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Ban bed bugs

April 1, 2008
by Frank Meek, BCE
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How to prevent and identify infestations

The last thing anybody wants to see in a residential or healthcare environment is a pest, least of all the biting kind. There's no denying that the presence of bed bugs cannot be tolerated in your facility. While they have not been found to transmit diseases, these tiny blood-feeding pests can leave itchy red welts on their victims. Of even more concern, a bed bug infestation can upset your patients/residents and their families, potentially resulting in lawsuits and unwelcome attention from the media and regulatory agencies.

The reemergence of bed bugs in recent years can be attributed in part to an increase in international travel and changes in pest-management techniques. Since it's now easier than ever before for people to move around the world, these pests can take up residence in even the most unsuspecting of places. Bed bugs can hitchhike their way into healthcare and residential facilities with staff, patients/residents, and visitors, hiding in clothing and luggage to make their way into their new home.

To effectively manage bed bugs and quickly deal with infestations, the first step is to know how to identify them and familiarize yourself with their habits.

Biology and Behavior

Measuring about 3/16 of an inch in length, bed bugs resemble apple seeds with their oval shape and reddish-brown color. Hardy creatures, they can survive in severe conditions; they can withstand extreme temperatures and live as long as a year without feeding. What's more, they reproduce rapidly. Two bed bugs can produce more than 160 offspring, resulting in 200 additional eggs, in just one month.

Since they are nocturnal pests, bed bugs most often are identified by the evidence they leave behind rather than by sightings of the pests themselves. The pests generally live within 15 to 20 feet of their food sources, so signs of their presence, such as tiny brown or red blood stains, usually are first discovered on bed sheets or mattress seams and tags. In addition to inhabiting beds, the pests also can live near baseboards, in cracks and crevices, on furniture, or in lighting fixtures. Where large numbers of bed bugs are present, you may detect a sweet odor like that of soda syrup.

In addition to beds, bed bugs can inhabit areas around baseboards, in cracks and crevices, on furniture, or in lighting fixtures. Bed bugs can be identified by the evidence they leave behind, such as tiny brown or red blood stains on bed sheets or mattress seams and tags. Photography: Orkin, Inc.

Prevention and Management

When it comes to bed bug management, a proactive effort is the name of the game. Make sure your nursing and housekeeping staffs are well-versed in your bed bug management efforts. Work with your employees to ensure they can recognize the signs of bed bugs and know your facility's protocol if an infestation is discovered. Many reputable pest-management providers offer staff training as well as proactive services to help protect your facility from bed bugs.

If you find evidence of bed bugs, follow these three steps:

  1. Immediately take the infested room and surrounding rooms out of service, and do not remove any items from the area.

  2. Relocate your patients/residents to another room.

  3. Contact your pest-management professional to inspect the room, confirm the infestation, and find the best treatment option for your facility. Treatment options vary, but can include removal or thorough cleanings of all beds and furniture. Your professional also can pretreat rooms to which your patients/residents have been moved.

With the help of your staff and your pest-management professional, you can help secure your facility against bed bugs before they cause any harm or damage.

Orkin Technical Director Frank Meek is a board-certified entomologist with more than 20 years of experience. Orkin Commercial Services provides pest-management services to more than 250,000 commercial customers.

For more information, contact Frank Meek at or visit