By Carl Brahe, Certified Denver Home Inspector
Just in time for Halloween, here is a truly scary thought. Only this threat to Denver homes is real.
Bed bugs were so common in the first part of the 20th century that it estimated that 1/3 of all US households were infested. Nearly everyone had been bitten by, or at least seen, bed bugs until the 1950s. DDT, and other now banned insecticides virtually wiped out bed bugs in developed countries.
Bed Bugs – Coming Soon to a Home or Business Near You
Infestations have been found in 5 star hotels, restaurants, a Broadway theater, upscale clothing stores, hospitals and nursing homes and in homes everywhere. Bed bugs are being found in all sorts of public places including restaurants, day care centers, store dressing rooms and theaters. Denver Public Library had to shut down a storage section to fumigate for bed bugs. They are now found in airplanes, trains and buses. They may be encountered anywhere.
Bed bugs travel with people hiding in clothes and luggage. People are more globally mobile and so are bed bugs. They travel with people mainly. They don’t travel on pets. They may feed on pets in the night, just like people, but they drop off after feeding and hide in dark places.
Firefighters in Denver, CO recently faced a situation that sounds like a scene from a horror movie. As the fire progressed through a home bed bugs fled to the attic in mass and attached themselves to firefighters and their gear in an effort to escape. Fire fighter had to be decontaminated on site and their gear bagged in plastic for later treatment.
A single female can produce 100s of offspring. Eggs hatch in 7-12 days. Bed bugs are parasite that live off the blood of often unsuspecting hosts for 10-12 months. A meal of human blood can be consumed in about 15 minutes and bloat bed bugs to 3 times normal size. Bed bugs need blood from humans, mice, birds and other animals to advance through growth cycles to reproduce, but can go for months without eating. Bed bugs reproduce fast and infestations can quickly grow.
Bed bugs enter your house hidden on objects most of the time. They can also migrate from living unit to living unit in apartments through the voids in wall between units. To help prevent migration from neighboring apartments you can caulk and seal all crevices, gaps and openings in walls and ceilings. Outlet and switch covers can be removed and minimally expanding foam can be injected to fill voids. Do not use foam that expands too much for the use. Damage to walls can occur if foam over expands. You can also fill cracks and voids with diatomaceous earth. The tiny shards of shells penetrate the bed bugs exoskeleton and causes them to die from dehydration.
To help avoid bringing bed bugs into your house don’t buy used furniture unless professionally inspected and treated if necessary. Wash any used fabric items like clothing, rugs, curtains and bedding in hot water and dry at high temperature. Bed bugs can also come in on new items. Infestations in stores are becoming common.
When you stay away from home inspect for bed bugs before you take your luggage in the room, or put it in the bath tub, until you’re done inspecting. Pull the sheets away from the side of the mattress and inspect seams for the bugs themselves. Look for spots from blood, or feces, on the mattress. Check the box springs and behind the headboard. Look in crevices and seams of wood and upholstered furniture.
Keep your luggage on a stand not touching walls, beds, other furniture or drapes. Put laundry in plastic bags that trap any bed bugs that may have found their way onto your clothes as soon as you undress. Bed bugs like warm places and may crawl into laptop computers and other electronic devices. Keep these items stored out of bed bug access. Killing bed bugs in these devices may require keeping them sealed in a plastic bag for a week with insecticides.
Be careful where you set down purses, backpack or coats in public places. Bed bugs hide in dark places and hitch rides on these items if they have access. They also hide in crevices like the place where seat and back come together on public transportation seats.
When you arrive home vacuum and/or wash your luggage to remove any bed bugs that may be present. Immediately wash all clothes and other fabric items or seal them in plastic to be taken to a dry cleaner. If you think you may have been exposed to bed bugs remove your clothing on a hard floor where any that fall off your clothes can be identified and removed.
Most people are unaware of bed bug infestations. They may experience small irritations to their skin but not associate them with bed bug bites. Bed bugs are not known to spread any human disease. They only come out at night and are small enough that they effectively hide during the day. They hide in box springs and bed frames and under mattresses. They also live in other furniture coming out only late at night to search for blood. They are most active just before dawn.
Signs of bed bugs can be found on the sides and bottoms of mattresses. Feces and blood stains may be found. Check beds by pulling back the covers and looking for reddish, or brown, stains. Check all the seams on both sides and all edges of the mattress. Turn the box springs on its side and check using a flashlight to look through the bottom cover for bugs. It may be necessary to pull the fabric loose to inspect thoroughly. A prime hiding spot is under the box springs where it rests on the frame.
Bed bugs may hide in articles stored under the bed. Check these thoroughly. One treatment for bed bugs is to cover mattresses and box springs in tight plastic covers that trap bugs to die eventually. Bed leg moats can be used to stop access from the floor. Moats are devices that either prevent bedbugs from climbing legs or trap them en route. Moats can be purchases or made from things like cans coated with petroleum jelly or talcum powder. Strips of duct tape can be placed under legs adhesive side up to trap bugs. This is also a method of indentifying the presence of bed bugs.
Bed bugs hide in other places as well. They may be found in furniture, drapes, clothing, under carpets especially in the tack strips, in cracks and crevices, behind baseboards, outlet and switch covers and wall decorations usually within 15 feet of the bed. They are also carried from room-to-room by human activity and are likely to be in living room, and family room, and in furniture like couches and easy chairs.
Another method of detecting bed bugs is to make a trap with a large plastic dog water bowl . Cover the outside with fabric and the inside with talcum powder. Dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, is placed in the bowl late at night. Bed bugs are attracted by carbon dioxide in the air we exhale. They climb into the bowl searching for the source of the CO2 and become trapped by the slippery inside walls.
The most reliable method for detecting bed bugs seems to be using dogs to sniff them out. Dogs are able to smell small numbers of the bugs and guide human partners directly to hiding places. Being able to pinpoint the infestations, and be reasonably sure all have been discovered, allows precisely targeted use of insecticides. Dog detection services are opening across the country to serve this growing need.
If you find bugs in places where bed bugs might be, first make a positive identification. There are other bugs that may be found that might be confused with bed bugs. When you know you have bed bugs there are several choices for getting rid of them.
Bed bugs are difficult to eradicate. If possible hire a reputable professional to deal with it for you. Get references and check them. Bed bugs carry a stigma that can cause homeowners faced with infestation to make emotional decisions. Situations with such emotional and psychological implications attract professional thieves to exploit vulnerable people.
There are several methods available for controlling bed bugs. Various devices are used to raise the temperature in a room, including walls and ceiling, to a temperature of 120-130F. This heat is maintained until all bed bugs are dead. The opposite approach is to use liquid carbon monoxide to flash freeze the pests. Liquid CO is pumped into place where bed bugs might live freezing them on contact. Insecticides are also used.
This epidemic is equal opportunity. NYC has the highest incidence of reported bed bug infestations. One in 15 people in NYC reported dealing with bed bugs in 2009. Denver is sixth. Smaller cities like Ft Collins are also reporting increased infestations.
The stigma of bed bug infestations make this an especially hard issue to deal with. People wrongly assume that if you have bed bugs it is because of dirty living conditions or unclean personal habits. Bed bugs infest homes in all areas, in all price ranges and all levels of cleanliness and may come to your house from staying in the finest hotels, from your friends and neighbors, or from your work place.
Carl Brahe Contact Information
Carl Brahe, Commercial and Residential Real Estate Inspector
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