Fight Back: 5 Tips to Protect Against Bed Bugs

Bed Bug Prevention

New information on the apartment industry’s Public Enemy No. 1 is a reminder that vigilance is Job One.

A recent report identifies that bed bugs are capable of transmitting the parasite that causes Chagas disease, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists as an emerging infectious disease. Bed bugs have been found to carry Trypanosoma cruzi, or T. cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. While these are no typical household names, they are terms to be reckoned with.

With Chagas disease, parasites nest undetected in humans and cause organs to fail over time. Chagas disease has largely been reported in rural or poverty-stricken areas of Latin America from transmission of the parasite through 130 species of blood-feeding insect vectors.

Now, add bed bugs to the list.

Recent bed bugs research data

After a series of experiments conducted in controlled laboratory settings, a team of researchers from Penn Medicine’s Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics noted the bi-directional transmission of T. cruzi between mice and bed bugs. Infected mice transmitted the parasite to uninfected bed bugs, and vice versa. In one experiment, 75 percent of uninfected mice acquired T. cruzi after cohabitating with infected bed bugs. Transmission to mice occurred either through bites or from contact by bed bugs with inflamed or scraped skin.

Bed bugs now join kissing bugs as one of the most recognizable insects that carry T cruzi. Kissing bugs – which get their names for biting humans on the lips and face – are mostly found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and South America.

Although Chagas disease has been mostly prevalent in Latin America, it’s fast becoming known in the U.S. In 2012, the CDC listed Chagas as an emerging infectious disease, citing a study which revealed that 38 percent of two species of T. cruzi-carrying kissing bugs endemic to the United States found in Arizona and California fed on humans. Until then, many of the species of bugs were not known to feed on people. CDC estimates that there are approximately 300,000 human cases of the disease in the U.S.

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is calling for more research on bed bugs, noting that “bed bugs have more frequent contact with people than kissing bugs.”

“It is important for people to understand the biology and habitats of bed bugs and to be vigilant to help protect against the spread of bed bugs by routinely inspecting and monitoring for this pest and contacting a pest management professional where bed bugs are suspected or confirmed,” NPMA says on its website.

Safeguarding against bed bugs

Protecting against bed bugs is a little different than warding off kissing bugs, which typically enter a dwelling from the outside like many other property pests. Sealing cracks, replacing weather-stripping, fixing loose mortar around basements and windows and generally closing up gaps are ways to control kissing bugs.

Bed bugs, on the other hand, rely on help from humans who move from one locale to the next. Despite bed bug myths, they can often hitch a ride via clothing, luggage and other transported items.

With the spring travel season around the corner, apartment managers and vacation rental operators may want to get a head start on resident education and awareness to minimize the risk of bed bug infestations.

NPMA recommends five tips that residents can observe to help keep bed bugs under control:

  1. When traveling, pull back the sheets and inspect the mattress seams of the beds in rooms in which you’ll be staying. Pay particular attention to the corners for telltale stains or spots. If you see anything suspect, notify management and change rooms/establishments immediately.
  2. Thoroughly inspect the entire room before unpacking, including behind the headboard and in sofas/chairs. If any pests are spotted, change to a non-adjacent room immediately.
  3. Consider placing your suitcase in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the duration of your trip to ensure that bed bugs cannot take up residence there prior to departure.
  4. After your trip, inspect your suitcases before bringing them into the house. Vacuum your suitcase thoroughly before storing away. Consider using a garment hand steamer to steam your luggage, which can kill any bed bugs or eggs that may have hitched a ride home.
  5. Dry all fabric items (washed or unwashed) in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes to ensure that any bed bugs that may have made it that far are not placed into your drawers/closet.

Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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