Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bed bugs pose threat to schools?

Some school districts are beginning to worry about bed bugs. About a year ago the Bracken County School District in Kentucky closed their doors for a day to make sure no stray bed bugs were left behind following a find of a single bed bug in classroom. The bug was supposed to have come from a student whose home had bed bugs.

This week the Columbus Dispatch, in Ohio, reports another panic over bed bugs in school classrooms. According to the article, "Researchers and public-health officials fear that tiny, brown, blood-sucking bedbugs are going to spread through schools."

Greg Kesterman, director of the environmental health division for Hamilton County Public Health (Cincinnati, OH, where bed bug problems are growing quickly) is quoted in this week's story as saying, "Anytime an insect has the potential to crawl on a person, and travel with (people), you're guaranteed that you'll see them showing up in a public facility." This is certainly true. Bed bugs have, and will, show up in schools from time to time, especially as infestations in homes become more common.

What I question is the followup worry that steps need to be taken to avoid a "large scale problem" in schools. Are bed bugs really another problem that schools need to be highly concerned about? I doubt it.

While you never want to underestimate nature's ability to cause mischief, the threat of bed bug infestations in schools should be minimal. Bed bugs are principally active in the dark (except in cases of heavy infestations--which would not be the case with the occasional, stealth introduction to a classroom). After dark they need a reliable source of blood to sustain a population and spread. Since people generally do not sleep in classrooms (with possible exception of short afternoon nap times in pre-school rooms), it would be tough going for a bed bug that slipped out of a backpack into a typical classroom from an infested home.

In my estimation there is little risk of actual bed bug infestations requiring treatment in a public school classrooms or auditoriums. Dorms are another issue of course. Also, the risk of one or two bed bugs emerging from of a child's backpack and infesting other kid's belonging is conceivable, but the risk is also probably low. Should PMPs, school nurses and school pest management staff know what a bed bug looks like, and something about its biology and behavior? Sure. Should schools fear they are going to spread through schools and cause a citizen panic? No way.

Cockroaches are far more likely to migrate from a child's backpack and find "Southern Living" in a classroom. And backpack smuggling of cockroaches is at best a minor or occasional source of cockroach infestations in school classrooms.

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