Taking a Bite Out of Business: Bed Bugs Are Bad News

In the early 2000s, bed bugs were a hot topic as reports about increasing incidences of infestations circulated in the media. “Today, the public has forgotten about this little creature, absent any major news regarding its evolution or spread,” says Mark House at SteriFab/Noble Pine Products. “You don’t hear much in the news, and unless there is some big story about a library or 10 -screen movie theatre, the subject seems to be held in apathetic suspension, for lack of better terminology.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that bed bugs have gone away. In fact, pesticide-resistant strains are becoming more common, making eradication of an infestation increasing difficult. “The problem is getting worse globally as well as in the United States,” says Michael Potter, professor of Entomology at the University of Kentucky and a leading expert about bed bugs. “The only real solution is catching them early and responding appropriately.”

Although bed bugs don’t spread disease, they can cause substantial discomfort, allergic reactions and lost sleep. With the emergence of social media as the most respected information source for consumers looking to book accommodations, a bed bug outbreak at your property could affect occupancy levels for years to come. In addition to rating sites such as TripAdvisor, bedbugregistry.com publishes user-submitted reports from across the United States and Canada. In a recent survey of leisure travelers conducted by Dr. Potter (see sidebar), 60 percent said they wouldn’t book a property that had a single review mentioning the presences of bed bugs. “It’s such an emotional topic that people that lose their judgement,” he says.

Being a Detective

Vigilance in detecting bed bug infestations begins but certainly doesn’t end with housekeeping. “Even in properties with good policies and procedures, housekeepers are busy, and they’re asked to do a lot of things,” Potter says. “They can’t dig deep enough to uncover any last possibility.”

Because bedbugs reproduce at alarming rates – two can produce 10 eggs in one day – it is critical to detect and treat infestations early. Of course, you’ll want to be sure that the insects you find are actually bed begs. Colorado State University’s Extension Service has a page with pictures of bed bugs and look-alike pests at http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/bat-bugs-bed-bugs-and-relatives-5-574/.

Once you know what you’re looking for, here are a few of the places you’ll want to monitor:

• On mattress and box springs seams and tags
• In bed sheets
• Near baseboards and along carpet edges
• On bed frames, especially behind headboards
• Under seat cushions
• Behind picture frames

House also says bed bugs have even been found in computer mice and lampshades. “I saw a presentation by a large pest control firm out in Las Vegas that showed massive amounts of bedbugs hiding in the pleats of window valances,” he recalls. “They were only visible when the sun shone through the material. When the pleats were spread, literally handfuls of bugs, live and dead, fell out.”

There are traps that catch bed bugs. One called the Bug Dome plugs in and heats up to attract any the bugs. A sticky lure in the bottom traps the bugs so an infestation can be stopped immediately.

Another tactic for detecting infestation is the use of trained dogs. “There are limits to how many companies have them, and then their effectiveness varies with the skill of the dog and the handler,” Potter says.

Eliminating the Unwanted “Guests”

Eradicating a bed bug infestation completely can be difficult. Adult bed bugs can live for up to a year in carpeting and mattresses without food. One good way to limit bed bugs in beds is encasement. Encasing both the mattress and box spring denies bed bugs access to inner, hard-to-treat areas. Once a cover is installed, any bed bugs that happen to be inside are entombed and eventually will die.

Washing linens in hot water (over 120 degrees) will kill any bed bugs present, and for items that can’t be washed, it may be possible to dry them at very hot temperatures for 10 minutes or longer.

Still, that leaves all those other places where bed bugs can hide. There are companies that treat rooms with portable heaters (don’t try this yourself), but according to Potter, this isn’t the most common approach taken by pest management companies.

Steri-fab is often used to treat bed bug-infested beds and upholstered furniture. Although it’s technically a pesticide, it has a comparatively short residual when treating human contact surfaces. Sterifab contains mainly alcohol and the relatively short-lived pyrethroid d-phenothrin. According to PCT magazine, Steri-fab “provides excellent contact kill as a direct spray against adults and nymphs.”

Another product on the market is VA88 from Applied Science Labs, which has a “protein that is suspended in a colloidal form.” Users mix it with tap water in the sprayer; one gallon of the mixture will treat an area of approximately 1200 square feet and its furnishings. To check coverage, use a black light in a darkened room, and the product’s illuminating element will sparkle in the dark, providing a visual confirmation that a proper and effective treatment has been completed.

A key advantage of this product is that it has a residual effect that lasts for at least one year in clinical testing. “Since 60 percent of any bed bug infestation is made up of eggs that hatch after the first treatment and for 10 to 14 days thereafter, follow-up treatments are needed unless the product has residual effect,” says Rodger Williams, vice president and general manager of Applied Science Labs.

Another advantage of the product is that its non-toxic, so in-house staff can apply it safely.

“Our product can prevent an infestation before it begins,” Williams says. “The last thing a timeshare guest wants when they have finally gotten away for fun and relaxation is bed bugs. That would ruin any vacation.”

Bed Bugs by the Numbers

Michael Potter, professor of Entomology at the University of Kentucky, has been surveying pest control companies, hospitality providers and consumers about the topic of bed bugs since 2010. What he has found out has chilling implications for timeshare resorts, especially those that depend on rental programs to supplement income and generate prospects.

  • Guests who would post about finding a bed bug on social media 47%
  • Guests who would leave the hotel after finding a bed bug 73%
  • Leisure travelers who wouldn’t book a hotel if they read an online review reporting bedbugs there 60%
  • Travelers who think hotels should be required to tell guests if their assigned hotel room has ever had a prior problem with bed bugs 80%
  • Pest control companies who say bed bug infestations are increasing 64%
  • Pest control companies that consider bed bugs the most difficult pest to control 68%