The return of the Bedbugs is a rampant problem and they are everywhere. Hostels and PG accommodations are the worst hit by this global phenomenon. The age-old 4D mantra of pest management – deny entry, shelter, food and then destroy pest holds good to this day and is crucial for a proper IPM program. If any of these are compromised, other measures taken remain mere perfunctory gestures. Yet, for bedbugs, preventing entry and then shelter is easier said than done.
Well, why are hostel rooms susceptible to pests?
Look at a hostel building from a pest management perspective. By the very nature of its existence, a hostel houses residents from various regions and backgrounds, who travel by all kinds of transport that are infested with pests, mainly bedbugs and cockroaches. Hostel residents are busy, with hardly any time to pay attention to such matters whereas on the other hand, professional housekeeping support is missing in most cases. No wonder, pest population builds up over time.
Other common pests in a hostel are rats, mosquitoes and flies thrive on matter rich in organic content. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, breed in stagnant water. Some tips for these common pests:
- Ensure that there is no garbage accumulation nearby.
- Check for leakages in drainage, install nets on septic tank vent pipes (if any).
- Change water in vases at least once a week.
- Do not allow water to accumulate in small artificial containers like tyres, cans, bottles.
- Install nets on windows if possible. Residents may also consider using aerosols and coils/mats against mosquitoes.
- Food items find their way into rooms irrespective of any contrary rules. Spillages and crumbs encourage cockroach infestation. Ensure complete cleaning and removal of any leftovers and crumbs. Maintain and strictly follow a regular schedule to clean each room on a periodic cycle.
- For those who have ever been greeted by a big cockroach halfway through a bath, nahni traps are available.
Hostels are advised basic precautions augmented by periodic inspection and treatment by a professional Pest Control Operator (PCO).
Bedbugs are a tricky lot and need to be dealt with professionally. The first tentative signs may be bite-marks on skin or rashes. Once the colony is established, you may notice a faint musty sweetish odour. Faecal matter may be detected on the sheets as brownish spots. Look a little further by lifting up the edges and seams of the mattress and run a thin piece of plastic through the joints of the cot. If you notice tiny translucent white spots that are the eggs and perhaps miniature crawlies, you need professional help.
Treatment: Conventional treatment of pesticide application is a painful procedure for the PCO as well as the customer. Each nook and cranny needs to be methodically applied with the pesticide. Due to the sheer magnitude of the job there is a strong likelihood of missing a small area that may harbour some bedbugs. Eggs may survive and lead to a fresh wave within a month. One should expect at least two or three applications before real relief.
There is a new alternative for bedbug treatment, however – Heat. Eggs, nymphs, adults are all killed by heat. A room needs to be exposed to heat of more than 56ºC for about two hours to achieve what a pesticide ‘wash’ can only aspire for. Clean, green, convenient, safe and effective, Heat treatment is the future of bedbug control.
Insects are highly resilient and adapt to various environmental changes. They are known for developing resistance to pesticides. But heat treatment makes use of one simple chink in their armour. The exoskeleton of an insect cannot withhold moisture in extreme heat and rapidly loses moisture. Heat kills insects by desiccation.
Tips to Residents
- You are most vulnerable when travelling. Check your luggage (and the clothes you are wearing too!) to see if there are any bedbugs. Truth be told, fat chance you have of finding one that may be actually hiding. But do check, especially soft luggage.
- Store your travel bags in a ziplock cover, airtight. Better, keep the so covered bags in the hot sun for a day.
- If you have visited an infested place remember to check yourself as in Point 1, because bedbugs are hitchhikers.
- Get rid of old mattresses that are infested, but after spraying and sealing them in airtight covers – you do not want some poor chap to carry your problems to his home.
- Keep your cot away from walls if possible. Apply a thick coat of petroleum jelly to the legs of the cot – it may help for some time at least.
- Wash all clothes and sheets in very hot water (more than 60°C).
- If your neighbour complains of bedbugs, there is a chance you are next in line. Insist with the hostel management for immediate professional intervention.
- If you are visiting home, double check all your belongings and make sure you are not carrying any of these insects. Bedbugs can make you unwelcome in your own home.
- Lastly, some sage advice: cleanliness in next to godliness. Bedbugs are not related with sanitation but regular vacuuming and thorough cleaning will at least evict them and help in early detection.
Tips to Hostel management
- Train maintenance staff on proper cleaning procedures. It is advisable to sensitise them to bedbug problems and train them to detect signs of infestation. Your friendly neighbourhood PCO should be able to help you on this.
- If there is a single incidence of bedbug detection call a professional PCO.
- During the treatment, ensure all areas and rooms are completely covered. No exceptions.
- Place bedbug monitors to check on efficacy of treatment.
- Stuff infested beddings and furniture into a room and expose to heat treatment for a single shot kill.
- Take bedbug complaints seriously.
- Bug-proof covers for mattresses, if available, are a good idea. They will prevent bedbugs from hiding in the mattress.
- DIY treatments for bedbugs are a bad idea.
- The only thing that spreads faster than bedbugs is bad publicity. Get hold of a good PCO to address your problem.