Bedbug 101: Know the enemy

Posted on Thu, 05/01/2014 - 11:30am

By Neil Warner

Bedbug“The Bedbug Express” is a colorful expression used by some pest-control professionals to describe the route of Chicago’s 147 bus, according to William Kay of Aegis Bed Bug Detection Services. In other words, the high-rises bordering this particular bus route are believed to be harboring many of these undesirable pests.

Approximately 30 Malibu East residents attended a Social Committee-sponsored presentation by Kay in the Windjammer Room on April 8, hoping to learn more about bedbugs. More specifically, how does a homeowner prevent an infestation or, if not so lucky, eradicate bedbugs from one’s unit?

With Chicago holding the dubious distinction of being ranked first in the nation in bedbug infestations in 2013 for the second year in a row, as documented by pest-control firm Orkin, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance last summer requiring condominium associations to adopt formal plans for the detection, inspection and treatment of bedbugs. Malibu East recently complied with that ordinance, mailing the plan to all owners and renters.

For any bedbug prevention program to be successful, it’s essential that residents report any suspected infestation to management immediately. In order to report it, though, a resident must first recognize the signs of a bedbug infestation. Since bedbugs are most often found near a bed, you should look for “black pepper” spots on your mattress or box springs, indicating bedbug fecal stains. Because they like to hide in cracks and crevices, you should also inspect the seams of your mattress, box springs and headboard for exoskeletons (external coverings) and bedbug eggs and eggshells. “To become an adult, a bedbug must shed its skin five times and must feed each time (on you?) to make this change,” according to Aegis’ website, www.aegisbbds.com.

Also, if you notice bites on your skin, it could be from bedbugs, which tend to feed in a concentrated area of a person’s skin. Some people may hardly notice the bites, however, since people react differently to these bites.

Since you probably have never seen a bedbug up close, you should know that it’s a flat and oval-shaped insect that can be from light brown to mahogany red in color. An adult resembles an apple seed and is about 5 millimeters long. It feeds every 2½ days on average, and it prefers human blood to pet blood, Kay said. After it feeds on its host, it becomes bloated with blood. Bedbugs have been known to survive months without feeding. A bedbug can produce 200 to 500 eggs in a two-month period, Kay said, which is why you can’t afford to leave an infestation untreated for any length of time.

In explaining why bedbugs have become such a big problem, Kay said that they reproduce in large numbers, adapt quickly to different environments and hide well. (Besides residing in and near beds, bedbugs may also hide in bookcases, including in the bindings of hard-cover books, and in picture frames.) “Also, people won’t tell you they have bedbugs,” Kay said. “Either they don’t know, don’t care or don’t want you to know.”

Kay advised the attendees to change their bed linens often and wash them in hot water and dry them on high, because heat usually kills bedbugs.

Travel puts a resident at a much greater risk for introducing bedbugs to his home, since hotels are more likely to be infested. If you travel, Kay recommends that you ask the hotel how it deals with bedbugs – does it have regular inspections? Upon arrival, you should inspect the room, particularly the mattress and box springs, for signs of bedbugs. And you should store your luggage in the bathtub, Kay says, because bedbugs can’t climb up a slippery tub. When you get ready to return home, you may want to enclose each piece of luggage in an airtight enclosure. Kay suggests that, before unpacking at home, you take your suitcase directly to the Laundry Room and wash your clothes before storing them in your unit.

Kay also recommends buying encasements for your mattress and box springs, which are available from several companies, such as Wheeling-based Protect-A-Bed.

The bottom line: Each resident needs to be vigilant, know the signs of a bedbug infestation and report a suspected infestation to management without delay. Malibu East has a plan in place to deal with the problem. As an owner or tenant, you won’t be charged or penalized in any way if you report it promptly. However, if you don’t report it, you will be charged for the cost of the inspection and treatment, not only for your unit but for those surrounding you.