Friday, August 12, 2011
Bed Bug Academy offers surprises
I wasn't sure what to expect when I got invited to attend the Bed Bug Academy event sponsored last month by the Texas Pest Control Association. I knew that I knew something about the subject of bed bugs, but I also knew there was a lot more that I needed to know. Boy was I right on the last part.
In case you haven't been paying attention, over the past year or so bed bugs have generated an incredible new business in products that offer control as well as conferences on how to build your bed bug business. The North American Bed Bug Summit offered last year and again next month in Chicago, IL is perhaps the biggest venue.
The experience and manpower behind these conferences, including the smaller Bed Bug Academy here in Texas, is Bed Bug Central. Brainchild of Phil and Richard Cooper, of New Jersey's Cooper Pest Solutions, Bed Bug Central has established itself as the premier training provider for pest control companies wanting to enter the bed bug arena.
After attending the summit I've concluded that the Cooper brothers do a pretty good job of presenting information in an understandable and comprehensive way. No one could criticize them of being superficial in their coverage either. Their main instructor, Jeff White, is obviously well experienced and a good communicator. The result was a stimulating and helpful boot camp for anyone wanting to begin, or get better at, bed bug treatments.
I have to admit that I’ve yet to personally treat an apartment or hotel room for bed bugs. I have, however, attended a number of presentations by bed bug researchers and PMPs at Entomological Society of America meetings where the process has been described. I’ve always come away amazed at the amount of work these folks say needs to be done to thoroughly treat an apartment or room.
Typical research-based recommendations for treating a room include removing all furniture and belongings, treating every square inch of room and closet, and thoroughly inspecting, treating and replacing every furniture piece before returning to its place. In addition, the standard scorched earth protocol requires extensive preparation on the part of the tenant or homeowner to clean up and bag most of their personal belongings. Just describing the process makes me tired.
The BBC approach evolved from the real world where tenant cooperation and follow up is unreliable, and technician time costs money. Consequently the stripped down approach taught in these classes is different from what I expected to hear. This is not saying that the BBC system is not a lot of labor--it is. But the BBC approach, I think, is more sustainable and practical for most accounts.
According to White, the biggest challenge in bed bug control is to make bed bug control more affordable. So rather than charge all accounts a higher rate based on worse-case scenarios, they hedge their bets with a careful assessment and cost estimate for each account. Standard service starts with a two-technician, 20-minute inspection to evaluate the numbers of bed bugs and the complexity of the account. All sites are then classified as low (less than 20 live bed bugs), moderate (21-100 live bed bugs) or high; and treatment complexity is assigned on standard room contents plus additional costs for more cluttered or complex living situations.
Service of units with low level infestations is the most stripped down. It includes a thorough inspection and treatment of the bed and all furniture within two feet of the bed. Unless other furniture or closets are seen to be infested, they receive only minimal treatment with residual sprays. Other rooms of the house are only given thorough inspections and treatment if other people are known, or suspected, to be living there. Wall junctions and baseboards are treated, but not ceilings unless bed bugs are observed. Steaming, which is a slow, but essential part of the service, typically takes only about five to ten minutes per apartment with this targeted treatment approach. Vacuuming is used to remove live bed bugs encountered during the inspection. A two foot area is steamed around any spots where live bed bugs or their droppings are found. Only in high- or moderately-infested accounts does the company begin to come close to the "scorched earth" strategy.
Perhaps the most surprising difference in the BBC approach is their Limited Prep model. The idea behind limited prep is that when tenants scramble to clean things up before the treatment date they inevitably scatter bed bugs into sites where they would not normally be found, such as closets or bookshelves. By leaving things in place, bed bugs are more easily found and treated or vacuumed. Using this model the tenants are asked only to the clean the unit enough to allow technicians access. Items under and around the bed are requested to be left in place. If the technicians encounter anything that needs to be laundered or emptied, they leave the items bagged with an instruction sheet on top telling the tenant what to do for the next service.
Evidence for the success of the limited prep and tiered treatment approach is Bed Bug Central’s customer promises. Moderate infestations are charged on the assumption of have three to four services. If bed bugs are still a problem after four services, the client is not charged. The company also boldly offers a five-month "No bugs--no bites" guarantee for most accounts.
Refreshingly, the focus of the BBC approach was not on which insecticides work best. All current bed bug insecticides have their limitations, we know. According to Dr. Dini Miller, the best we can expect with the current arsenal of insecticides is contact kill. In other words, “you only get what you hit.” None of the pyrethroid insecticides are consistently providing residual kill--that is, once they have dried. This means that good application skills are absolutely essential. Heat treatments, barriers, traps, steam, cold, and vacuuming all should play a part in an effective bed bug control plan.
Of course the Academy covered much more than what I can in this short review. If you have a chance to attend one of these programs, I think you’ll find it worth your time. As to the inevitable question lurking in the backs of everyone’s mind, “Can anything good come out of New Jersey?” In this case I think the answer is YES.