bed bugs

An Elderly Tenant’s Path to Overcoming Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Lynne Gregory of EPA Region 2 recently shared with me a compelling story about Vivian, a 70-year-old retiree whose bed bug story began on September 11, 2001.

Vivian lived in a high-rise on the southern end of Manhattan, in close proximity to the World Trade Center. Her building felt the effects of the tragedy, as did she. Vivian was forced to move out of her residence for both structural and air quality reasons and was never able to return. As a result, she has had to move multiple times, with her most recent move into an apartment infested with bed bugs.

Like most people, Vivian did not notice the bed bugs when she moved in. It was the recurring bites that tipped her off.  She captured some for identification. While searching online for bed bug information, she found the EPA bed bug website along with a list of EPA regional employees to contact, for bed bug advice. She called Lynne and has been in regular contact with her for the past six months.

A proud woman, Vivian was ashamed to discuss the bed bug matter with others, but Lynne gained her confidence and has coached Vivian on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for bed bug control ever since. Vivian refuses to tell the landlord about the problem for fear of being blamed for bringing in the bugs. She was also ashamed of the amount of boxes and clutter in her apartment that resulted from all of her moves.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Informing the landlord is normally the first course of action when finding bed bugs, or any other pest in multifamily housing. However, elderly tenants like Vivian are often apprehensive that their landlords will become hostile toward them. They may fear eviction, fear having to throw out life-long possessions (a directive many landlords issue to tenants prior to allowing any pest treatments), and worry that they will be forced to pay to solve a problem they did not cause.

Vivian contacted the NY City Housing Department and her state senator to find out about the city’s bed bug laws and what, if any, tenant rights she had. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to assist her.

Despite the challenges, Lynne was determined to help her. First, Vivian was told to put encasements on her mattress and box springs to keep the bed bugs off them.  Next, she was coached to reduce the clutter in her apartment – a challenging task for anyone, let alone a 70-year-old woman with no assistance.  On Lynne’s advice, Vivian put all of her clothing in tightly sealed plastic bags and heat treated items in a dryer set on high. She began laundering bed linens weekly. During the past six months, Vivian has decluttered her apartment, one box at a time. She keeps only one or two of her most precious items, and has gotten rid of the items she no longer needed.

While Vivian had read online about the use of various products, including dusts and foggers, to help combat the bed bugs. She was advised against their use by her physician because of her health issues. It is advisable to only use EPA-registered pesticides labeled to control bed bugs and to use them according to their label directions.

EPA bed bug general card draft final 5-2-12Vivian also asked if bed bugs could bite through clothing and was told that they cannot. So, she mummies herself in a sheet at night to avoid being bitten. That strategy has actually been working superbly. She no longer gets bites at night. In addition, Vivian has been using a petroleum jelly as a barrier on her bed legs to prevent the bed bugs from climbing onto her bed for a late-night blood meal.

Vivian has asked about cleaning the bed frame with mineral oil or soap. Regular cleaning will help to disturb any harboring bed bugs and will also help to dislodge their eggs. Rather than the oil or soap, it is the physical cleaning, a key step in the IPM process, that actually helps.

Despite her age, physical condition, fear of her landlord, and strong propensity for privacy, Vivian has now overcome bed bugs. One of the most difficult pests to manage under any circumstances has been brought under control by her strong will and determination, following recommended IPM practices, and heeding the coaching provided by Lynne.

For more information on bed bugs, review the resources on EPA’s bed bug information clearinghouse, including a bed bug information card and a bed bug prevention, detection and control flier. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on IPM, a smart, sensible and sustainable way to control pests at home and in schools.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting rid of bed bugs

By Lina Younes

Bedbugs are a nuisance. When you have a bed bug problem, you search franticly for help to get rid of these unwanted critters quickly! Did you know that bed bugs are one of the most searched items in the EPA website? In fact, “Our Top Ten Tips to Prevent or Control Bed Bugs” is among our most popular webpages both in English and Spanish.

