Although they have not yet found bed bugs in any inpatient units, a Burlington, Vermont hospital is taking steps to prevent bed bugs and to help employees learn to detect them.
Bed Bug Prevention Policy:
* Patients and visitors should only bring necessary items into the hospital. Clothes, blankets, luggage, bags and other possessions that are not essential during a patient’s stay should be left at home.
An essential step here is asking patients and visitors to leave unnecessary items at home.
Amazingly, most hospitals apparently still allow patients to bring bedding (like blankets and pillows), stuffed animals, and other items from home, even though these items make it easy to transport bed bugs to or from home.
Although this may seem like a hardship, especially for children, it will probably help prevent the hospital — and ultimately patients’ homes — from being infested.
* Items brought to the hospital should be placed in plastic or paper bags.
Note: items sealed (airtight) in plastic will keep bed bugs in. Paper bags will not. I am not sure of the purpose of the paper bags.
* Inpatients will be asked if they are currently in contact with bed bugs or have been exposed to them in the recent past.
* If the answer to either of those questions is yes, belongings and clothing will be decontaminated with a short duration heat treatment and returned.
The press release cites vice president for Hospital Services Dawn LeBaron as saying,
“It is important that people are forthcoming with hospital staff in discussing their exposure to bed bugs. Without this cooperation, our efforts to control these insects will be weakened.”
However, it’s important to note that asking clients about recent exposure to bed bugs may not be enough. It’s not just about their willingness to admit to a problem, though it is true some may not admit to having bed bugs due to fears that they will be treated poorly or turned away (as has happened to people elsewhere).
Another problem with this policy is that many people with bed bugs may not be aware they have them. Dr. Michael Potter estimates that 30% of people do not react to bed bug bites, and this percentage is higher among the elderly. Since bed bugs may be present in an environment without being detected, people who do not react to bed bug bites or who do not know the cause of their skin troubles may not be able to declare their current bed bug status.
For this reason, treating everyone’s belongings with heat (or inspecting heat-sensitive items carefully) may make more sense.
* If visitors are currently in contact with bed bugs, we ask that they not come to the hospital if possible.
Note: it is possible to have bed bugs and take steps not to spread them. I suspect many, if not most people are not fully aware of this, however, and those who are will likely disregard this request.
Hospital environmental services employees will also be implementing a routine inspection program for bed bug prevention:
* Routine inspections of common bed bug habitats such as mattress seams, drawers, closets, and the backs of wall hangings.
* All linens will be checked for signs of bed bugs when changing beds.
* Bed bug traps will be placed in vacant patient rooms as well as rooms where people have previously complained of bites, if and when that occurs.
It’s important for staff of hospitals to be trained to do such inspections, and important that they do them.
Note: effective bed bug monitors exist but these are designed to catch samples to show the presence of bed bugs, rather than themselves eradicating a bed bug problem.
In rooms where bed bug bites have been suspected, the hospital may want to run an active bed bug monitor in the empty room for a significant amount of time. I am not an expert, but this should happen for at least a week, I would think, given that a recently-fed bed bug would not be attracted to an active monitor.
I am glad to hear that Fletcher Allen is implementing a program of bed bug prevention and education, which should help the residents of Burlington.