Got unwanted guests? How to banish bedbugs

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published April 20, 2011

 Terry Giffin of Rose Pest Solutions works with Chili, a 1 1/2-year-old beagle-corgi mix, in sweeps for bedbugs.

Terry Giffin of Rose Pest Solutions works with Chili, a 1 1/2-year-old beagle-corgi mix, in sweeps for bedbugs.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Bedbugs are resilient little varmints — parasites, really — and they can hitch rides into homes in unlikely places: the seams of luggage, folded clothes, bedding and furniture.

The bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts all over the world, and their existence is not determined by the cleanliness of the conditions where they are found.

The good news is, the insects are not known to spread disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bad news is, this bug bites — it feeds on human blood, and the bites affect each person differently. Bedbug bites can cause everything from itching and loss of sleep to allergic reaction.

Also, the unwanted guests can make you a virtual shut-in if you have an infestation in your home.

The reddish-brown, flat, wingless insect is about the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny and can live several months without a blood meal, according to the CDC.

Powerful little pest
Bedbug populations dropped dramatically in the U.S during the mid-20th century. But the U.S is experiencing a resurgence of the pest, although the cause of this is not known, experts say.

Infestations occur in or around where humans sleep — apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains and dorm rooms.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bedbugs are not attracted to dirt or grime, but to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. And clutter provides a place to hide.

And the bugs are smart, said Mark Sheperdigian, entomologist and vice president of technical services at Rose Pest Solutions, based in Troy. Rose Pest provides pest control in Michigan, Ohio, and parts of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana.

Bedbugs hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or in any other clutter or objects around a bed. They are able to travel more than 100 feet in a night, but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

“They pose the biggest problem where people live close together,” Sheperdigian said.

Getting rid of the insect on your own can be tough, he noted. The bedbug’s eggs are the size and color of two grains of salt stuck together.

Chili to the rescue
But Rose Pest has a secret weapon in its fight against the bedbug: Chili, a beagle-corgi mix that can sniff out the insects with a better than 95 percent effectiveness rate, the company said. They also use methods including heat and fumigation to eliminate the tiny pests.

Sheperdigian acknowledged that some homeowners are concerned about the use of a pesticide indoors, but he believes a bedbug infestation poses a greater risk than the use of the pesticide to eradicate them.

“We follow the National Pest Management Association best practices,” he said.

Those guidelines state that the insecticide used should be shown to be effective and chosen for the target site.

The EPA states that if you’re dealing with a resistant bedbug population, some products and applications may make the problem worse, as the pests have, in some areas, developed resistance to many pesticides. Further, the EPA says it’s a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional if you have bedbugs in your home.

Sheperdigian’s preferred method to kill the bedbug’s eggs and the insect itself is heat treatment, which penetrates through furniture. Bedbugs cannot survive in temperatures higher than 118 to 120 degrees. Rose Pest uses diesel generators outside and large heaters and fans indoors. The process takes several hours as the bedbugs try to move away from the heat. Then the dead bugs are vacuumed up. Costs to treat apartments, condos and small houses range from $1,200 to $2,400.

“Pesticides take a lot longer than heat,” he said. “But too much clutter makes a building untreatable using heat.”

He said some companies use steam and freezing treatments to kill the pest.

Rose Pest’s Terry Giffin, Chili’s primary handler, explained that dogs can be trained to find specific insects, such as bedbugs and termites. The breeds used for insect detection are picked specifically for their high energy, Giffin explained.

Because the dogs are excellent for early detection, canine inspections can save costs by warding off an infestation.

Many hotels, motels and movie theaters use the dogs to sweep for bedbugs on a regular basis, Giffin said. Canines have also inspected offices, jet planes, buses and clothing stores. A dog can inspect 25 to 30 rooms in one hour. Costs for canine inspections range from $250 to $300.

Canine inspections are used in some residential situations in which a student is going back and forth from a college dorm or moving back home from an apartment, Giffin noted.

“There’s been a lot of hype about bedbugs, but it should not be causing a panic,” Sheperdigian said. “They can be dealt with. The key is to be educated and be vigilant.”