Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Some bed bug do's and don'ts

Adult bed bugDr. Dini Miller, of Virginia Tech University, is one of the principal researchers on bed bugs in the U.S. Yesterday I had the chance to visit with her about some of the latest in bed bug control, and thought I would pass along some of her current advice.

The art of bed bug control continues to evolve, even as bed bugs continue to adapt to the pesticides being used against them. For this reason, one of the essential steps in any bed bug service is to make the home environment less hospitable to the insects. "Clutter removal," Miller says, "is essential." Unnecessary household items should be bagged and, if possible, removed from the home. Clothing should be tightly bagged and restored to drawers and closets out only after the home or apartment has been treated and clothing washed (the heat from driers is sufficient to kill all life stages of bed bugs).

Mattress encasements are a good first line of defense for bed bugs. "Unfortunately, bed bugs can escape from most mattress covers," said Miller. She recommends Protect A Bed bed bug encasements as one brand that is truly bed bug-proof. "One common mistake is covering the mattress, but not the box spring," she said. Box springs, especially the undersides, are excellent hiding places for bed bugs.

Insecticides for bed bugs are one of Miller's special areas of research. According to Miller more and more populations of bed bugs are appearing with resistance to the commonly used pyrethroid insecticides. She offered the following tips when dealing with tough bed bug problems:
  • For mattresses and box springs, a good low-toxicity option is Steri-Fab® insecticide. Steri-Fab® is a combination of isopropyl alcohol and a short-lived pyrethroid insecticide called phenothrin. It kills all life stages of the bed bug only if sprayed directly on the insects and their eggs, so good coverage is essential.
  • For general residual treatments you will get better control when using a microencapsulated pyrethroid. Insecticides made with this formulation tend to stick to the insect and therefore prolong the time that bed bugs are exposed, increasing kill.
  • Dusts should be used in void areas and inaccessible sites. Because of its low toxicity, diatomaceous earth can even be used on bedding and furniture. Pyrethroid dusts should be applied only to those areas where people will not come in contact with residues. Dusts carry the same advantage as microencapsulated formulations--they stick well to the insect, increasing time of exposure.
  • The aerosol formulation of Gentrol® provides superior kill over liquid formulations. Miller believes this is due to the higher concentration of the aerosol (0.36%) compared to sprays mixed from concentrate (0.07%).
Miller also noted that at a recent EPA conference she attended on bed bugs a hot item of discussion was whether states should consider adding a special certification category for bed bugs. The idea is similar to the requirement that PMPs must carry a termite certification category on their licenses if they wish to do termite control in Texas. There is a general perception around the country that too many pest control companies are providing bed bug control with too little training or understanding of essential principles of bed bug control.

The fact that this is being discussed seriously should serve as a wake-up call for the pest control industry and for education providers (like me). The message is that bed bug training should be a priority if our industry wants to maintain a reputation for dependable service among consumers. To paraphrase H.G. Wells, when it comes to pest control, as in all nature, it's "adapt or perish".

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