Bed bugs. Arguably a worthy opponent for any pest controller worth their salt, and an undeniable nightmare for managers in the hospitality sector, and possibly even for you at home - if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to suffer a bed bug infestation.
These highly resilient, parasitic insects have been around for thousands of years, and despite near eradication in the 1950s thanks to DDT, bed bugs are more prevalent today than ever. But why?
The rise of bed bugs
Historically, bed bugs were easily treated with pesticides. However, governmental bans on pesticides like DDT that contain organochloride or phosphorus coupled with pesticide resistance, urbanisation and more international travel has created “the perfect storm” of factors to aid the spread of this biting pest.
As the name suggests, bed bugs prefer household habitats and, as such, urbanisation is a major contributing factor to their resurgence. By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants.
In addition, better connected, cheaper and more frequent flight and transport links have contributed to a sharp incline in international tourism. More travellers, travelling more often, to more diverse, high-volume accommodation options have meant that bed bugs have had a free ride to the four corners of the globe.
As bed bugs have re-established themselves, more and more businesses and homes are being faced with the reality of a bed bug problem. Today, over one third of businesses in the hospitality sector (35%) have experienced at least one instance of bed bug infestation in the past two years (as concluded in 3 Rentokil Initial Bed Bugs Study conducted 19-25 September 2017).
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs prefer human hosts, so they will most often be found where people are found. Typically, this is in sleeping or resting areas. Bed bugs hide in gaps, voids, cracks, and crevices. These can be found in furniture, wall voids, spaces in decorative items, behind wall coverings, in soft decorative items such as curtains, and more. If a credit card can fit in the gap, so can a bed bug. When bed bugs are starved, they are capable of squeezing into very small spaces.
In heavy infestations, they may be found in other high-traffic areas or be seen visibly crawling in the open. Even outside of guest sleeping areas, bed bugs can be found in gathering areas such as lounges, reception areas, and lobbies with soft furniture where the pests can hide. Public busses and trains with fabric seats have also been known to experience bed bug infestations.
How do bed bugs feed?
Bed bugs survive by feeding on human blood. They often remain hidden during the day and come out to feed at dawn or dusk. When the insects do emerge, they locate their human victims by a combination of the carbon dioxide, heat, and scent that humans give off.
They inject their human subjects with an anaesthetic-like substance that prevents the person from feeling them while they feed. The feeding process is relatively short - just a few minutes when successful. If a bed bug is unsuccessful in feeding, it will persist and try again. After feeding, the bed bug retreats back to its hiding place.
What are common signs of a bedbug problem?
Often the first sign of bed bugs are bites that appear on your body after you wake up, but it’s difficult to confirm the presence of bed bugs just by looking at your bites, because they could have been caused by fleas or mosquitoes, and because bed bugs remain hidden in tiny cracks and crevices during the daytime, it may be hard to see them. However, you can look for these clues to their presence:
- Dark/black stains on the mattress and surrounding area from bed bug excreta.
- An unpleasant, sweet, sickly scent.
- Small dark blood spots on bedding known as 'faecal pellets'.
- Live insects - despite being small (adult are only 4-5mm long) it’s possible to spot live bed bugs and shed skins
One of the most frequent questions asked about bed bugs is “can you actually see them?”
The answer is yes, if you’re looking, and you know what to look for. So here is what to look for, taking into account their different life cycles:
- Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed: 6.5 mm long by 3mm wide, and are typically reddish-brown in colour.
- Bed bugs go through five moulting cycles before reaching adult size. Nymphs, or young bed bugs, can be significantly smaller at 0.8mm and may be yellow or even translucent when young, before taking a blood meal.
- Bed bug eggs are very hard to see with the naked eye, but they are visible. They are white and have a pearly sheen and are often found clustered together.
How can they be controlled?
In addition to becoming pesticide-resistant, like most crawling insects, bed bugs typically flee when pesticides are released. This means that treatments that target their hiding places – no matter how small - are generally more effective. This has led to the pest control industry moving to physical treatments over chemical ones – including heat, baiting or steam over pesticides.
Although physical treatments can be more expensive than pesticides, they are more effective and eco-friendly, with no threat of resistance developing. Insects have no way of building up resistance to heat, which kills them in all their stages, including, vitally, the eggs. Another advantage is how quickly the room is back in action: for hotels, this is obviously of vital importance as it means rooms can be turned around quickly to minimise disruption. This makes a move to heat and steam treatments more attractive than using chemical sprays.
The Rentokil Heat Pod is one such method, whereby a portable heat delivery system can treat insect infested items in situ in a quick and efficient way. The Heat Pod, which is made from lightweight, thermally insulated materials, is heated to between 54 and 60 °C and kills all life stages of the bed bug – from adult to larvae – hidden away in both furniture and clothing. Any bed bug treatment plan should also be based on the cube approach, which includes treatment to an infested room and inspection of surrounding rooms - above, below and alongside, and treatment of those rooms as well, if required.
Of course, to be completely effective, any pest control plan should be customised for the business. Every business is different, which is why Rentokil offers a free survey to fully understand each customer’s unique requirements before quoting. Download our bedbug prevention checklist and keep the bugs away.
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