If you suspect you have a bed bug problem, make sure that the pesky pests in your home are actually bed bugs and not some other small insect. Learn more on how to find them.

You can take several steps at home to take control of your bed bug situation, like eliminating clutter and preparing for the best treatment.

We have registered over 300 products to use against bed bugs. Some of these products can be used by consumers, but others can only be used by specially trained professionals.

Controlling bed bugs effectively requires a comprehensive approach. There are no quick fixes and sometimes particular treatments might not work for multiple reasons.

Learn more about controlling bedbugs in order to stay safe and protect your family.  And, above all, as with any pesticide product, before using it remember to read the label first!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison in EPA’s Office of Web Communications. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several federal and state government agencies over the years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Fear of Traveling with Bed Bugs

Bed bugs up close

Bed bugs up close

By Marcia Anderson

Last week, I received several emails from Marion, a traveler in panic over the possibility that she was in contact with bed bugs. She went so far as to send me photographs of her legs covered in bug bites.

First, no one can diagnose the presence of bed bugs from bites alone. Second, everyone reacts differently to their bites – from no reaction to huge welts. The only way to identify bed bugs is by physical evidence – actual bugs, shed skins, blood spots, and droppings.

I asked if she had actually seen any bed bugs. She answered no. There was, however, no assuring her that she probably was not attacked by a multitude of bed bugs without having seen even one or their tell-tale signs. I happened to know the hotel she stayed at and let her know that it had a rigorous cleaning protocol. So, an infestation of bed bugs necessary to create the number of bites she had was unlikely. Not impossible for a few to escape detection, but such a large an infestation would surely not go unnoticed by hotel cleaning staff.

She went on to ask me how to remove bed bugs and their eggs off hard-to-clean, expensive items like her suitcase, leather purse, leather shoes, running shoes, and, worst of all, smartphone. “I hope there is a solution other than throwing all these items away and being forced to buy brand new,” she said. She said she was asking about the smartphone because she read that bed bugs get into openings in electronic devices such as the small portholes for earplug insertion, AC connector, etc.

If indeed they were bed bugs, I recommend heat or steam treatment of the items that can tolerate it. Get a magnifying glass at the local drug store and look carefully. You can also use an alcohol-based cleaning wipe all around the outside and edges of the other items and electronics. Then, with a cotton swab and alcohol solution, go into hard to reach places. Do not immerse! Be sure to reach any inner holes/crevices. It is very unlikely that you would have an infestation in your electronics, especially after a one-night stay and cleaning and looking into the ports.

 

When traveling, pack all of your items in tightly sealed, clear plastic bags.

EPA’s Travel Tips card

EPA’s Travel Tips card

Large zip-top bags are fine – just make sure they are sealed. If you are worried about bed bugs in your books, put them in zip-top plastic bags and freeze them for at least 4 days after you return.

There are very few things that need to be discarded even if they carry bed bugs. When you get home, isolate your suitcase in a garage or bathtub and place it in a large plastic bag. Tape tightly shut. Then clean or heat treat it when you have a chance. The longer you keep the case in plastic, the fewer young bed bugs will survive. Even if eggs hatch, the young must feed within a few weeks or they will die.

I can understand your fear. Every time I travel, I check my room carefully, worry and check a second time. A lot of the fear of bed bugs has been accentuated by media and industry hype. Here are some informational fliers. One from the University of Minnesota describes how to inspect your hotel room for bed bugs. A second from EPA tells you how to prevent, detect, and control bed bugs.

Many people have a fear of bringing bed bugs home because of the social stigma. Yes, bed bugs, once established, are very difficult to eliminate. One reason is that they have developed resistance to many common pesticides. Therefore, a multifaceted integrated approach, called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the most effective way to control these pests. The focus of IPM is to find the best strategy for a pest problem and not necessarily the simplest. IPM is not a one-size-fits-all method, but rather a combination of biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools that minimize health and environmental risks.

Be assured that bed bugs have been extensively studied do not cause or spread disease. Getting a mosquito bite is epidemiologically far more dangerous than a bed bug bite.

