An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Check hotel rooms before unpacking or getting into bed. Pull the bedding off, down to the mattress, and then look in all the seams and folds for bugs, fecal spots, or blood spots. Also inspect any crevices in the headboard and frame of the bed as well as the nightstands beside the bed, and dressers/drawers.
Thoroughly check and clean any second hand items before bringing them into your home. Furniture, pictures and frames, appliances, clocks, radios, lamps, anything could harbor a bug or eggs. You may want to forgo second hand items that cannot be thoroughly inspected.
Clothing and textiles from yard sales and thrift stores should be immediately washed and dried on high heat settings. If the items cannot be immediately laundered, keep them in a tightly sealed bag or containers until they are ready to be washed.
If you discard an infested piece of furniture or mattress, spray paint “BUGS” on it or mark it in some way that others will not pick it up and take it home unknowingly.
What to do if prevention fails
The official position of the Ohio Department of Health is that the only way to eradicate an infestation is to hire professional exterminators that are certified by Ohio Department of Agriculture to treat for bed bugs. The reason for this stance is because the chemicals that are most effective against bed bugs aren’t allowed to be sold to the general public. The insecticides that are available on the market offer little or no effect on the eradication of bed bugs. Some treatment options, like bed bug bombs, can actually make the problem worse by causing the bugs to spread out to other rooms in the house or to other apartments in a building.
When it comes to bed bugs, you don’t have to have a dirty home to get them, but you do have to have a clean home to get rid of them. The first step in treatment, whether you hire a professional or try to handle it on your own, is to thoroughly clean.
Eliminate all clutter. Wash all textiles, and store in sealed plastic bags until infestation is under control. Vacuum daily, and remove or empty the bag/cup to prevent the bugs from crawling back out. Break down the bed and use the vacuum crevice tool to thoroughly clean the frame, headboard, mattress and boxed spring. Repeat this process on all furniture in the bedroom or wherever you have found bugs. Also use the crevice tool along baseboards, cracks in walls, around door frames, behind electrical switch/outlet covers, and anywhere else a tiny flat bug could hide. You must do this cleaning, even if you hire professionals to come in and spray. If there is clutter, then there are too many hiding places and the poison cannot reach them, you will be wasting your money.
Once the cleaning is done, it’s time to decide whether to call in a professional or not. If you do, hopefully this will be the end of your bed bug journey. If you decide not to hire professionals, for economic reasons, concerns over toxicity of the pesticides, or whatever your reason, there are some things you can do to help speed the demise of the little critters.
Purchase mattress encasements. These are plastic bags that zip over your mattress and boxed springs. For added security place a strip of duct tape over the zipper and immediately patch any holes that may appear. Plan on keeping the encasements in place for at least a year. The idea here is to starve them out.
Once you have the encasements on, it is a good idea to make your bed an island. Pull it out from the wall, so that it is not touching anything surrounding it. Remove the bed skirt, if you have one. Then place the legs on glue traps. Special glue traps designed for this purpose are sold on the market labeled as Bed Bug Interceptors. Put one under each leg of your bed frame and then as long as the bed isn’t touching walls or curtains, no bugs can get onto your bed from the room. This should afford you a restful night’s sleep.
Two deterrents available on the market are Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and ordinary rubbing alcohol. DE is a powder that is made from ground up rocks. It is an ingredient in many pesticides, but can be purchased for about $20 in pure form. Purchase food grade DE, which is non-toxic to pets and kids. After vacuuming, puff this powder into crevices, on your box springs, behind outlet covers, anywhere bugs may be. When the bugs or their nymphs crawl over it, it will cause cuts to their abdomens’ and they will eventually die. Be cautious not to inhale the powder as you apply it. Not because of its toxicity, but just because you probably shouldn’t breath anything other than air. As for the rubbing alcohol, look for the highest percentage of alcohol you can find. Most are 70 percent, which is ok, but 90 percent would be better. Alcohol only works on contact, so if you see a bug, you can spray it, but don’t think you can saturate a mattress and it will kill them for a week, it doesn’t work that way. The alcohol will evaporate quickly, and after that the effectiveness is gone. Another caution when using alcohol is that it is extremely flammable. Do not use it while smoking or near open flame.
Some final thoughts on the bed bug issue, if you are among the 70 percent of people to have reactions to the bites, don’t scratch them. Infection from scratching any bite is always a health concern. If you have children with bites, trim their finger nails very closely to minimize the risk of infection. Over the counter allergy medication may help.
Consult your doctor if this type of condition persists, or as soon as you suspect an infection is developing.
If you find a bug that you suspect is a bed bug, but aren’t sure, instead of smashing it, trap it in a plastic baggy and have it identified by professional exterminators or by the health department. We have a Bed Bug Fact Sheet that we freely hand out to anyone needing bed bug information. It includes reputable websites and identification aids. If you would like a copy of the Bed Bug Fact Sheet or just have questions contact the Meigs County Health Department at 740-992-6626.
Dawn Keller is a sanitarian in training with the Meigs County Health Department.