"We have a bed bug problem"
Column #811 09/04/10
On The Level
Q. We have a bed bug problem in a rental house. The tenants moved out and did not tell us that they had bed bugs. We do most of the cleaning, repairs and painting in this rental property. To make a long story short I was cleaning the walls getting ready to paint and noticed a lot of oily spots in the bed rooms where the kids slept. I just thought that the kids had been playing around but my daughter with an entomology background came by and said that she thought that they were bed bugs. We called in the local pest control people, they confirmed that it was bed bugs and treated the house-- two applications.
The problem is that we are afraid to rent the house anytime soon or until we are 100% sure that the problem has been taken care of. We are also afraid of bringing the bugs home to our house. We check every two or three days our own bed-- nothing yet.
We contacted the former tenants right away just in case they didn't know of the problem and to try to cut down on the spread of these things (seems like there is a report on the national news shows every few days about bed bugs). Do you have any suggestions?
A. If you have bed bugs in your bed, youíll soon know it. Especially now that you identified them as having been in your rental property. Apparently these little critters almost unheard a few years ago have made their reappearance here in the U.S. seemingly with a vengeance.
With the entire world only a few hours air travel away Iím almost surprised that it took this long for the bed bug invasion to arrive. They were nearly gone from the industrialized world but have made a comeback. The are called hitchhikers in that they will get into luggage from one source and hitch a ride to the next location which can be your house or the hotel in which you stayed on your last trip. Their official name is Cimex lectularis, and the word lectularis is Latin for small bed.
Bed bugs and their eggs can get onto clothing or into almost anything like cardboard packages, suitcases, purses -- you name it-- and ride along with a person without them knowing it. They are very commonly found on used furniture or bedding and when they infest a room theyíll get into nooks and crannies like the space between the baseboard trim and the wall-- very hard to dislodge.
Whatís particularly creepy about them is they feed on people especially while sleeping and apparently donít wake their hosts while feeding. The bite itself is painless and is not noticed immediately. Small, flat or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign. Redness, swelling and itching is a sign. If scratched to the point of bleeding the bite areas can become infected. Another signal of bed bug bites is the tendency to find several bites lined up in a row.
Once you find that youíve got the problem, getting totally rid of them can be a real chore. You did the right thing by calling in a processional pest firm and from what Iím hearing these days they are getting a real workout treating for bed bugs. I tell people who have a problem like this-- and youíre not the first the contact me about the problem-- to treat it like itís a fire job and go after it hammer and tong.
Years ago when the world almost got rid of them DDT was the pesticide of choice. DDT is gone now and the favorite for killing bed bugs is a chemical called propoxur but the Environmental Protection Agency banned its use inside of occupied dwellings in the 1990ís. EPA has issued warnings about using outdoor pesticides inside the home to combat bed bugs. There appears not to be a one size fits all pesticide for bed bugs. Iíd strip the room clean, as you did, and call in the calvary, wait out the gestation period to see if any eggs survive and hatch and do it again before I would re-occupy the space.
Bed bugs donít like elevated heat so some pest companies will haul in heaters and heat the affected rooms to about 113ļF. Iíve seen recommendations to wash and dry bed sheets on high heat settings and they sell special mattress covers to ward against bed bugs. Putting bedding in black plastic garbage bags and setting them in the summer sun will work too.
One affect the bed bug has on people is psychological and I feel itchy just thinking about them. I recently slept in a hotel in Boston and I was uncomfortable knowing they could be there. I heard of one frequent traveler who would put his luggage in the bathtub while staying in hotels. I will now too.
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