Sara and a Social Service Oversight

By Marcia Anderson

A bed bug story comes to my desk from Sara:

“I have been taking care of young people from a social services program for over 11yrs and don’t plan to stop, however, now I have bed bugs in my home that came from one of the residents that I have taken into my home.  The program knew that the young man had a history of transporting bed bugs from home to home but never informed me of this information.  I found out only after my house had become infested.  The young man would go on a home visit every other week to his house and then return to my home.

Bed bug eggs

After the young man came back from one of his home visits he broke down and told me that every time he went on a home visit he would wake up and find bed bugs on him.  The young man was told not to tell anyone. In January, when we picked him up from the home visit we had him put his suitcase in a garbage bag.  Sure enough when we arrived home the suitcase had crawling bed bugs.  Since then, I got a very bad infection from bed bug bites that turned into blisters and sores that were very hard to heal.

I had a pest control come out to my home to confirm that I had bed bugs and I was told to throw out most of my furniture and belongings worth thousands of dollars. It’s going to cost at least $1400 to treat my home.  I had asked the social services program to work with me and a least pay for the treatment because they knew about this young man history and didn’t share it with me before I took him in to live with me. The program only offered me $500.00 for everything

Who can I hold responsible for the cost of treatments and the anguish that I have gone through? What else can I do to protect my family from a reoccurrence?”

Dear Sara,

First, you are doing a great thing for children that really need the help, so keep up the good work. Second, you should not have lost any furniture. It is not hard – just time consuming to control bed bugs. If you were told to discard items from your apartment, you need to discard that pest control company. Only the most infested pieces may need to be discarded, anything else can be heat or steam treated. Next, use encasements on the mattresses and box springs and interceptors under bed and couch legs. Clothes, curtains, and linens can be treated in a clothes dryer set on high to kill both bed bugs and eggs.

I cannot help you determine responsibility, but I can help you prevent a repeat of this situation.

Have a clean change of clothes and shoes ready for your guest plus a clear plastic box available for his clothes from home. Have him change clothes in the bathroom, as soon as he enters your home. His shoes and clothes should go into the bin/box immediately. Any bugs will have a difficult time trying to climb out. Treat the clothes in the hot dryer – so that clothes and shoes are clean for the next visit. He should also have an extra pair of sneakers – as bed bugs can be carried around in the treads or lace holes in sneakers. EVERYTHING the child brings in should be treated, so please make sure you have other ‘clean’ items for him to play with.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.