ASSE Says Holiday Travel Increases Risk of Bedbugs

In the past, pesticides were used to eliminate the problem, but as pest control practices have changed, the bedbug problem has grown. Experts note too that most bedbugs are homegrown and are being spread from belongings taken from one place to another.

Experts say that in the past two to three years, bedbug infestations have increased around the world. In an effort to educate its 32,000 occupational safety, health, and environmental members about the threat of bedbugs, especially during the holiday travel season, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is distributing information aimed at reducing the threat of bedbugs at work and at home.

“Experts are saying that bedbug infestations are occurring almost weekly not only in some hotels, retail stores and homes, but in college residence facilities as well,” said ASSE President-Elect and Chair of the ASSE Public Relations Committee Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM. “To help our members address this issue at work and at home, ASSE is sharing tips on what bedbugs are and how to address the problem.”

According to the University of Florida Entomology Department, word of bedbug infestation occurs almost weekly in the U.S. and worldwide. In the past, pesticides were used to eliminate the problem, but as pest control practices have changed, the bedbug problem has grown. Experts note too that most bedbugs are homegrown and are being spread from belongings taken from one place to another.

Bedbugs are small insects that feed on blood and were common in residential homes and apartments in the U.S. before World War II. In the past, bedbugs were rarely seen and usually found outside of residences with cramped living quarters, unsanitary conditions, jails, or homeless shelters. In recent days, however, they are a common problem in multi-family housing, hotels, apartments, and other living environments such as offices, waiting rooms, retail stores, and movie theaters.

Bedbugs live near people and infest bedrooms or other sites where people sit or rest for long periods. Since bedbugs cannot fly, they either crawl or are carried from place to place by people. Bedbugs frequently infest suitcases, backpacks, purses and other items travelers carry. They typically feed at night and spend the day hidden in cracks and narrow places. The most obvious sign of bedbug infestation is the presence of small black spots (feces) that are visible on light colored bed sheets in or near a bedbug hiding place. Shed bedbug skin, egg shells, and live bugs may also be found along with blood stains from a squashed bedbug. Bedbug bites are usually painless and not felt by most victims, but some people can develop a hard bump with a whitish center which itches for many days. The bites often appear as two or more bites in a row, and are often visible on exposed areas of the skin such as face, neck, arms and shoulders.

Experts note that bedbugs can be killed by heat over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If bedbugs are discovered in clothes or linens, one should wash them in hot water and place them in the dryer on high heat. Officials note that bedbugs are hard to prevent since they often hitch rides in clothing and luggage and can hide anywhere.

From a business perspective, bedbug outbreaks in apartments and other multi-family living environments can create a financial and liability impact for owners and managers of apartment properties. Officials note that hiring a pest control specialist skilled in integrated pest management (IPM) is critical.

For large areas and businesses, costs can run between $20,000 and $50,000 for severe outbreaks. Infestations can also pose a significant risk from the legal perspective and can result in health department complaints, claims and litigation. Experienced pest control companies who are familiar with bedbugs can charge anywhere from $100 to $750 for initial service of a single unit such as an apartment and $75 to $300 for follow-ups. Once one unit is infested with bedbugs, the infestations tend to move to other units. It is suggested that all adjacent units be inspected and treated as well.

To help to inspect for bedbugs it is suggested that one:

  • use a bright LED flashlight to enhance vision during an inspection;
  • examine any abandoned furniture closely for signs and presence of any bedbugs;
  • look for blood stains from crushed bugs, fecal spots, eggshells and skin near a hiding place;
  • look for rusty spots of excrement on walls;
  • examine all wall-paper or molding;
  • examine headboards in hotels and nursing homes as they are preferred sites as bedbugs are not disturbed and are close to a blood ‘meal’;
  • examine cracks or crevices around the unit including the edges of carpet; and
  • note an offensive, sweet, musty odor from the bed bug scent glands may be detected when infestations are severe.

If a business is infested, from the worker’s compensation perspective, workers who were bitten by bedbugs could have a compensable injury if they were bitten while working within the course and scope of their employment. Such a claim would most likely be handled like other injuries involving animals or insects, such as work-related dog bites or bee stings.

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