They have been around for thousands of years and were even been laid to rest with their Egyptian hosts, over 4 millennia ago.

EPA offers bed bug awareness cards for travelers. Print a few to keep and to share with friends before they travel.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Wildlife Weekend: Raptors, Roadrunners, Vultures and Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Bed Bug Travel Card

Bed Bug Travel Card

A few weeks ago I visited a popular state park to view wildlife in its natural setting. The park had a beautiful rustic lodge and conference center with antique, rough-sawn beams that gave a real western ambiance. The chairs, benches, tables, and bed headboards were made of peeled tree branches that were roughly fitted together.

After checking in, I conducted a precursory search for pests in the room, as I do whenever I enter any overnight lodging. No bugs showed up on my radar. It was not until about 9 pm, when I was about to prop up some pillows, that I saw a little brown spot on one of the white pillowcases. Then, the spot moved! OH, it couldn’t be… but it was.

I caught and placed it in a clear plastic bag for a better look. It was a healthy bed bug. I caught two more on other pillows. Two more on the wall near the headboard scurried down into the crack behind the floor molding before I could grab them.

I then decided to check out the box spring where I noticed two more near the plastic corner guard. I caught one, but the other got away, deep into the box spring innards. I noticed another coming out a joint in the headboard. Missed him also. He crawled in so deep it was impossible to get ahold of him. At this point, I had captured four of the eight bed bugs sighted. All were very healthy. I took lots of photos then called the front desk.

The receptionist alerted the staff and sent one to investigate. The person who came insisted that she had never seen a bed bug before. She asked if she could keep the four I had caught. No problem, but I warned her not to open the bag — don’t want any escapees.

When she returned to help me move to another room, I explained the importance of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, when confronted with a bed bug infestation. I talked about exclusion and monitoring being two key IPM practices for managing bed bugs. I described how sealing cracks, such as in the head board and behind the floor moldings, and eliminating hiding places for the bed bugs were essential.

Placing encasements on the mattress and box springs would prevent having to replace these expensive items. They would block access for new bed bugs and, in time, kill the any trapped inside. Bed bug inspection dogs might be cost effective in checking the entire lodge and guest cabins for other infestations. Bed bug dogs are trained to sniff out bed bugs, even just one, in the same way that drug-sniffing dogs identify drugs and alert customs agents at border crossings of positive findings.

Specimens from the lodge

Specimens from the lodge

I explained that they should enlist a pest management professional with experience in dealing with bed bugs. Heat treatment for spaces is effective when conducted properly. Spraying pesticides is not the silver bullet that it was many years ago for multiple reasons. Some bed bugs have become resistant to some pesticides, rendering them ineffective. Another reason is bed bug behavior.

Bed bugs hide in all sorts of tiny cracks and crevices for at least four days between meals. Therefore, they may not be out to be exposed to a pesticide being applied. Remember that they were nowhere to be seen when I conducted a precursory check the afternoon I arrived. If the bugs are hidden in the moldings, furniture or box spring crevices, the pesticide may never reach them.

This was my first personal bed bug encounter and hopefully the last. My husband asked me to please not bring home any souvenirs. No problem. However, I do hope the lodge took my advice on IPM and checked out the bed bug prevention, detection and control flier on EPA’s bed bug website. The site provides numerous bed bug control resources, one of which is the bed bug traveler card, pictured here. They are the size of a credit card, so print one and take it with you the next time you travel.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Calming Fears and Dealing with Bed Bugs in Schools

By Marcia Anderson

NEWbedbugs.on.thumbParents, teachers and students all worry when bed bugs are spotted at school because they are a public health concern. No bigger than an apple seed, bed bugs can hide in tiny cracks or hitch a ride to school or home on coats, shoes, clothing, backpacks and books. A bed bug sighting might mean that there is an infestation. Here are a couple of examples of bed bug fears teachers and students have shared with me:

  • “Today every student on my school team received a letter about inspectors spotting a bed bug in one of our classrooms.…I don’t want to go to school until they’re gone. What can I do to keep these bugs out of my house?!”
  • “…I found a bed bug crawling on the desk….What can I do? I already talked to my teacher, friends, and principal but (they) have not done anything? What should I do?”

