Editor’s note: this is part two in what will be a three- (or more) part series by a well-known bed bug professional, writing under the pseudonym,
Winston O. Buggy. Thanks again, Winston!
On sale here!
Dr. Winston O. Buggy’s bed bug elixir.
This material will kill em, kill the eggs, shine your multi-colored hobnail boots, and it smells good too.
Sounds too good to be true?
Well, it is.
At the outset, we professionals felt that the materials that were available for general pest control to treat roaches, ants, etc., would work just fine for bed bugs. They hadn’t been around for a while so they should be easy to knock off. Well, as most of you can attest to, not so. Gentrol insect growth regulator was at first thought to be a long-term addition to the arsenal, but here too the buggers came out ahead in the long run. In fact, treatments for bed bugs are among the more complex ones, it is like treating for termites or the elimination of established urban rodent colonies. But it’s made even more problematic because of the bed bugs’ close proximity to people and their personal belongings. Since W. O. Buggy’s elixir is not available (and mind you it did not contain DDT), the question is what is available and where are we today in terms of bed bug control. There are several ways to attack this problem as well as several different types of materials. And it is important to understand that no one material, treatment or approach will do the whole job.
First question: why do you think you have bedbugs? Remember several things can appear like or cause “bites”: soaps, allergies, meds, mites, mosquitoes, fleas, heat, etc. At this point, you should conduct an inspection. You will need a flashlight, toothpick and magnifying glass. I recommend the Rim-Free Lighted 2x Magnifier from Radio Shack, primarily because the angle and LED hit the spot, great for furniture and other seams ($10). Open the door, turn on the light, then proceed to stick that toothpick everywhere it can go and examine these spots. High, low, behind and under moving back carpets checking between clothes turning over couches and beds all this has to be done. One spot of note in older apartment buildings are steam risers which are found in the bathroom usually next to the hamper.
Did you find anything? What is it? keep a sample in a pill case or some other escape-proof container in which it won’t get squished. If it is positively identified as a bed bug, try like the dickens to figure out how you got it. Because this will be an important barometer which can establish a time frame, important so as to avoid re-introduction, let you know if perhaps it’s a good time to get a new boy or girlfriend, and if its possibly time to rush to that suitcase stored in the closet which has bed bugs trapped inside since your last excursion and treat or discard it.
With that out of the way, you may and probably should go chemical. First off if a product is non-toxic, it means it doesn’t kill– so lets get rid of that word because we obviously want it to kill the little suckers. Soaps are for dirty bugs (and perhaps Jess) and you really have to coat them: fine for your garden aphids but for a cluttered home, I think not. Enzymes are good, they kill on contact as well as most products and they have a low toxicity to non-target organisms. It also allows for repeat applications, but remember they only kill what they contact. Same with some of the alcohol products such as SteriFab. Of course, here you can get an unwanted synergistic effect if you do the treatment by candle light (Don’t! It’s Flammable!) and alcohol stains, well actually removes the finish and bleaches.
Next we have the traditional chemical approach. With the exemption of a few specifically exempt status products, pesticides must be registered for use with the EPA and must have an EPA registration number on the label. The label itself is a legal document which will list the pests that the product can be used for and the manner in which it must be used. While no pesticide is completely safe (remember we are using it to kill things), the real danger is in the misuse. If a product such as Tempo WP is labeled to be mixed with a gallon of water and sprayed into cracks and crevices, the risks it presents are limited.. But if you take that same pack and pour it around or use it as a dust the inhalation hazard is significant. Unfortunately, it may even appear to be working at first because it may actually be repellent for a while but in the meantime you and possibly others are inhaling it. I have seen this practice repeated with flea powders and a whole range of products which when used improperly increase the chance of exposure, and hence the hazard.
So what is available? Well, as mentioned in my first piece, misguided legislation have forced many products out of the market. Some due to legitimate concerns, some due to a lack of true scientific evaluation and feel-good politics, and some because they simply could not afford to maintain registration due to increased requirements. A prime example of this is Ficam, a material which is used elsewhere with a degree of success, but here in the US is no more. The same in fact would have been true of Drione, one of the remaining effective dusts. Prior to the bed bug outbreak this product was due to go by the wayside simply because of economics, and now it is probably one of the good long-term materials when used properly in wall voids, outlet covers and cracks and crevices. For best results try applying it with a blush or other brush.
Now that summer is upon us, heat and humidity in some parts will cause an increase in bed bug activity. But in the world of control it is our friend, and the bed bugs’ enemy. While steaming is here and will continue to improve as more work is done, heat treatments of items and apartments will also increase as technology improves. The technology is here, it is just not cost-effective yet. Mattress covers specifically for bed bugs are also coming of age. They now come in different qualities. There are some decent heavy vinyl ones for under $30 and some more comfortable ones at $70 and up. I suggest you reinforce contact points such as bed frames with duct tape. With these covers you must remember to leave them on for a full year. While there are many improvised bed bug traps like the use of carpet tape and current glue traps, they are passive and you hope that the bed bug finds it and crawls into it as opposed to going under it, as they so love to do. Within the year, new traps will be coming out utilizing a synthesized aggregate pheromone. FYI, these are already used for a number of pests including roaches. And as time goes by newer and improved versions will come out but these will remain a monitoring tool and not a cure.
So perhaps the take-home message here is that to be successful you will have to use several materials and methods and use them in a systematic approach to get and stay bed bug-free. At this point, I would like to include a link and while you may not chose to, or be able to use the mentioned products and I’m not recommending you do, it does provide a good blue print for a control program.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging directions bed bug control has taken is in the area of education. I believe, along with others, that the increased informational flow in regard to bed bugs through both print and web media has played a significant role in reducing the time it takes many people to properly diagnose the cause of their problem. By reducing this time frame they end up treating the infestation early and are more likely to achieve lasting control quicker. It is also my opinion that this site is the best broad-based site that I know of, in part due to administration as well as a cadre of dedicated, intelligent folks.