© interstid | AdobeStock

Pandemic Will Cause Some Populations to Explode

Expert says elderly, disabled people are at greatest risk. “We need to be checking on them.”

When bed bugs are found on an airplane or in a hotel room, the world takes notice. “Traveling is what gets all the notoriety,” said Dini Miller, an entomologist and bed bug expert from Virginia Tech.

The real bed bug issues lie elsewhere. “Our biggest problem in the United States is elderly-disabled and multi-unit housing,” she said.

And with nursing facilities, group homes and individual residences locked down for months due to COVID-19, these bed bug problems are likely getting much worse.

“I would bet after COVID some of these infestations are just going to be spectacular,” said Miller.

Before the pandemic, Miller was doing field research at a residence in Vinton, Va., where three elderly people and one disabled person lived. “There were zillions of bed bugs in there,” she recalled. Her team was able to eliminate all but a few of the bugs before the pandemic hit. The residents were high risk for COVID-19 and didn’t want outsiders entering their home and potentially exposing them to the virus.

“I can only imagine how many zillions of bed bugs they must have right now,” said Miller.

In follow-up interviews conducted for the PCT 2020 State of the Bed Bug Control Market report, which was sponsored by Bayer, pest management professionals said the bed bug jobs they were called to during the pandemic were more severe and widespread.

“We’re seeing larger infestations in homes overall because people are stuck at home,” said Tracy Rice, CEO of Rice Pest Control, Anniston, Ala. With greater access to blood meals, the pests are “building more numbers in that infestation before we get a call,” he said.

But the industry doesn’t often get calls from elderly people with serious bed bug problems. “We’re seeing bed bug calls going down, but I would make the argument that the demographic that is suffering the most, we just don’t hear from them,” says Miller.

A number of reasons may keep seniors from seeking help. Their skin doesn’t tend to react to bed bug bites like that of younger people; they don’t see very well; some may have reduced mental acuity; some may be struggling with financial issues.

And of course, there’s the embarrassment of having bed bugs. “A lot of people have shame associated with it, so they don’t want to talk about it and then the numbers get ridiculous quite quickly,” said Miller.

She also is concerned that fear of bed bugs is keeping some social service agency personnel from going into homes to sign people up for meal delivery or drive them to medical appointments. The agencies are arbitrarily making policies that may cause the health of elderly and disabled people to further deteriorate, said Miller.

She urged PMPs to understand that the elderly and disabled are most at risk for bed bug infestations. “We need to be checking on them. Everybody needs to be checking in on their elderly parents,” she said.