The Well-Educated Bed Bug - Need Advice(22 posts)
I'm the co-chair of the bed bug task force at my daughter's public elementary school in NYC, where there are several families with bed bugs. I am looking for some guidance about how to protect the greater school community from their spread.
The NYC Dept. of Ed's policy on bed bugs is no different than for any other 'nuisance pest', i.e. they will only treat an affected classroom if you send them a live sample, and then you must use their PCO, who will treat once, with no prep or instructions. Furthermore, while children with lice are not allowed back in school until the problem is cleared up, there are no such restrictions on children from families dealing with bed bugs.
Obviously, given the length that an infestation can endure in a home, excluding a child from school indefinitely is not fair or feasible, but it would seem that there should be a "you're not allowed back until you can assure us that your family is handling the problem."
In any case, we need some guidance as to how to protect ourselves. Before Thanksgiving, live bugs were found in the classrooms of two affected siblings. The DoE did treat, and, supposedly, the family dealt with the problem at home, although there were rumors that their whole building was infested, so who knows how effective their home treatment was. We brought in a dog who did not alert in either of the two classrooms where bugs were found. However, the dog did alert in four other classrooms, which, because no bugs were found, remain untreated. (I should add that there have been no sightings or complaints of bites in those rooms.)
We are aware of a few other families dealing with the problem at home, and we have adopted a policy that in any classroom with a bedbugged family, the children put their coats/backpacks into XXL ziplocs every day. But we continue to have scares - as we did recently, when a (thankfully) dead bed bug was found in a tissue box in the first affected classroom (in which, by the way, no fewer than 7 bugs were spotted before treatment.)
What else can we be doing within our school to stem any possible spread of bugs and/or panic? Any advice is appreciated!
Interesting post. This is why it's so good that NYC passed the bill on this. The schools should have guidelines for dealing with this problem. Certainly, their current policy of spraying once with no preparation is not effective. And given bedbugs propensity to travel within a building, their guidelines should mandate treating all classrooms when bedbugs are present. Perhaps the standard two-treatment protocol should be used and repeated quarterly. I think having the kids put their things in ziploc bags is an excellent idea, with the caveat that they not be made to feel like outcasts - as more fully detailed below.
I think it is vitally important that accurate information about bedbugs be provided to the entire school community. There is a lot of mis-information out there about what bedbugs are, how they spread, how to treat them. Further, there remains a stigma about people who have bedbugs. I have been shocked by the racist comments many of the people in my apartment building have made about my building's infestation. A few people believe they were carried in by the home health care aides who serve the elderly in the building. Most of the aides are black. Another neighbor complained that the building is at fault for not "screening" prospective tenants. I said to her "and how would you suggest screening for bedbugs? Do you think there is a certain profile of people who have bedbugs."
Those types of comments make me leery of publicly identifying children who live in bedbug infested dwellings. I agree that steps have to be taken to prevent the kids from spreading the bedbugs to other families, but I think more effective pest control by the school board is a better way to go than making the families "prove" they are taking care of the problem. That makes it seem like it's in the families control when it probably isn't. Even if the family does everything right, there is no way to guarantee that the problem will be resolved. I had to rely on my landlord's pest control company and they couldn't guarantee to me that the treatment would work. Even if the family was taking appropriate steps to handle the problem at home, they cannot control the problem if other neighbors have bedbugs and don't treat, or if the bedbugs come back. In my building, the bed bugs have moved from apt to apt despite the landlords attempt to exterminate. In my case, we moved in with my parents as soon as we realized we had a problem and thankfully the bugs did not move with us. But other families may not be able to do so. With lice it's different because the family can take care of the problem completely by following the directions.
Good luck dealing with the problem in your school. May I ask what school it is?
Our task force, a subset of the school safety committee, has made a real effort to educate the school community. Education and prevention are the two things we can control ourselves, without micromanagement from the DoE. But you're right - the bottom line is we need to educate the Dept. of Education about bed bugs. They just don't get it. We need more effective bed bug control than a one-time spray IF we happen to be lucky enough to catch a live one during daylight hours. We need to have the option of thermal or steam treatments without having to bear the burden of paying for them (or dog inspections) ourselves.
As far as identifying children, our principal is extremely sensitive to that and nobody knows which children/families are the affected ones. In a classroom with an affected child, all the children participate in the Ziploc drill. You're right, though, that even the best treatment plan, well-followed, does not guarantee eradication in a home. That's why we need better tools at the school, since there really isn't a way to bar children from coming in.
Low cost or no cost ideas are best for our impoverished PTA!
And they will absolutely only treat the area where the bug was found; no hope of neighboring classrooms or common areas being treated.
