Bed bugs are back! And causing serious problems here and in communities across the country. The bothersome bugs don't spread disease, but they can cause severe stress and can be a nightmare to get rid of on your own.
I experienced an infestation as a teenager 40 years ago in my rural New Mexico home. We suffered for a year before figuring out what was causing the embarrassing red welts on our faces and arms. Bed bugs were rare in those days and my family knew nothing about them. Powerful and persistent pesticides like DDT nearly eliminated bed bug infestations in this country, and our collective memory does not include information on how to combat them.
Unfortunately, the insecticides we have today don't work well against bed bugs, and bringing back DDT would not help. Bed bugs quickly became resistant to DDT in the late 1940s and today show widespread resistance to pyrethroids, the main class of insecticides in use for bed bug control.
There is serious misuse of insecticides by people desperate to get rid of bed bugs. Consumer insecticides are not effective against bed bugs. Bug bombs and foggers do not work. Misusing insecticides is ineffective, illegal and endangers your health—more so than the bugs!
The best strategy for homeowners and landlords is to hire a pest control company with extensive experience in controlling bed bugs. Ask for references. Talk to the company about their inspection techniques and control tactics. They should inspect thoroughly before recommending treatment and should be using a wide variety of tools, such as vacuums, steam machines, heat fumigation chambers, traps and mattress encasements, in addition to insecticides. Effective bed bug treatment can be expensive and involve repeat visits. Be prepared to do part of the work yourself, including laundering, bagging clothes and bedclothes and removing clutter.
If you can't afford a pest control company, there are things you can do to alleviate the problem.
Eliminate clutter, seal all cracks and crevices. These are prime places for bed bugs to hide and reproduce. Eliminating holes and cracks will make it harder for bugs to move from room to room.
Thoroughly inspect beds and furniture. Grab a strong flashlight and a magnifying glass to find every bug. Use a spray bottle filled with soapy water to slow them down and drown them. You can also use a vacuum and a commercial steamer, or rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. A steamer or rubbing alcohol is necessary to kill bed bug eggs. Put vacuum bags in a large plastic trash bag and knot it to make sure no bed bugs escape.
Bug-proof bed and furniture.. Move clean furniture away from walls and other furniture to eliminate bridges for bed bugs. Cover infested bedsprings with a high quality mattress encasement. Use insect interceptors, like ClimbUp, under each furniture leg. These will catch bugs climbing down or trying to climb up.
Once an infestation is under control, maintain good housekeeping to make it easy to regularly inspect for new infestations.
It's also a good idea to inspect hotel rooms when traveling so you don't bring any bed bugs home. For more information about bed bugs, including photos, and control methods in English and Spanish, visit www.cchealth.org/topics/bed_bugs/
Ms. Drlik is the Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for the county health department.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at email@example.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.