“Ask Kari” is a monthly, Question & Answer feature from Kari Negri. Kari has two decades of property management experience, is a featured speaker at many industry trade shows, such as AAGLA’s annual trade show, and is the CEO of SKY Properties, Inc. in Los Angeles.
Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite
John from Los Angeles asks, “Hi Kari, what can be done about bed bugs?”
Hi John, anyone involved in professional property management for a decent amount of time has dealt with bed bugs. As with all pests, early detection, tenant cooperation and eradication are keys to resolving a bed bug infestation. Here are some key pieces of information for dealing with bed bugs.
- What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood. Their preferred habitat is warm houses, especially nearby or inside beds and bedding, or other sleep areas. Bed bugs are mainly active at night, but are not exclusively nocturnal. They usually feed on their hosts without being noticed. Adult bed bugs are light brown to reddish-brown, flattened, oval-shaped and have no hind wings. The front wings are vestigial and reduced to pad-like structures. Bed bugs have segmented abdomens with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. Adults grow to 4–5 millimeters (0.16–0.20 in) long and 1.5–3 millimeters (0.059–0.118 in) wide.
Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and become browner as they molt and reach maturity. A bed bug of any age that has just consumed a blood meal will have a bright red translucent abdomen, fading to brown over the next several hours, and to opaque black within two days as the insect digests its meal. Bed bugs may be mistaken for other insects, such as booklice, small cockroaches, or carpet beetles; however, when warm and active their movements are more ant-like and, like most other true bugs, they emit a characteristic disagreeable odor when crushed.
- How can bed bug infestations occur?
There are many causes of bed bug infestation. Some of the most common include:
- a) Bugs and eggs inadvertently brought in from other infested dwellings on a visiting person’s clothing or luggage;
- b) Transfer from infested items such as furniture, clothing, or backpacks;
- c) From nearby dwellings, if easy routes are available for travel, such as through ducts or false ceilings;
- d) From wild animals (such as bats or birds) that may also harbor bed bugs or related species such as the bat bug;
- e) From visiting an infested area (e.g. dwelling, means of transport, entertainment venue, or lodging) and carrying the bugs to another area on their clothing, luggage, or bodies. Bedbugs are increasingly found in air travel;
- f) Though bed bugs will feed on pets, they do not live or travel on the skin of their hosts, and pets are not believed to be a factor in their spread.
- How to detect bed bugs.
Bed bugs are elusive and usually nocturnal (peak activity usually occurs between 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.), which can make their detection difficult. They often lodge in dark crevices, and the tiny adhesive eggs can be nestled by the hundreds in fabric seams. Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots (small dark sand-like droppings that occur in patches around and especially beneath nests), blood smears on sheets (fecal spots that are re-wetted will smear like fresh blood), and the presence of their empty molted exoskeletons.
Although bed bugs can be found singly, they tend to congregate once established. Although they are strictly parasitic, they spend only a tiny fraction of their life cycles physically attached to their hosts. Once feeding is complete, a bed bug will relocate to a place close to a known host, commonly in or near beds or couches in clusters of adults, juveniles, and eggs, which entomologists call harborage areas or simply harborages, to which the insect will return after future feedings by following chemical trails. These places can vary greatly in format, including luggage, inside of vehicles, within furniture, amongst bedside clutter, even inside electrical sockets and nearby laptop computers.
Bed bugs can also be detected by their characteristic smell of rotting raspberries. Bed bug detection dogs are trained to pinpoint infestations, with a possible accuracy rate of between 11% and 83%. A few companies are experimenting with high-speed gas chromatography to detect bed bugs.
- No food, no problem.
Bed bugs can go dormant for nearly a year without eating.
- Treatment options for bed bugs.
Eradication of bed bugs frequently requires a combination of non-pesticide approaches and the occasional use of pesticides. Mechanical approaches, such as vacuuming up the insects and heat-treating, steam cleaning or wrapping mattresses, are effective. A combination of heat and drying treatments has been found to be most effective. An hour at a temperature of 113 °F or over, or two hours at less than 1 °F will kill them; a domestic clothes drier or steam will kill bedbugs. Starving them is difficult as they can survive without eating for 100 to 300 days, depending on temperature.
For public health reasons, individuals are encouraged to call a professional pest control service to eradicate bed bugs in a home, rather than attempting to do it themselves, particularly if they live in a multi-family building.
Diatomite is used as an insecticide, due to its abrasive and physico-sorptive properties. Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency, based on Fick’s law of diffusion. In order to be effective as an insecticide, diatomaceous earth must be uncalcinated (i.e., it must not be heat-treated prior to application) and be food grade, as opposed to swimming pool grade, which is widely available in agricultural feed supply stores.
Herbal sprays, like essential oil of lavender and essential oil of rosemary, will help repel bed bugs. Consider adding 20 drops of lavender essential oil to the final rinse when you wash your sheets, blankets and sleeping wear. This may help eradicate them. Placing lavender in a sachet bag under your mattress and pillow may also prove helpful.
As with all pest control treatments, one must prepare properly prior to treatment. Follow the instructions closely of your pest control service provider to maximize treatment effectiveness.
- Tips to avoid bringing bed bugs home
When traveling, bed bugs can be picked up on the plane, in hotel rooms, your luggage or other items during trips and stays at hotels or homes you visit. They are found on public transportation, movie theaters, swap meets, and laundry mats. They hide in crevices no thicker than a credit card. When traveling, consider storing your dirty clothes in sealed trash bags that you empty directly into your washing machine upon returning home – washing in hot +130 °F water and drying with high heat. Never put piles of dirty clothes on the ground after traveling. Bed bugs will infest your clean linens or seek out hiding until they are hungry and need to find a host (up to a year).
Never put your bags or suitcase on a hotel bed or the floor. Always use a luggage rack, or even consider storing in the bathtub. Always inspect the crevices of the mattress and box spring upon entering your hotel room. Beneath the sheet, on the side of the mattress, pull the side seam and inspect with a flashlight.
At home, always avoid clutter. Bed bugs love piles of clothes, linens, pillows, and fabrics on the floor.
Never pick up any furniture off the streets. Wash fabric based items (clothes, blankets, etc.) purchased from flea markets or second-hand thrift stores immediately, in hot water, as described above.
Don’t forget your car. Vacuum your car thoroughly and treat it with an herbal preparation, lavender, or approved indoor insecticide.
Lastly, stay informed and educate tenants on bed bug prevention. Always work together for eradication over assigning blame.
As always, please remember, I am not an attorney. Seek clarification through your attorney. All articles are simply an opinion. Stay in touch at www.GetSky.net
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