New Integrated Approach to the War on Bed Bugs

    With the recent re-emergence of bed bugs, the pest control industry as a whole has been trying to circle the wagons, so to speak, in order to come up with an effective treatment protocol. Thus far, the results have been a mixed bag. As in many things, there are opposing viewpoints. However, with the problem comes some good. An emerging philosophy has taken hold and is gaining in both popularity and credibility.

    But, to understand how we got there, first let’s look at why the bed bug problem has hit us in the first place. Until recently, bed bug infestations were generally associated mostly with low income, multi-unit housing, and were rare occurrences, even in those locations. However, such infestations have increased dramatically, and can now be found almost anywhere - even in the most well heeled neighborhoods and 5 star hotels. 

    The reasons for the resurgence seems to be related to increased international travel, rapid and unchecked movement of infested luggage and other items, and the banning of certain pesticides previously available to control bed bugs, such as DDT. Thus, it was the banning of such pesticides, as well as an overall trend toward non-traditional methods of treatment that has led to the creation of what is known as IPM, or Integrated Pest Management. 

    IPM is a process that incorporates a more common sense approach with sound environmentally conscious solutions for treating and controlling pests.
      Integrate Pest Management, IPM, and bedbug encasement products  

    These solutions involve three basic steps:

    • Inspection/Prevention

    • Identification

    • Treatment

    For effective implementation, IPM utilizes a partnership between the customer and a licensed pest management professional who is trained and certified in such methods. It is this cooperative teamwork approach which creates a plan that allows for protection against pest-related health and property threats, while at the same time being environmentally responsible. 

    Dr. Gil Bloom, an entomologist and bed bug expert with Standard Pest Management in New York, says that with the bed bug epidemic, two things have converged at the same time. Says Bloom, “What we are seeing now is the ‘greening’ of pest control. With the banning of certain pesticides, the industry really has had no choice. Yes, some of the old school companies are resisting that change, and it’s only natural. It’s expensive to re-tool. But the other part of the equation is that people are looking for less toxic alternatives.” 

    With an IPM, there are little if any “standard operating protocols.” Instead, pest management professionals will look at the unique situation in any given treatment area in order to develop an effective response. Under an IPM plan, treatment options can range from sealing cracks and removing food and water sources to more traditional pesticide treatments when necessary. But the most important factor according to Dr. Bloom is that it allows the customer to become involved in the process, instead of just standing by while some stranger sprays potentially toxic substances all around the home. 

    Dr. Bloom says there are a number of non-pesticide options being used in the field, such as Cryonite, or cold treatment, steam, traps, monitors, Murphy soap and others, to varying degrees of success. “In the long run, the most effective method of bed bug treatment seems to be heat. It’s a bit expensive now, but if it becomes the treatment of choice, it should become more affordable down the road.” Managing an active bed bug infestation is not an easy task, but one that requires removal or treatment of all infested materials, plus an effective follow-up and monitoring plan in order to ensure the infestation has been eliminated. 

    Such management requires using several non-chemical methods such as vacuuming, washing any affected bedding or clothing at a high temperature (140◦ Fahrenheit), using heat or steam treatment, and last, but not least, effectively sealing any hiding places. In addition, Dr. Bloom says that the use of anti-bed bug mattress encasements is another important element in the process. “Encasements are a great way to reduce the financial impact from bed bugs. By using them, there is no longer any need to throw out expensive mattresses and other bedding, even if they are infested. Plus, it makes the inspection process much, much easier.” 

    From a prevention standpoint, encasements have also taken off recently. Pest control professionals concur that covering bedding with effective anti-bed bug protection eliminates about 80% of the typical nesting sites for bed bugs, that being the box spring and mattress, and to a lesser degree, the pillow. It’s just this kind of product that makes an IPM effective and attractive to both consumers and pest control professionals. 

    Ultimately, more traditional insecticides could be needed in order to eliminate a major infestation. There are very few active ingredients which are federally registered and approved for over-the-counter use in treating bed bugs. In fact, it’s highly risky and generally ineffective to try and “do it yourself”. There are far more registered and approved pesticides at the professional level, such as synthetic pyrethroids and even more natural ones such as diatomaceous earth (a desiccant or drying agent), which still needs professional handling, however, resistance among bed bug populations is growing, and smaller infestations are difficult to detect. 

    With an approved IPM, there has been success when combining nonchemical and chemical products together with improved cleaning and modification. So, it seems logical that if you are trying to prevent a bed bug infestation, or need to treat an active infestation, be sure to look for an experienced pest management professional that incorporates an IPM.