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The first thing I did upon arriving at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Second Annual Bed Bug Summit this week in Washington D.C. was to inspect my room for bed bugs and then hang my clothing bag on the shower rod, as I was not sure if bed bugs would be intimidated enough by the conference attendees.
I had been looking forward to this summit wearing three hats: Entomologist, consultant and trainer to a number of New York City agencies on pest-related matters, and the president of a pest management firm on the frontlines of the city’s bed bug epidemic.
As you can imagine, most of those attending were on intimate terms with the Cimex lectularius: The first half of the two-day conference saw over 22 well packaged presentations by some of the nation’s bed bug elite.
Here are some take-home notes that may be of interest to fellow NYC urbanites.
- According to HUD, bed bugs have expanded maintenance budgets of multifamily unit buildings in general by over 300%.
- At the present the goal of bed bug elimination should be replaced by the more realistic one of achieving bed bug control, which in a multifamily scenario would require continued monitoring and possibly future additional treatments.
- It’s important to understand the difference between “reservoirs,” where bed bugs breed and thrive, and “transitional sites,” where they end up as occasional invaders but do not thrive. (Take, for example, a school where bed bugs are identified in one or two classrooms; these are “transitional” sites that merit inspections and treatment, but the whole building does not need treatment. Similarly, certain brand-name stores may have overreacted to what was a fairly limited number of actual sightings. In two high recognition locations that my company was involved with, indications of bed bugs were found in a dressing room area and an employee locker room. While other areas were inspected, only those hot spots were treated. It has now been over six months without a sighting or indication of bed bugs.)
- Landlords need to be at the forefront of educating their tenants and remain an integral part of the overall control process.
- No apartment is an island unto itself. The importance of inspecting and monitoring of adjacent and other possibly affected areas to prevent spread cannot be understated.
- In order to allow for inspections and treatment cooperation, it is important that we remove the unwarranted stigma attached to having bed bugs.
- Early detection is vital. People need to be educated to learn and recognize signs of bed bugs. Collect samples if you see a suspect and place passive monitors about to catch insects for identification. (Keep in mind that you are not necessarily bed bug free if you don’t catch one.) On the other hand, try not to be overly paranoid.
- Bed bugs’ ability to resist chemical control varies and remains a concern for the foreseeable future. An effective treatment program depends on the use of multiple techniques, such as a combination of a drying clothes and other items on high heat, vacuuming, dry steam, thermal remediation and mattress and boxspring encasements.
- There is continued concern about “wonder” products which make unsubstantiated claims and those with unknown or unlisted ingredients.
- A number of highly effective elimination techniques—like thermal remediation (heat treatment) and fumigation--are too expensive for widespread use.
- Building staff need early detection training and instruction on proper removal of items from infested apartments.
- Buildings should adopt “vacant unit policies” for when residents move out. They should provide for prompt inspection, monitoring and subsequent preventive measures, such as the dusting of wall voids and the sealing of possible access points properly.
- Unfortunately, although bed bugs are finally viewed as a pest of public health significance, funding and grants are scarce, and the pool of experienced, dedicated and knowledgeable people needed to combat them are in many cases already stretched thin. Much of the EPA conference was directed toward providing the best possible products considering the limited resources available.
- One innovative proposed long-term solution requires significant funding and research: Can Wolbachia—a bacteria commonly found in a significant percent of insects--be manipulated to adversely affect bed bugs, or could a miscalculation allow bed bugs to spread disease?
- Bed bugs are not going away any time soon.