The Cornell IPM Guide may be useful as an educational resource. There are a number of fact sheets & guides on NoBugs link page that may be useful.
Here is a link for the Cornell articles
Does the DoE have any published guidelines that we can examine?
Is the school system represented on the Bed Bug Advisory Board that was recently approved by the city council?
I thought of a few more relatively low-budget ideas that you might be able to do without the DOE's involvement:
- Make sure there is caulking along the baseboards between classrooms.
- Every weekend, mop the floors with murphy's oil soap. Murphy's is supposed to kill bedbugs (not sure about the larvae, though).
- Inspect books and papers as best you can for bugs and then keep them in ziplocs while they're not being used. (I realize that this might be un-workable for books used every day, but I'm really thinking of supplies and stacks of un-used paper.)
- Rubbing Alcohol (91%) kills bedbugs. Put it in a spraybottle and spray around desks and items that might be affected. Perhaps this can be done at the end of the day after the kids are gone around the desks/supplies of the kids who are from the infested dwellings.
BTW - heard on the grapevine that a bedbug was found in one classrom in my son's school but it's not his class. Everyone is being very hush-hush about it. Would love to hear how you managed to get a task-force formed -- was there any reluctance of people to admit they had bedbugs or talk about it? How did you become aware that there was a bedbug problem?
Thank you for your posting. I would like to get in touch with you, and I will send you a Private Message.
I was on the Safe & Caring Schools Committee last year at my child's school, but there was no bedbug subcommittee.
The protocol you describe - one treatment of a single classroom - is ultimately going to fail to contain bedbug infestation. When it fails, the protocol will have to change.
It is inevitable that you will be proved right, but you might not be around to see it.
Keep up the good work, much of which is going to continue to be exactly what you are doing now - education.
Thanks Metermaid - those are really good suggestions! Low cost and feasible both.
As for the task force, the principal and PTA brought the situation to the school safety committee. When I heard about it, I jumped in - having learned everything I never wanted to know about bedbugs when we were fighting what we ultimately learned was a mosquito infestation. The safety committee was overwhelmed with dealing with the lice epidemic - rampant in NYC schools, both public and private - and fobbed it off on a newly formed subcommittee, which is essentially me and one other mom, adjunct to the safety committee.
We became aware there was a problem when live bugs were found in two classrooms. The DoE does have certain protocols when bugs are discovered in a school. A letter has to go both to the classroom and the school community at large, explaining the situation. Are you in NYC? If a bug was found and you weren't notified, that's a breach of the DoE protocol. Regarding keeping the specifics hush hush, that's up to the principal's discretion. In our case, the family was quickly identified because there was a sibling in each classroom. Our parent coordinator worked with the family to deal with the problem on their end, and our principal has been fiercely guarding their privacy, so they haven't come forward, nor has there been any need for them to.
The only thing that is going to help the school system int he long run is to communicate with all students the facts of bed bugs:
- The fact that they can infest any location
- The fact that they have nothing to do with dirt or living conditions
- The fact that you can have them and not respond to the bites
- The fact that unless the source is identified and also dealt with that the schools will have more and more issues
- The fact that unless you inspect, use a monitoring device or a trapping device you may never realise you have the problem
It is possible to get complete eradication in a single treatment, its something that we do 60% of the time that we treat a property. The hardest issue however is identifying the source and ensuring that you do not have a local source infestation that gets reintroduced.
Good luck but please focus on communication of the issue as much as you do planning responses because only one of them will stop you getting more infestations.
Bed Bugs Limited
DAvid - I really doubt that you could compare the results that you achieve in your work (ie eradication in one visit in 60% of cases) with the results that the average local NYC exterminators acheive
considering the difference in chemicals between the UK & US, the obvious knowledge and skill level differences between you and your crew and the average NYC PCO, it would be impossible (and I mean REALLY impossible) to think that the average PCO hired by the NYC schools would achieve anywhere near the success rates that you achieve
I don't want to get on my soap box and voice my opinions about how incompetent and ineffective the PCO's are here - so I will leave my thoughts at that
the singe treatment they are doing in those classrooms in not going to help the problem and is most likely going to make it worse by simply spreading them around
the bugs are probably doing a conga line dance around the adjoining classrooms in those shcools
Points taken on board about differences between the UK and US but that aside if you communicate to all about the risks and dangers then you stop the problem at source. If you focus on treatment you have to a certain extent already lost the first battle by allowing them in in the first place.
On the subject of chemicals I do know one UK PCO that uses products available in the US and gets similar results to me. He tends not to work on heavy infestations because most of his work is in commercial rather than domestic settings and I don't know the finer details of his methods other than he also considers chemical control to be one of the last steps in the process.
