Be Proactive to Prevent Bedbugs
“Don't let the bedbugs bite!” Most of us recognize that line from a popular nursery rhyme. It also may be a reason why many people used to believe that bedbugs were a myth. In fact, the public's resistance to believing that bedbugs are real has been one of the major hurdles in dealing with them, reports the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).
Fortunately, the majority of the public is now convinced that bedbugs exist; unfortunately, it may be due to a nationwide bedbug resurgence in recent years. The NPMA says that its member pest control companies, which previously had received one or two bedbug calls a year, now report as many as 10 to 50 calls every week. According to The New York Times, there were 537 bedbug complaints and 82 violations (verified infestations) in New York City rental properties in 2004, compared with nearly 11,000 complaints and 4,084 violations cited in 2009.
While there is no research that can define exactly what has caused the increase in bedbug infestations, most professionals cite increased travel, particularly international travel, as one of the leading causes, says Missy Henriksen, NPMA's vice president of public affairs, and executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance.
“Bedbugs are hitchhikers. They will travel from one suitcase to another, spreading the infestation to new areas,” she says. “One of the complications with multifamily housing environments is the close proximity of many human beings under one roof. Often, bedbug infestations can grow much more rapidly because there are so many opportunities for them to eat within those types of dwellings. Bedbugs primarily feed on humans, but can also feed on other warm-blooded animals, including birds, mice, and family pets.”
Most Effective Preventive Method: Education
The most critical safeguard against a bedbug infestation is education. Henriksen recommends that site owners and managers educate both staff and residents on how to identify bedbugs, basic prevention techniques, and the protocol for notifying management when they suspect the presence of bedbugs. Site owners and managers should have a plan in place for controlling the spread of the infestation, inspection by a pest professional, and treatment (see Tips for Preventing Bedbug Infestations in Multifamily Housing).
It's important to communicate to residents that bedbugs are not a hygiene-related pest, she adds. Residents who suspect that they have a bedbug infestation should not be embarrassed or ashamed. The presence of bedbugs is not associated with poor housekeeping or lack of cleanliness—they can emerge anywhere.
Practical Pointer: The NPMA has brochures and posters available in English and Spanish that owners and managers can use as part of their resident education program. The NPMA also offers resources for finding a local, licensed pest control company.
Missy Henriksen: Vice President of Public Affairs, Natl. Pest Management Assn., and Executive Director, Professional Pest Management Alliance; http://www.PestWorld.org.
Tips for Preventing Bedbug Infestations in Multifamily Housing
Caulk and seal internal cracks and crevices, especially at floor/wall junctions.
Vacuum and clean communal areas, including hallways, lobbies, laundry rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and public bathrooms on a daily basis.
Encourage residents to report suspicions of bedbug activity immediately, and always contact a pest professional to investigate each claim.
Train staff on bedbug prevention, identification, and the proper protocol for reporting and handling an infestation. Provide staff with a written plan to follow if an infestation does occur, as well as photographs of the life stages of bedbugs to help in identifying an infestation.
When possible, seal off infested units. Consider putting residents in an alternative unit until the infestation has been treated. Remember that in many cases, one treatment is not enough to fully remove an infestation, so follow-up treatments may be necessary before a unit can be deemed bedbug free.
When moving residents from infested units, it is important to control the spread of bedbugs into new units. Encourage residents to launder clothing items promptly and vacuum luggage before bringing it into a new unit. Clothing articles should be placed in sealed trash bags when transporting them to laundry facilities.
If a bedbug infestation is found, work with a professional pest control company to treat infested areas and inspect the surrounding units to identify whether the infestation has spread. In addition, infested rooms should be inspected every few months to prevent reoccurring infestations.
Source: Natl. Pest Management Assn.; http://www.PestWorld.org