The common question in these examples and so many others I see or read, is: What should schools do to prevent and stop the spread of bed bugs?

Safety First. Administrators need to be cautious about applying pesticides in school. Although it’s important to keep schools free of pests, it’s also essential to use pesticides only when necessary. This thoughtful approach is important because students may be affected by pesticide use.

Action. Schools need to investigate the extent of the pest problem, then use an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The IPM approach involves inspecting for pests, properly identifying what’s found, and taking steps like cleaning and daily maintenance to prevent pests. Vacuuming, steam cleaning, using hot dryers and plastic storage bins, and removing clutter are the preferred actions when a single bed bug is sighted in a school.

Prevention. There are things students and teachers can do to prevent the spread of bed bugs, like placing coats and book bags into individual plastic containers or bags, and carrying as few items as possible from home to school. Never throw coats or book bags on the floor, bed or couch. Book bags and jackets should be treated in a hot dryer for 30 minutes once a week, especially if the school has had a recent bed bug sighting.

placement of bookbag into plastic bin

Just because bed bugs are tiny doesn’t mean they don’t pose a big threat. Following these tips, educating staff and parents, and having an effective pest management plan can go a long way in reducing the number and intensity of bed bug infestations. It also will certainly reduce the spread of bed bug hysteria when an incident does occur.

About the author: Marcia Anderson is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA New York Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Mother and Her Son Deal with Bed Bugs.

By Marcia Anderson

Bed bug up close - Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

Bed bug up close – Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

As a former EPA Regional bed bug consultant, I still occasionally receive calls to assist people with bed bug related issues. A few months ago, I answered several calls and emails from Mattie, a distraught mom who not only had a bed bug infestation, but had received questionable advice about bed bug control that affected her son’s health. Here is her story.

Mattie discovered she had a bed bug problem when her nine year old grandson went back home with his parents with bumps and swollen arms and legs. His parents took him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with having an allergic reaction to bites from some bugs. Mattie’s son, Peter, was also bitten and showed allergic symptoms. Peter suffers from chronic respiratory issues.

They soon discovered that the bites were likely from bed bugs that they found when looking around the apartment. The bed bugs were seen coming out of a crevice in the wall above Peter’s bed. That wall, unknown to Mattie’s family at the time, is adjacent to another apartment that was recently found to have bed bugs.

The landlord instructed Mattie to wash EVERYTHING and gave her just five days to clean out her entire apartment. “We had to wash over 35 loads of clothing, bedding and everything else that had fabric. Peter and I were exhausted,” Mattie wrote in one of her emails.

In the meantime, the landlord arranged for a well-known pest control service to treat the apartment. Mattie reminded the landlord about Peter’s and her health concerns. The landlord told her that they could return to the apartment after it was sprayed and not to worry – the pest control company was professional and would not apply anything that wasn’t safe. The landlord also informed her that the pest control company said there was a severe care of bed bugs in Peter’s room but that no other rooms were infested. Peter’s mattress and bed would need to be thrown out.

Mattie and Peter were given a temporary hotel stay by a local aid agency because of their asthma. She found that four different pesticides had been applied in the apartment and that the pest control company would be returning in five days to check and re-spray.

Mattie continued, “When Peter and I returned to the apartment after two days, we became ill. I could smell the spray. My son began to have tightness in his chest, and so did I. It was apparent that even with the windows open and the ceiling fan blowing that it was going to be impossible to stay in that apartment.” Mattie was concerned about the effect of these pesticides on their respiratory systems, and both had to have breathing treatments when they arrived at the respite house for the rest of the week.

I responded to Mattie: “I was surprised that the pest control company used all of those pesticides. There are other methods of treating bed bugs, such as radiant heat, steam and freezing that do not require the use of pesticides. These methods can easily be followed-up by the use of bed bug barriers and low toxicity pesticides placed strategically in walls and other areas that would not exacerbate your families’ medical conditions.

