The Bed Bug Apocalypse Invading Rural America

Photograph of baby carrier with bed bug fecal spotting. Photograph property of Ladybug Pest Management.

What do zombies and bed bugs have in common? They both bite and/or feed on living human beings. To paraphrase the definition of apocalypse is to….”cause widespread destruction.” That definition certainly applies to what bed bugs have and can do to anyone who has encountered or attempted to battle this cryptically elusive pest. Rural America is not immune to the bed bug invasion. Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland have bed bugs in their communities and towns just like the “Top 10 Bed Bug Cities” in the U.S.

Within the past 10 years Ladybug’s bed bug services have increased to 70% of our yearly receivables and Canine Scent Detection for bed bugs services have skyrocketed. Some of the cases we have been called on to service for bed bugs or inspect with our three beagles (Delmarva’s Own Daisey, Dolley & Dixie – Canine Scent Detection for Bed Bugs) are hotels, apartments, schools, single family homes, vehicles, group homes, retirement/nursing homes and retirement communities. One case in particular stands out in our minds.

As a mother and now grandmother my heart went out to a young couple and their infant baby girl. They had fallen on hard times and were living in a small roadside motel that catered to migrant workers, transient travelers and people recovering from addiction. Many of the motel rooms had become infested with bed bugs. The owner and his current pest control company had not been successful in eradicating the bed bugs. We asked some of the residents of the motel rooms what the owner was doing to solve the bed bug infestation problem. We were shocked to hear of his method. The owner would remove the mattresses from the rooms and place them out into the motel’s parking lot and dose them with kerosene and let the hot sun dry them out. We immediately advised the owner that this was illegal. The owner did not speak English very well and kept referring to any type of pesticide that he purchased at a local store as “the medicine.” Also, he mentioned that this is how they treat for bed bugs back in his country. He had no idea or understanding in the proper ways to treat for bed bugs. We also notified the proper agencies regarding this practice by the motel owner.

Learning of this archaic and dangerous protocol was alarming enough. However, the young couples baby daughter was in a waist high body cast due to a recent surgical procedure. Her crib had been infested with bed bugs. Fecal spotting was everywhere. Her car seat/carrier was also severely marked with bed bug fecal spots. (See photograph.) I shuddered to think about any bed bugs that may have gotten into her cast on her waist and private area and legs. We helped the young couple with control efforts, encasement and financial assistance. They were planning to obtain better living arrangements. We cautioned them regarding cross-contamination (taking bed bugs from the motel room to the new residence).

The above story is heart-wrenching, however it is not only the roadside dive motels that have bed bugs. The bed bug is not discriminatory. They can hitchhike into 5 star hotels, condominiums, office buildings, residences, nursing home communities, etc…, just as well as into seedier dwellings.

The only way to get out in front of a potential bed bug infestation is education and early detection. These are two components that can help with prevention. If left undetected for a period of time, bed bugs are much more difficult to totally eradicate.

For the hospitality industries, lodging facilities, apartment complexes, camps, group homes, nursing and retirement homes and communities, etc.., it is important to establish a “Bed Bug Action Plan/Strategy Plan”. A written protocol for dealing with bed bugs. Ladybug Pest Management has developed Bed Bug Action strategies for establishments as mentioned above.

Homeowners, individuals/consumers and travelers ALL need to be aware of and educate themselves regarding bed bugs and to take the necessary steps to avoid having them introduced into their residences. Know what to do upon entering a hotel, resort, camp or any lodging facility. Know what to do when returning home. These are simple things to do. But it will require a change from possibly 10 years ago when traveling. Ladybug has a pocket size traveler card entitled, “What Travelers Need to Know About Bed Bugs” that we hand out to clients, friends and family. It is a great resource to have. All of us need to know how to inspect a hotel room before settling in. Place luggage in the bathroom (in the bathtub), inspect the linen and corners of the mattresses and box springs (especially underside of box spring corners). Look for pepper-like spotting. This is the bed bugs fecal droppings/markings. Look for the bed bugs themselves in varying sizes from a small egg (pearly white), nymphs, shed exoskeletons and possible blood smears. The headboard is often a place bed bugs like to harbor. Always carry a small LED flashlight with you. Also, you should ask the front desk upon checking into the hotel or lodging establishment if they have a bed bug action plan. In other words, how do they respond to a guest finding bed bugs in their room? A proactive lodging establishment’s employee and/or manager on duty should be able to answer this question. Lodging establishments should have all staff and housekeeping attendants trained once a year regarding bed bugs and what to inspect for when cleaning a room. Ladybug Pest Management conducts training sessions throughout the year for various establishments and companies.

Many hotels and lodging establishments are changing the furnishings and decor or room structures. Gone are the headboards in many cases. Gone is the carpet and in its place hardwood or tiled floors. Also gone is the wicker furnishings. Less is more in many hotel room setups, and for that matter in our homes. Bed bugs love cluttered environments. They can hide and thrive among all of our “stuff” and remain undetected for a very long time.

Upon arriving home from any trip, luggage should be inspected outside in a garage if possible. The contents of the suitcase (clothing, etc.) can then be washed and/or dried on high heat for approximately 20-30 minutes. The suitcase should be vacuumed and inspected carefully. It is recommended to leave the suitcase in an outside storage/garage area or bag it in a large trash bag before bringing back into the home.

It is becoming common for renters of rental units to ask the property management company and/or landlord if the apartment they are renting has ever been treated for bed bugs and if so, when and what was the outcome. Inspect before you rent. Ladybug works with property management companies, landlords and owners of single family home rentals as well as multi-unit apartments. Once a tenant has moved out and prior to a new tenant taking occupancy Ladybug Pest Management inspects the apartment visually and with our canines for bed bugs. Once we are confident of our and the canines inspection we can then provide the owner or company with an “alert free” certificate of inspection. Many owners of long term rentals are adding Bed Bug Addendums and/or changing their lease language regarding the bed bug issue and how a bed bug finding is handled and who is responsible for treatment.

It is the opinion of Ladybug and many other experts in the pest management industry that bed bugs are here to stay for quite a while. We all need to be smarter than the “average bed bug” and educate ourselves to avoid as much as possible having them hitchhike into our homes and lives. There are steps we can all take, but it will take action and change.

 You may contact Sandy Ladybug for a free Bed bug Traveler resource pocket card and a Bed Bug Identification Poster while they last. This is a great resource to have, especially for frequent travelers, college students living away from home or anyone, for that matter. Any other questions or concerns regarding bed bugs, please call Ladybug.

By Frank & Sandy “Ladybug” Honess, Ladybug Pest Management, Inc., Delmar, DE and e-mail: [email protected], (302) 846-2295