Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 11th Nov 2012

Finding and Fighting Bed Bugs

Clive Boase, the Pest Management Consultancy

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Bed Bug Biology

Chris -   Cases of bed bug infestations we’ve heard are on the rise, but how do you know you’ve actually got them and what can you do if you have got them?  Clive Boase is from the Pest Management Consultancy.  Hello, Clive.

Clive -   Yeah, good evening.

Chris -   So, tell us then, how do I know I've got bed bugs in my house?  I mean, I haven't.  I've done it before I'm done with my mortgage value of my property, but would I know?

Clive -   Not surprisingly for blood-feeding insect, the first time you'll get of an infestation or the first time that most people get is the appearance of bites, and as we’ve heard earlier, these can be really quite unpleasant, red, itchy lesions.  They could appear anywhere on your body, but most typically, they're on those parts of your body which are out of the covers when you're sleeping at night.  So, it’s going to be the neck and the shoulders and perhaps the sides of your face, maybe the arms; those parts of you that aren't covered up when you're in bed.  Now of course, the trick is to recognise these as insect bites as opposed to some other kind of skin disorder.  Many people we meet, their story running into a bed bug infestation is to say they had a skin condition.  They put it down to maybe some kind of eczema or allergy, they treated it, and often, it’s not until a few months later, 3, 5, 6, 7 months later that by some chance situation, the home owner actually spots insects in the bed and draws the connection between this hither-to eczema-type skin condition in the insects and realising it’s not a skin condition at all.  It’s actually bites from the bed bugs.  Bed bug awareness on the part of homeowners generally is perhaps one of the most important things that we’ve done to speed up the identification of individual infestations and as a result of that, the treatment and elimination of them.

Blood-fed Cimex lectularius bed bugs (Note the differences in color with respect to digestion of blood meal)Chris -   So what advice can you give people about not bringing them home from their holidays?

Clive -   If you're staying in a hotel or any other kind of accommodation away from home, then be aware of bed bugs.  The chances of picking up bed bugs is actually very, very small.  You know, I really wouldn’t want to give the impression that the hotel industry in this country or any other country is awash with bed bugs.  They're not.  The figures we have show that the percentage of rooms affected by bed bugs are really very, very small, less than 1 in 1,000, sometimes down to 1 in 10,000.

Chris -   How do you know that?  Do you have to go and sleep in the bed and see if you get bitten?

Clive -   No, we collect statistics from hotels and as I said, contrary to popular opinion, bed bugs are really not that common in hotels despite what you read in the newspapers.  The most important things to protect yourself are; be very aware of buying second hand bedroom furniture.  Think again about that second-hand mattress.  Think about that second hand bed or that bedside table that you're thinking you might buy.  Bed bugs are very commonly moved around on those sorts of items, so be aware of that.  And again, don’t move into premises where there are bed bugs.  If you're thinking of renting a bed set or a flat or somewhere, have a look for signs of bed bug infestation.  What we’re looking for are the faecal spots of bed bugs.  As we’ve said, bed bugs feed on blood, their faeces are very dark coloured, and typically, what we’ll see is numbers of small dark spots, perhaps the size of a pinhead, maybe a millimetre across or so around bed bug harbourages and as Toby said, those harbourages maybe on or around the bed.  So we might be looking for the beading around the mattress, around the buttons on the mattress, around joints in a wooden bedframe, where the skirting board joints along the wall, if you’ve got a white skirting against the wall, if we’ve got little bits of lose wallpaper, a back of the headboard will be the classic sign.  So, if you're thinking of renting a furnished flat, a furnished bet set, have a look at those sorts of areas and if we’re seeing little black spots around there, then be very, very careful.

Chris -   So, if someone calls you in and you have a look at the bed and you see these black spots and that’s the danger sign to you, what do you then do, tear the room apart to see if you can find them?  What do you do?

Clive -   In order to start a treatment programme, we really need to confirm that they really are there.  We don’t need to find every last one.  We’re just looking for enough of a sign to say, “Yup!  The room is infested.”  And then a bed bug treatment programme might start.

Chris -   Just in one room or does that mean, you got to blitz the whole flat or the whole house, or whatever?

Clive -   Bed bugs as we’ve heard are really quite mobile and if we’ve got a typical 2, 3-bedroom house, if they're in one room, the chances are, they're in another.  So, don’t stop at the first room where the original sighting or the original concern is raised.

Chris -   I mean, if you live in a block of flats or maisonette or something, if someone downstairs has got them, could they crawl up into your flat?

Clive -   Yeah, absolutely they could.  This last week, I've been working a number of premises doing research work there and there, in blocks of sheltered accommodation, we’re finding individual flats that are if you like, a focus flat that is really quite heavily infested.  Then around that, we have a number of adjoining flats, not just adjoining on one level, but above and even below as well as you say, where we’re finding lighter bed bug infestations.  The indication is that bed bugs are spread from that original focus flat.  In some cases where we’ve got really heavily infested flats, if we step outside of that flat into the corridor, and we can see actually bed bugs in the corridor around the door frame, perhaps around the lights on the ceiling in the corridor, and then even when we turn around 180 degrees from that badly affected flat and into the flat opposite, lo and behold, we find a few bed bugs in there.  So, they will – we talked earlier, I think Toby talked about passive dispersal of bed bugs, but active dispersal between blocks of flats is really very, very important.  And it’s something, I think going back a few years, perhaps we didn’t realise it happened to the extent it really does.  We didn’t think bed bugs are particularly mobile.  Now, we realise they are.

Chris -   What about getting rid of them?  Once you’ve found them, you’ve identified positively that they're there, how do you get rid of them?

Clive -   There's a number of options.  There's the do-it-yourself option.  There's not an option I'm in favour of.  Again, when I get involved with people with bed bugs, there’ll be this typical narrative history where eventually found they’ve got them.  They will have tried to get rid of them themselves and they will tell me about, “Yes, we bought some aerosols.  We bought some powder.  We threw away the mattress.  We got a new bed.  We threw away the carpet and so on”.  After having done all that, they still got bed bugs.  So, I would say that anybody who believes they’ve got bed bugs, they need professional advice and that professional advice may be input from a local authority pest control team, and there's still numbers of local authorities that offer pest control service, or a private company.  And I think the important thing is to talk with a number of potential providers of the service, check out the service they can provide, check out the costs.  Very importantly, ensure that they will guarantee they work, so it doesn’t get a result, they will come back and do it again.

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