Yes with time the protocols and training on bed bug control will be improved and standardised. We are planning something for the UK which will be transferable but we need to wait till the passive monitors are out on the market so that we have a replacement income. However communication is the most effective tool that we have available today which is why it is the main focus of the reply above.
With time we will have new solutions to this problem but today we need to learn to tackle the issue at the source rather than reacting to infestations as they occur.
The biggest problem with the NYC Dept of Ed is that they don't distinguish between bed bugs and other 'nusiance pests' like rats or roaches. So the protocols are antiquated and lacking, and their PCOs are not experienced bed bug specialists. So yes, David, you're right - what we parents are left with is the necessity of improved communication to the school community and the need to petition the DoE for improved protocols. The first step is getting the DoE represented on the new NYC bed bug task force.
There's the added issue of lack of openness because the stigma to a school of being known to have bed bugs, although I maintain that if you brought a dog into any NYC public school, he'd alert to something, somewhere.
DAvid - as usual - all good points and your response is well taken and understood
I am still financially and emotionally devasted from the battle that I recently waged to get away from these things and astounded by the amount of money charged versus the inadequate or sometimes completely ineffective results delivered from the PCO's here - thus the negativity in attitude.
Since it is still fresh for me and I will probably be in this mindset for some time until I can recover emotionally and financially
but you are right as always
Thanks, I know different experiences and perspectives weight heavy as the foundations of our judgments and opinions but to make it crystal clear to everyone I view the problem at present as:
Number 1 priority is to stop further spread by educating people about the need to check and the accurate facts.
I know it is not what people currently affected but treatment efficiencies will follow, for us we are very much hands tied until the monitors are off the production line. Then you can all look forward to the new book, passive monitors and the start of a new training document for PCO's that takes them through the foundations of the approach that we take and exactly why we do what we do.
In the meantime look out for a new info sheet on BB faeces and what it looks like when freshly applied to white sheets. I was filming a feed in the lab the other day and one had a delightful post feeding passage of waste. I immediately thought waste not want not and dabbed it onto some clean white cotton sheet to illustrate the colours. Once it is finished it will be available via the educational information section of my site.
Education is definitely a start. I can't tell you how many people STILL say "Oh, it's just bugs, they'll die" or "Just throw the bed out" ! If only it were that easy!
David - I can always look forward to something clever and amusing from your posts "waste not want not" - indeed
Oh My God.....
thanks for sharing that passage
Well, Adele, sad to say, you were right. A child in the classroom adjacent to the first identified classroom brought a live bug home on his backpack. Fortunately, thanks to the information I wrote up for the last school newsletter, which included checking and shaking out coats and backpacks, the mom both found it - and kept it. As soon as it's given a positive ID from the DoE, they will treat that room.
In the meantime, there were subsequent bugs found in the first two classrooms, both of which have now been re-treated. But the step that the DoE is missing is the two week later second treatment! And they also basically just come in and, as KQ would say, spray and pray.
We're going to start working with 91% alcohol and Murphy's, but we still need to find a way to change their protocols!
As a parent - how do we ensure that the bugs do not travel to school - just shaking the back pack is not enough since I believe they are like velcro - also children do bring library books home and take them back over a weeks time - same question - how do you make sure that bed bugs dont travel back
I seem to have got some at home from someone in the elevator because the bulding is infested and currently I gave up work since there is no easy way to handle this unless I stay at home and bag everything. currently I have kept the two library books in the freezer for 24 hours in a plastic bag before I reurn it to school but how do I protect school bags and other homework books.
I am scared of getting any books from the public library in case the bed bugs got into my house that way at the same time I do not want the library to be infested if I send it back - I am in doldrums and kids love reading books - they go to bed with their books sometimes - I wish I had some solution to the problem. can anyone help?
I also know of other families here in NYC Queens who have BB at home and are not really doing much except getting the house sprayed once in a while - I am sure the bugs are being transported to school.
I know I'm just tooting my own horn here, but this thread illustrates why we came up with packtite. Backpacks, etc. could be heat treated by the unit both at school and at home to prevent transport of our bed bug friends.
David, how long does packtite take? How do you envision that working on the school end? Figure 25 kids per class. My sister, Ohbugger, just bought one for her home. It certainly would help on the home front.
As far as not bringing bugs TO school, I know there are threads on here about the precautions people take before leaving their homes. Some people take very extensive steps to prevent them spreading, like putting on clothes straight from the dryer (or packtite). Some do nothing.
Treatment time will depend on what you put in there. We have treated small carry on luggage in the unit in roughly 2 hours, backpacks would probably be less. At school could be an issue time wise, but having a unit and treating your kids things when they get home would be the easiest route.
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