You do not need to throw out any mattresses, box springs or beds. Instead, purchase encasements for each. The encasements will trap any bed bugs and they will die. If this was a severe infestation, as the landlord reported, some of the bugs would have spread into surrounding rooms, so precautions should be taken throughout the apartment. Until your bed bug problem is gone, use clear plastic boxes to store your clothes and other items that you use on a regular basis. Bed bugs will have a difficult time climbing up the slick plastic sides of the boxes, eliminating yet another hiding place.

As you sleep, bed bugs will try to climb onto the bed for a blood meal. So, move your bed a few inches away from the wall and ensure no bedding is touching the floor. Then, place bed bug interceptors, available on the Internet, under the bed legs and under the legs of all other plush furniture in your apartment.

Be aware that in most cases, pesticides alone will not eliminate bed bugs. Effective bed bug control requires a diverse set of practices called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on knowledge of the pest and a combination of common sense practices, such as inspection, monitoring, reducing clutter, the use of physical barriers, and the judicious and careful use of pesticides, if needed.

An astute pest management professional would have used a less toxic approach to rid you of the bed bugs. I am sorry that you had such an awful experience and hope that others reading this article will learn from your painful lesson.”

Be a strong advocate for your family’s health and for an IPM approach. Find out the exact course of action that is planned for your dwelling BEFORE they treat. Insist on exploring preventative and non-pesticidal options first. For more information on bed bugs and their control go to: http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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“Don’t Bring Unwanted Guests Home From Vacation”

By John Butler

Summer is here, and that means vacation. Warm sunny days, relaxation, and maybe that family vacation to a seaside hotel or mountain resort. In hotels large and small, a problem is lurking: bed bugs. The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites, and generally irritating its human hosts.

Experts believe the increase in bed bugs in the U.S. may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about prevention, and ineffective pest control practices by hotels.

So, I want to share some easy ways to avoid bringing bed bugs home from vacation.

  1. When you travel, take a flashlight along to inspect your hotel room. The most common place for bed bugs to hide is on the mattress and box spring. When not feeding, bed bugs can be found around the bed; near piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring; and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard. Check furniture, the floor around the bed, behind the headboard, and even the closet and drawers.
  2. Look for warning signs. Other than seeing actual bugs, warning signs to look for include dark spots about the size of a pencil point on bedding, which could be from their fecal matter. Also, look for small white specks, which may be eggs. Being aware helps avoid spreading these excellent hitch hikers.
  3. Keep your luggage off the bed and floor.
  4. Inspect, inspect, inspect! If you find signs of bed bugs, notify the hotel immediately. If they aren’t giving you any satisfaction, you can call the local or county health department. Last October, a couple of co-workers and I stayed at a hotel that at first glance was not top-of-the-line. I thought for sure I’d find bed bugs. We looked high and low and when we were finished it looked like a wild boar had run through the rooms. But, we didn’t find any signs of bed bugs and my colleagues and I felt much better during our stay.
  5. When you return home from a trip, it is a smart idea to wash your traveling clothes as soon as you can to kill any stray hitch hikers. You might want to also dry them on high heat. Also, do a final inspection of your luggage before storing it away.

For more information on protecting yourself and your family from bed bugs.

About the author: John Butler is the Pesticides Expert for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Two NYU Co-eds, Bring Home Unwelcome Guests from their Spring Break Trip

By Marcia Anderson

I just got a panicked call from Amanda, a mom whose daughter and roommate came home from a spring break trip to Panama City, Florida, with bed bugs. Amanda told me that a recent cold front brought temperatures down to near freezing in Northern Florida, so instead of partying on the beach, 20 or so students crammed into a beachside motel where some friends were staying and they returned to New York City with more than they bargained for.

Luckily, New York University has extensive experience with bed bugs and has a lot of useful information on its website.

