In the News, Steps for Control in Your Home
(Beyond Pesticides, March 10, 2006) You have probably heard by now that a Chicago woman is suing a New York hotel for $20 million after she says she suffered more than 500 bed bug bites. With the return of these critters to the news, we figured it was a good time for a primer on bed bugs and non- and least-toxic control methods.
Bedbugs are tiny reddish-brown insects, about 1/5 inch, which live in the cracks and crevices in bed frames and adjacent walls, or even in mattress seams. They usually become active at night, while their host is sleeping, in order to feed. Human reactions to bedbug bites can be anywhere from swelling and pain to nothing at all. While bedbugs were not much of a problem in the last several decades, they have recently been making a comeback. The Washington Post reports that in the past five years, bedbugs have been reported in 27 states. These bedroom busters can easily be transported from one host to another by riding on clothing to buses and trains, movie theaters and other public places where another person could pick them up. They can also be introduced to a home on a used mattress, or can travel between apartments and hotel rooms.
Some signs of a bedbug infestation include a pungent odor, and blood or fecal spots on your pillow casings and sheets. Search out eggs and adult bedbugs in the cracks and spaces in your bed frame and along the baseboard if you think you might have a bedbug problem.
Investigate the possible cause of the infestation. The bugs could be coming from a nearby bird’s nest or bat nesting area. By getting rid of the source, you will help rid the infestation in your home. Be sure to caulk and paint the openings and cracks in your bed frame and surrounding area to close up any hiding places.
There are also more direct strategies to take care of a bedbug problem. If you need to take action right away, a good short-term emergency technique involves setting up a barrier so that the bugs cannot get on your bed. Place the legs of your bed in containers filled with soapy water, and make sure that no part of the bed is touching the wall.
You must thoroughly clean sheets and blankets. Try using an enzyme cleaner or borax for this. Steam clean all the furniture in your home. Infested mattresses and beds should be replaced.
Temperature manipulation provides another control method. Bedbugs can only survive in the range of 48° F and 97° F. By artificially raising the temperature in the infected area to 97° and 99° for several days, a large number of bedbugs will be killed. Lowering the temperature to 32° to 48° will take 30-60 days to kill off all the eggs. If you opt for temperature manipulation, use it in conjunction with the other techniques discussed above so that you can get rid of the entire infestation.
Insecticidal soaps and silica aerogels provide a least-toxic control that you can employ if all else fails.