When it comes to bed bugs, Dr. Stephen Kells, associate professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, said there is no such thing as too much preparation when attempting to eliminate these pests from living spaces.
Kells, former technical director at Abell Pest Control in Ontario and a bed bug researcher for 15 years, spoke at the PCT Bed Bug Virtual Conference earlier this year. He gave a presentation titled “Practical Tips for Managing Tough Bed Bug Problems” to stress why PMPs must be thorough when performing treatments in residential accounts.
The industry understands how to control bed bugs, but Kells said there is a need for researching ways that are cheaper, faster, easier and safer. During the webinar, Kells offered the following four practical tips for controlling bed bugs:
1. ERADICATE AND PREVENT. Going into a multifamily housing complex and treating the one room with a bed bug complaint will not guarantee complete control. According to Kells, PMPs are going to have a much better chance of eliminating the problem, whether it’s by heat or insecticide, if a program is in place or permission is secured from the property manager to inspect neighboring apartments or even the entire floor.
“Going in and just selling it on a per apartment basis doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s a matter of going in and treating that apartment and realizing there’s a real risk of other infestations that we have to look at, in some cases the entire building and neighboring apartments.”
Landlords sometimes end up spending a large amount of money on pest control services because many do not realize bed bugs are capable of moving from room to room or being transported from apartment to apartment via residents. That’s why an “eradication program” is required to eliminate all infestations in multifamily accounts.
2. PROPER IDENTIFICATION. Kells said he has received about 3,500 samples from people who believe they had bed bugs in their homes. However, he found that 76 percent of the samples were not bed bugs.
He stressed PMPs need to confirm that a home or apartment actually has bed bugs before treating the space. Kells said there is a misconception that bed bugs are small and hard to see, but they are in fact ideally suited to hide during the day when people are looking for them. They also can be confused with bat bugs. That’s because bed bugs and bat bugs look similar, but when viewed under a microscope, bed bugs have shorter hairs and smaller wing pads than bat bugs.
3. BED BUGS’ WEAKNESS. Another tip is that bed bugs are masters when it comes to living amongst people without detection, Kells said. They have the ability to know when people are sleeping so they can feed and many residents will not know they have a bed bug problem until they see significant bites on their appendages.
However, with proper communication, tenants and homeowners can be a valuable ally in the battle against bed bugs. Many times residences acquire bed bugs from an outside source such as recycled furniture, backpacks, infested suitcases, etc. “During a control procedure you’re making sure what the person is removing from the apartment is really critical,” he said.
4. ACTIONS SPEAK VOLUMES. The last tip Kells gave was the importance of educating people about bed bugs. “People just don’t know about bed bugs and when people do get bed bugs, they’re panicking,” he said.
Kells said he discovered in a survey he conducted that people want reassurance from companies that the problem will be solved as well as easy-to-understand instructions and information. In addition, he said to avoid scare tactics and to not discard furniture because the new furniture most likely will become infested just as the old furniture had been.
“You can give people information without scaring them — they’re already freaked out,” Kells said. “I think we know enough about bed bug behavior that we’ll start to see an increase in the number of guarantees for dealing with bed bugs.”
FINAL THOUGHTS. Before closing, Kells touched on how pest professionals should practice caution when reporting non-compliance. Some landlords or PCOs charge tenants with non-compliance due to small misunderstandings. He used an example when a tenant is asked to clear all the furniture from the apartment and is charged with non-compliance for accidentally not removing a picture frame. “We need to make sure to report non-compliance where it’s warranted,” he said.
All parties involved — pest management professionals, property managers and tenants — are quick to blame one another for the problem, but the longer each person waits, the more bed bugs will multiply. “You should be seeing real reductions if you’re putting in a proper program,” Kells said. “You should be able to sell and show real reductions…people will see the value of pest control service.”
The author is an editorial intern for PCT magazine.