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Resurfacing of the Bug Boom

The bugs could be periodically controlled/managed at low levels across the world through the use of various classes of insecticides such as chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT, Chlordane, Lindane) from 40-80s followed by organophosphates (Malathion and Dichlorvos) and carbamates (Bendiocarb, Carbaryl) in mid 80-90s and synthetic pyrethroids (cyhalothrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, and permethrin) in the last two decades. As we switched from once class of pesticide to the other, bedbugs have shown to develop immunity to these insecticides at a rapid rate. What is more worrisome today is that we have few alternatives, underscoring what can happen when pests resurface after entire classes of these insecticides are taken off the market due to human and environmental health concern.

Recently, Canadian scientists detected drug-resistant staph bacteria (MSRA-Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in bedbugs in a hospital. However, there’s no clear evidence that the bedbugs found on the patients or their belongings had spread the MRSA germ they were carrying or a second less dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. As it stands, bedbugs have been subjected to study for the first time since the middle of the last century, and the observed health implications are mild to moderate. Though bedbugs may not carry pathogens, bug bites can be a source of serious irritation for some. Beyond the potential health implications, begbugs should be a business concern for residential and commercial complexes, hospitality, healthcare, travel and entertainment industries and many others. As an unwanted pest, the very presence of bedbugs is a disturbance. Infestations, when they occur, evoke the impression that infested facility is unhygienic and of low quality.

The techniques that were used in the yesteryears to destroy bedbugs differed from what are used now. Traditional techniques of 1940s to early 21st century relied heavily on application of long lasting residual insecticides as surface sprays. Bedbugs residing in hidden locations and nymphs hatching from eggs succumbed by simply resting or crawling on previously treated surfaces. Black pepper, fungi, smoke, cannabis and other plants were also used in the olden days to eliminate bugs. Another method that was used was by keeping leaves around the beds, in the morning the leaves were collected and burned in order to kill the bugs that had been trapped within them.

IPMs

The modern techniques of integrated pest management (IPM) take into consideration various other factors, including use of low-impact insecticides to minimize human and environmental health concerns. It advocates emphasis on improved sanitation, bedbug- proof construction, use of lethal temperatures, continued and constant vigilance to prevent infestations in the early stages. Combination of low impact chemical and non-chemical approaches known as Green techniques provides an effective solution for the bedbug problems.

Green techniques include increased sanitation, regular monitoring and habitat modification. Other non-chemical methods are vacuuming, washing bedding at a high temperature, using steam or heat treatment and sealing up places where bugs hide.

Monitoring & Detection is the first step in green technique. One can detect a bedbug infestation by searching for the pests or their faecal spots, egg cases and shed skins (exuviae). Inspections should focus on the mattress, bed frame and headboard areas. Lift the mattress and inspect all seams and surfaces as well as the box springs. You may need to dismantle the bed. Use a flashlight to aid the inspection process.

In addition to the bed area, the remaining 15% of infestations usually are in upholstered furniture other than beds, in bedroom cabinets, along baseboards, under wallpaper, carpets, wall hangings and similar hiding spots. Bedbugs prefer fabric or wood surfaces to metal or plastic. For heavy infestations, adjoining rooms, filing areas and clutter can be out-of-way shelters. It takes patience and perseverance to find low-level infestations of such a persistent, nagging problem.

Recent research has shown searching with ‘dogs’ can be an effective method for finding bedbug infestations. Under laboratory and simulated-field conditions, using dogs to search for bedbugs was 97% effective. Other recent research indicates small, ‘double-cupped monitors that are easily installed on the leg ends of beds trapped six times more bedbugs than were found from human visual searches alone. This trap, Interceptor, is commercially available. A new university study indicates an ‘airborne aggregation pheromone’, a behaviour-modifying chemical, might help control infestation levels.

Prevention is a must. People who travel frequently should watch for signs of bedbugs in their hotel room by checking under sheets and inspecting mattresses, especially if they get bitten. If you suspect bedbugs, check your luggage before leaving and wash all your clothes as soon as you get home.

You also can bring bedbugs into your home on furniture. If you purchase second-hand furniture, especially beds or mattresses, thoroughly inspect the item before bringing it into your home. Infested mattresses or furniture should be taken to the dump immediately.

Bedbugs can be contained to a non-pest status through appropriate local and community-wide integrated pest management approach, including prevention through public awareness towards personal and structural cleanliness, early detection and appropriate low-impact chemical approach when needed.”– Veejai Alhuwalia

Managers of hotels, furnished apartments, dormitories, homeless shelters and other facilities that house transient populations need to train the staff to recognize signs of bedbug activity and take action as soon as they find an infestation. One proactive step a manager can take is to regularly replace beds, mattress and bedding materials. Frequent laundering of bedding and placing items that could be infested in walk-in freezers during tenant change and turnover can help prevent the spread of bedbugs.

It is much easier to control a population when the infestation is small. Keep clutter down, so it is easier to inspect and bedbugs have fewer hiding places. Also, seal up cracks, crevices, and holes in bedding or furniture and other potential hiding sites. You can remove bedbugs and eggs with the suction wand of a strong vacuum; however, you must target the vacuum on the seams of mattresses and box springs, along perimeters of carpets, under baseboards, and in other areas where bedbugs live. A single vacuuming rarely gets all bugs and eggs and, therefore, should be repeated. Portable steam cleaners can also be used to clean mattresses and furniture.

‘Beer’ attracts mosquitoes!

Arecent study shows that mosquitoes are attracted to odour and breathe changes caused by alcohol. A team led by scientists at the IRD Research Centre in Montpellier in France and 25 volunteers tested their theory on 2,500 Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes in Burkino Faso, West Africa. The mosquitoes were fed into a downside box in batches of 50, given the option of flying towards traps containing either open air or the human odour of the participants. Researchers found that 65% of the mosquitoes headed for the trap containing the human odour after beer, rather than just 50% before it. The findings are believed to be useful for preventing malaria worldwide.

Commercial heating is also found to be effective by some service providers. The current level for commercial heating services is 140°F for two hours or 130°F for three hours, which will kill most bedbugs and eggs.

Chilling to a temperature of 32°F or lower and maintaining this temperature for several days will also kill bedbugs. For suspected infestations in clothing or bedding, a home laundry drier is very good at killing bedbugs; only 10 to 15 minutes exposure is needed.

Mattress encasements, specifically designed to keep out bedbugs, are commercially available even in India now. Encasements are particularly useful for hotels or other facilities with many beds; however, their effectiveness at excluding bedbugs has not been thoroughly researched. In many cases, the best approach may be to throw out the mattress, clean the area thoroughly, and install a new mattress – with or without an encasement.

As a temporary measure, one can also exclude bedbugs from clean beds by coating bed legs with ‘petroleum jelly’ or placing them inside glass jars or metal cans, which are too slippery for bedbugs to climb.

The green techniques are expensive and many people in India cannot afford to call the pest control authorities for an expensive treatment. Low impact insecticide applications using boric acid and diatomaceous earth in fine crack and crevices; education and awareness about general housekeeping and sanitation can go a long way to minimize bedbug problems in homes where people cannot afford expensive pest control service.

General housekeeping and sanitation of a household is not always related to expensive solutions, it is a personal practices and human ability to understand and live in better, organised and clean environment. Cleaning and heat treatment of bedding and other household materials by exposing to sunrays during summer months are practiced in several rural households throughout India.

Veejai Alhuwalia
CEO, Sterling Pest Control Sevices

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