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.