Here is some additional advice for Amanda and other parents of traveling students if they suspect that their offspring came home with a few hitchhikers:

Upon arriving home, never place luggage or clothing directly on the bed. Sprinkle a little talcum powder on the bottom of the bathtub and have your student drop their luggage in the bathtub along with all of their outer clothing. A bathtub provides a slippery surface hindering the bed bugs from climbing out and crawling around. The talcum powder makes even less traction for the bed bug.

Heat dry all clothing, including sneakers, sandals and jackets, in a clothes dryer set on high for a half hour. Use a large garbage bag to transport the clothes to the dryer. Dispose of the bag, and place the clean clothes in a clean bag.

Inspect and wipe down all other items, such as packages, very carefully. If you are unsure about some items, like books, place them in a zip-lock bag and freeze for a week.

Don’t forget to vacuum your student’s path from the front door to the bathroom drop site. When finished, vacuum up a little talcum powder as well. It will make the insides of the vacuum too slippery for vacuumed bed bugs to crawl out. Place the vacuum bag and contents in a plastic bag, knot it or seal it tightly and dispose of it properly.

Take your time and do a thorough job, as bed bugs can hide in the tiniest of cracks or crevices and can live for over six months without a meal. In addition, it only takes one pregnant female bed bug to be responsible for creating 32,000 additional bed bugs in six months.

What about the car that transported her home? A steam cleaning of the interior should take care of any unwanted hitchhikers.

Still worried? Purchase bed bug interceptors and place them under all bed, couch and upholstered chair legs. Keep the interceptors in place for at least six months. Move the bed a few inches away from the wall, so that these tiny vampires can’t find a way up onto the bed to feed on a sleeping victim. Remove anything stored under the bed. You can also sprinkle a little Diatomaceous Earth (DE) under the bed, couch or recliner. Follow all label directions. DE works to kill bed bugs physically, not chemically.

Amanda, next year for spring break, send your daughter and her friends with the EPA Bed Bug Traveler card. It’s the size of a credit card, but packs a lot of important information.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Answering Fears of Students about Bed Bugs in their City Schools

By Marcia Anderson

Byron e-mails: “Today every student on my team at school received a letter about inspectors spotting a bed bug in one of our classrooms. They said they will not issue a pest control spray because it is just a small case of one bed bug… I don’t want to go to school until the pests are clear, but sadly that’s part of my life and I have to go. What can I do to keep these disgusting creatures out of my home?!”

Anna writes: “…My school has a bed bug infestation because of what I found last week in class. I was at my table when I found a bedbug crawling on the desk. I immediately killed it and blood came out of it. It was small so there must be more. What can I do? I already advised some teachers and students as well as my principal but (they) have not done anything? What should I do?”

Dear Byron and Anna,

Your school administrators are correct advising parents to be on the lookout for bed bugs that may hitch a ride to school. However, the sighting of one bed bug does not mean that there is an infestation at your schools. Chances are that the bed bug(s) hitchhiked in from a student or staff member that either has bed bugs at home, or picked them up on the way to school.

Your administrators were being cautious about applying chemicals in a school that may not have an infestation. Although it is important to keep schools free of pests, many pesticides are inherently toxic and may have potential health risks, especially when used in the vicinity of children. Because humans and pests depend on the same food chain, it is not surprising that the use of chemicals that are intended to kill pests comes with some unknown risks to people. Sprayed pesticides may become airborne and settle on toys, desks, counters, shades and walls. Children and staff may breathe in contaminated air or touch contaminated surfaces and unknowingly expose themselves to invisible residues. Accumulations of pesticides can linger for months beyond the initial application. The proper course of action is to investigate the extent of the pest problem and then use the least toxic steps to mitigate the problem, such as barriers, sanitation and maintenance prior to pesticide applications, if needed. This is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is mandated for schools in many states and practiced in New York City schools. Vacuuming, steam cleaning, the use of hot dryers, plastic boxes for storage, and removing clutter where pests may harbor is the preferred action for single bed bug sightings in schools. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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. More

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