with bed bug infestations as opposed to other pest problems, because bed bugs are very difficult to detect, and even harder to eradicate. It is necessary that one take all precautions seriously when dealing with a discovered infestation. To better understand how to prevent bringing bed bugs home with you, it is important to first understand some basic background information.
Bed bugs are small, nocturnal insects that typically feed on the blood of their human hosts while they are sleeping. During the day, bed bugs are typically inactive and hide in cracks and crevices behind headboards, under or inside of box springs, as well as any other locations where they can remain virtually undetected. They typically feed only once every week or two. Between blood meals they remain well hidden in their resting places until it is time to come out for another blood meal. They are very resilient and in the absence of a host they can survive up to one year without a blood meal.
Encase: Encasing all mattresses and box springs in dormitories with “bed bug proof” encasements prior to discovering any bed bug infestations is one of the most important steps that can be taken. Encasements are now available that have been specifically designed and tested to prevent bed bugs from infesting mattresses and box springs. Without encasements, the bugs will often infest areas inside the box spring and could be present for months without being detected. The end result is that infestations become well established before they are identified and can be much more difficult and costly to eradicate depending on the amount of residence hall rooms traveled to. One of the greatest benefits of the encasements is that in the event that bed bugs do get introduced into a dormitory setting, they can be readily detected on the exterior of the encasement.
As long as encasements have not become compromised (ripped or torn) they can provide the piece of mind that if bed bugs are introduced into a dorm room, you will be much more likely to see them during inspection of your bed by restricting the access of bed bugs to the exterior of the encasement where they can be readily spotted during a visual inspection. In addition by restricting bed bug activity to the exterior of the encasement, bed bugs will be unable to infest the interior of the encased mattresses and box springs.
When buying encasements, make sure to only buy encasements that have been scientifically proven to be bed bug bite-proof and escape-proof.
Once mattresses have been encased, bed bugs can no longer infest the mattress and/or box spring, a budding bed bug infestation should be visible on the surface of the encasement and easily dealt with once the student or RA has reported it.
Periodic inspections by students or RA’s can serve the entire residence hall community by ‘squashing’ bed bug infestations in the early stages. Students should be educated on the signs and symptoms and should look for evidence whenever they are changing their linens. They could also periodically check their bed frame for any signs of activity. Many students will become aware of possible bed bug infestations by noticing bite symptoms; however that alone is only grounds for investigating the possibility, not for diagnosing the problem.
Protocol: A necessary step to ensure the situation is handled correctly is for institutions to implement a protocol on how to handle bed bug infestations properly. To create a sound protocol, housing professionals must speak with educated entomologists and pest control experts who have successfully treated numerous bed bug infestations. This way, regardless of the pest control operator or the level of student cooperation, everyone knows what is necessary and needs to happen for the successful treatment and eradication of the bed bugs. That protocol about how to handle bed bug infestations needs to be provided to RA’s RD’s and management. These need to be given out to make sure that bed bug infestations are identified and handled in a timely and efficient manner. One of the greatest implications RA’s and RD’s may face is if they are not educated enough, they may not be able to handle the problem correctly, which would lead to an infestation not being addressed in a timely manner. This would also increase the potential for spread to other rooms and residence halls on campus.
Next, literature needs to be provided to students and parents with information about the signs and symptoms of bed bugs and what to look for. This begins to educate everyone about what to do in the case that a bed bug infestation is suspected. With everyone educated, everyone can efficiently and effectively work together to take care of things properly.
Forthright with information: The importance of being open and honest with students when dealing with a bed bug infestation cannot be stressed enough. The occurrences of bed bug infestations on campuses are now so widespread that there is no reason to feel any misconceptions about lack of cleanliness, etc. Students must be educated to not pick up second-hand furniture, to take precautionary steps when traveling, and to inspect and launder bedding frequently. Please check out www.BedBugCentral.com for more detailed bed bug information.
Quick Tips for Students
• Periodically inspect bedding and linens
• Launder bedding and linens frequently in hot water
• Check anything you bring into the residence hall room
• Keep an eye open for welts, bite marks, etc.
• Keep your ears open for people complaining of or talking about infestations
• See a staff member if you find an infestation, asap.
Submitted by Stephanie Madden, Director of Public Relations, BedBugCentral, with Contributions from Jeff White and Richard Cooper