Are You Sleeping Alone Tonight?
Beds are supposed to be a place to recluse to, to relax in and rest, and to download and reset your short-term/working memory. There are a couple of creatures that will visit our beds that can cause havoc to our physical and mental health. One is dust mites, which are microscopic spiders that eat human skin cells and animal dander. Dust mites create proteins that are potent allergens called Der-p1 and Der-p2.
The other creatures that like to live in our beds are bed bugs. Even seasoned restoration professionals tend to be nervous in and around bed bugs. Why does the subject of old phrases like “Goodnight! Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” make restoration professionals run for the hills? The underlying fear of bed bugs is they bite and leave welts and are hard to eradicate.
They are small, oval-shaped and slim. They like to get into luggage, clothing, draperies, soft goods and — most of all — mattresses and box springs. They like to travel! They will hitch a ride on your clothing and luggage, they will find passages to other rooms or other units in a multi-res/multi-use facility.
Best practices for the removal of bed bugs from a building are usually a combination of identification techniques, removal by vacuuming, vapor steaming or other application of high heat, and an application of pesticide. A final step removing pesticide residues by cleaning may be required.
Bed bugs are not always easy to identify. They change appearance over the various stages of their lifecycle. After they hatch, bed bugs are referred to as nymphs, and they feed on blood immediately after hatching. They will molt five times before they reach the stage of adulthood. Molting can only occur after a feeding of blood. When they reach adulthood, the bugs are slim, oval and brownish in color. Then they feed and they feed until they are full. After this initial adulthood feeding, they will appear red in color.
The bites of bed bugs are distinct in the respect that they are more like welts, they can take days to become visible, and the welts are often found in a row of 3-5 bites on places such as the shoulder, arms and leg. The bite often occurs at night. The biting from the bed bug does result in blood spots on sheets, which can often be confused with the appearance of excrement from bed bugs which is a rust color. Either way this is a telltale way of determining the presence of these creatures.
Methods used to remove bed bugs will depend on the degree of infestation of a site. Bed bugs feed and then they “hide.” They hide in the sheets, blankets, and the seams and folds of mattresses and boxsprings. In major infestations they will hide in other areas such as behind baseboards, inside walls, under flooring and carpet, and in draperies and clutter. When we are at the removal stage, we want to remove both the bug and any of the eggs it left behind. This may require a preclean procedure of agitation with a stiff brush prior to vacuuming. Vacuuming should be done using a verified, HEPA-filtered vacuum or a shop vac vented outdoors. A thorough inspection of the affected site should be made to identify the hiding places of the bed bugs and eliminate them at the source.
Kill the Bed Bugs
The accepted method of killing bed bugs is applying high heat to the environment or to surfaces or the application of pesticides. Vapor steam (212-260 degrees Fahrenheit) kills both bed bugs and its eggs on contact. Introducing heated air of 118 degrees Fahrenheit can also kill bed bugs, but it would require a sustained application for approximately 20 minutes to kill the bug and up to 90 minutes to kill its eggs. The application of heat to surfaces is not as easy as it may sound. Heated air rises. Most issues with bed bugs are located from the height of the bed to the floor. Work procedures for heating a unit will require methodology to keep heat on surfaces in the lower part of the room.
You can also kill bed bugs using cold air below zero degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, you can remedy some situations with bed bugs by throwing affected items into a deep freezer. This is the old method of eradicating moths and their larvae from wool area rugs.
Application of Pesticides
The issue of bed bugs being hard to eradicate has a lot to do with the poor performance of using pesticides alone for exterminating them. The use of DDT had all but eradicated bed bugs in the 70s, and many feel the banning of DDT has resulted in the slow but sure reappearance of this pest. After physical removal and application of a vapor steamer along all folds and seams of the mattress and bed and application of extreme heat, the use of a pesticide may be considered. Some pesticides leave a toxic residue that may need to be cleaned away prior to the unit’s occupants reinhabiting the site.
There are many safety points to consider. The most important being whether or not your life partner will allow you back in the house after attending a bed bug infestation site.
But seriously, the major health and safety issues will be the use of appropriate PPE including coveralls. A job such as this should be done with full PPE on and the doffing of the PPE should follow protocols similar to those used in the mold and asbestos industry. We want to leave all the pests and their eggs behind at the suite.
Workers who are not familiar with vapor steamers often do not realize how hot its output is. Care should be made to not touch the steamer’s output, its nozzles and even freshly steamed surfaces because you can get serious burns. High heat can also activate fire suppression systems and sprinklers and may require a site to be on fire watch while the system is disabled.
Last, the pesticides we use. They can be very toxic and so can their residues. If the pesticide residue will require removal prior to the occupants returning, review the SDS of the pesticide used and review sections 7 & 8 of the SDS for handling and PPE requirements of the product.
Overview of a Bed Bug Job in a Housing Unit
The worst bed bug project I had spanned over the period of a year. The site was a low-cost housing unit in a high rise. We were called into one unit to eradicate the bed bugs. Then we were called into the neighbor’s unit. Then we treated the other neighbor. Then we went back to the source unit as the problem had returned. This cycle repeated itself and started to expand across the entire floor of the apartment building.
Finally, the building was sold and the new buyer decided to strip the entire affected floor level down to “base building.” They discovered colonies of bed bugs inside the walls almost three feet up from floor level.
The place was exterminated, and we went to clean off the pesticide residues at the end of the project. It was a nice ending because we had actually run out of workers and contractors willing to work in the building anymore! Bed bugs will do that. They scare people who make a living cleaning up scenes that can cause serious illness such as mold or asbestos abatement workers.