The 3-pronged approach to treating a bed bug infestation

Apr 6, 2022

You have been called out to do a treatment for a bed bug infestation. One of the first steps before starting your treatment plan is to confirm that you are indeed dealing with a bed bug infestation, and the best way to get that confirmation is to check your client for bed bug bites.

Upon confirming that bed bug bites are present, your treatment plan can commence. A successful bed bug treatment plan should consist of a 3-pronged approach: treatment of the skin; eradication of the infestation; and client education.

Treatment of the Skin

When you confirm the presence of bed bug bites on your client, referring them to visit a health practitioner or pharmacist is advisable. Most reactions to bed bug bites, spontaneously resolve within 3-10 days. Health Practitioners may treat irritations due to the bite of the bed bug symptomatically with topical steroid and oral antihistamine treatment and encourage good handwashing and hygiene to prevent secondary infections.

If a secondary infection occurs, they may prescribe empirical topical agents, such as mupirocin or fusidic acid 3 times a day for 7-10 days. The severity of skin reactions will vary widely among different people. In rare cases, professionals may use epinephrine for severe bite reactions but with varying levels of success.

Eradication of the Infestation

Your client can decrease the number of bed bugs by vacuuming all rugs, floors, furniture, bed frames, and any crevice and crack in their home. In addition, they must wash anything that touches the floor, clothes, bed sheets, blankets, and bedspreads in water with a sustained temperature of over 49oC and bag all items for disposal and place in outdoor trash.

Your client can place washable clothing in dissolvable laundry bags directly into the washer without having to open the bag and risk infestation of other laundry. If an item cannot be laundered, your client can place it in a plastic bag and put the bag outdoors in a hot, sunny location or inside a closed vehicle for at least a day.

It may be necessary, although costly, to throw out infested items. If this must be done, your client can render items useless by cutting them to prevent another unsuspecting person from picking up the infested item, thus transporting the bed bugs. Freezing may not always be effective because home freezers do not get cold enough to kill bed bugs; the bugs must be subject to extremely low temperatures for a very long time.

Although costly, advising your client to go the route of professional eradication of bed bugs is the most efficient and safest option to verify and treat infestations. Researcher has shown that clients who try and treat bed bug infestations are most of the time unsuccessful with eradicating the problem and using the wrong insecticide has led to numerous health issues. Consequently, the financial impact can amount to tens of thousands of Rands or more, which can dramatically impact your client’s quality of life.

The process of eradication should include positive identification of bed bugs, inspection of the site, nonchemical control options, insecticide application, and evaluation of the success of the treatment. If an infestation of bed bugs is suspected, the suspicion must be confirmed and followed by an evidence-based treatment plan.

Client Education

Prevention is preferable to treatment. Providing your clients with a bed bug information brochure is an easy, rapid way to educate clients about the possibility of bed bug infestations.

During your routine visits/follow-ups, you should talk to your clients about future travel and advise them to remember the SLEEP acronym. Doing so will help them avoid bringing home bed bugs. The SLEEP acronym includes:

  1. Survey surfaces for signs of an infestation, such as tiny, rust-colored spots on bed sheets, mattress tags and seams, and bed skirts.
  2. Lift and look for all bed bug hiding spots, including underneath the mattress, bed frame, headboard, and furniture. Typically, they come out at night to feed, but during the day they are most likely within a 1.5-meter radius of the bed.
  3. Elevate luggage on a luggage rack away from the bed and wall because bed bugs can often hide behind headboards, artwork, picture frames, and electrical outlet panels.
  4. Examine luggage carefully while repacking and when returning home. Always keep luggage away from the bed and store it in a closet or other area, far away from the bedroom. Place all clothing packed in luggage in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting immediately after returning home.
  5. It is important that your clients understand that bed bugs need to bite every 3-5 days to grow and reproduce, but they can live for a year without feeding; therefore, they are very resilient pests that can be difficult to eradicate. Not all individuals react to bites from bed bugs; thus, clients need to be aware that family members who share the same bed may not have a reaction to bed bug bites.

Educating your clients on how to look for and destroy bed bugs is imperative. Clients should first confirm they have bed bugs and not fleas, ticks, or other insects. A calm, reassuring approach to client education is best; clients should not panic if they have bed bugs because the problem is treatable with some effort and knowledge or by consulting a professional pest control company.

Bed bugs typically travel as hitchhikers; thus, if clients recently purchased second-hand furniture or clothing, those purchases could be the culprit. Bed bugs are small and difficult to see. Advising your clients to utilize a magnifying glass to look for eggs, nymphs, and black spots from fecal material left behind. Clients should inspect: headboards; the seams and folds of mattresses; inside box springs; along walls where the carpet meets the walls; inside clocks, electronics, and televisions; and behind and inside pictures and mirrors—in other words, in virtually every place in the home.

It’s very important to reassure your client that infestation has little to do with the level of cleanliness; however, clients should decrease the number of places the pests have to hide by removing clutter from the household including all items under the bed and in rooms no longer used.

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