Bed Bug FAQ

By JP - November 5th, 2010

Below are the answers to some the most frequently asked questions regarding Bed Bugs.

Biology & Behavior

How fast do Bed Bugs breed?

A gravid female can deposit up to 5 eggs a day and upwards of 500 in her lifetime. The eggs gestate for a week to 10 days and then hatch. Thereafter they go through 5 instars for about 45-60 days until they reach adulthood. The speed at which they mature and populations grow is highly dependent on blood source (each growth stage requires a meal to precede it) and temperatures.

Are they only found in beds?

No, but that is the most likely place to find them. As in most species of life, the availability of food and protection is a primary determiner of harborage. So, unless aggravating circumstances occur, they will stay close to their food (you) by hiding in the mattress, box spring, frame or headboard. From there they will migrate out to places like floor/wall joints, wall cracks & crevices, nearby furniture etc. If, however, a well meaning person decides to “fog” or use a repellent product (or misuse one), they may run from it before it actually kills them, and seek other locations to hide or feed. In addition, they can be quite comfortable in locations that are also used for long periods by humans, especially at night, such as couches and chairs.

How are they transported (who can I blame)?

Bed Bugs cannot fly, nor will they travel out of doors. They are professional “hitchhikers”. As an example, if someone visits a home or business that has a problem, they may decide to climb into personal items such as suitcases, purses, bags and the like, and not have a chance to get out before you pick them up and leave. OR, if you buy or take items that are in such a location (such as, but not limited to furniture, appliances etc), you may carry the bugs hiding there to a new location. In addition, persons who live or work in an infested location may transport them the same way or even on their own clothes. While Bed Bugs do not cling naturally to their host like lice (and fleas to animals), if they are unable to detach before the person arises and gets dressed, they will hang on for dear life. Most often, however, it is a result of their having been hiding in the person’s clothes, especially those left on the floor, couch or bed. While we are often asked “who is to blame”, it is very difficult to do so. You may have brought it in yourself; your “common wall” neighbor may have brought them in. We can assure you that it is not a symptom of sanitation or culture, it just happens.

Control Options

Chemical Control

Are Bed Bugs really “Immune” to pesticides?

Actually the term “immune” is not used by professionals in this field, although we recognize what the unskilled are trying to say. It is resistance that is the concern among the scientific community. Yes, we have been seeing some resistance to certain chemicals, such as some of the pyrethroids. While it is not a huge factor in Alaska yet, this concern is why a professional applicator will do more than one service AND rotate his chemicals between “families” (not just brands or names). However, we are not in “panic mode” yet on this issue. WE are still killing them with pyrethroids and have several other chemicals at our disposal as well. While the number of products may be limited, especially by state and local regulation, at this time we are having good success with the ones we are using.

Can I purchase and apply pesticides myself?

Yes, there are many products available for retail (we even sell many out of our Anchorage office). Just be sure to verify that it will kill Bed Bugs, and read the label carefully before applying. Will you be successful? Maybe — maybe not. But we take no offense at your trying and are happy to advise you.

Are pesticides safe?

By their nature, all pesticides (even the “green” or “low toxicity” ones) are designed to kill or mitigate a pest. However, the amount of this mitigating chemical in the entire product application is usually quite small, calculated to kill a tiny insect (or rodent) not a larger animal or a human. It is usually measured in percentages well under the 0.1 decimal level. That being said, however, they should only be applied where necessary and where contact with humans or pets can be minimal. Our technicians are careful to use only what is needed and to apply them as cautiously as possible.

Heat Control

What is heat control and how does it work?

Heat is used to kill all stages of Bed Bugs. It can be in the form of steam or dry heat. If a dry heat, it may be a “Whole House” or “Whole Room” application or a Containment service.

How do steam treatments work?

Steam is an excellent tool to treat certain furniture and other items without having to apply a pesticide. The steam temperature has to be maintained until it hits the insect or egg, hot water droplets are not efficient, and do not travel like a vapor will. The limitations are that steam does not penetrate deeply into all areas, so it cannot be a sole method for control or eradication. Additionally, care must be exercised around items that will blister, separate or fade under intense and moist heat. Our technicians know when, where and how to use this method effectively.

Explain Whole House or Whole Room heat treatments.

Whole House or Whole Room applications use extreme heat, applied to the whole structure or to a selected area (such as a room in a hotel or hostel or efficiency apartments). It can be very effective if used correctly. Whole House & Whole Room requires substantial heating units and constant monitoring to be certain of efficacy. Failures are not uncommon, especially when not done correctly or when locations are really not prepared properly. In addition, they are a “one shot” treatment, so pesticides may well be a part of a properly done service, and re-infestation, especially in multi-unit dwellings, is very possible. We will be offering heat treatments on a limited scale (mostly for small apartments and travel industry) after January 1, 2011.

Will 120 degrees Fahrenheit really kill all the stages of Bed Bugs?

This is also where keeping up to date with the science is important. While a short time ago 120 was the magic number, newer science now says 122 degrees F is needed to kill the eggs. In addition, various temperatures may require various exposure times AND the exposure temp & time must be at the egg or insect’s actual location, not merely measured in ambient airspace.

What is a Containment service?

This may be the use of a portable device into which items can be placed and the temperature increased to the killing level. We offer this service both in our Anchorage office and in your Anchorage area homes (coming soon to Juneau & Fairbanks.) Another small containment service is the use of DDVP strips (Pest Strips). In this case, items are bagged tightly with a DDVP strip, and left for a period of several days to weeks. Some people are doing this themselves with the Hot Shot over-the-counter strips, or we can do it here with the commercial product. This method is not 100% fool proof, however, as the term of the application AND the penetrable nature of the items being treated must be taken into consideration. For larger items, such as furniture, a containment service can be an entire room or trailer. We will be offering (after January 1, 2011) a large containment heat treatment at our Anchorage facility. All you will need to do is bring the items to us and leave them for an appropriate period. We will try to schedule these so as to allow multiple clients wherever possible.

Can I just put my things outside in an Alaska winter and kill them?

This has been tried, but with little success. Just as with the heat treatments, the ability for killing cold temperatures to reach the insect or egg and maintain the temperature (there is also an issue of how quickly the temperature is reduced and the constant rise and fall thereof) has not proven to be dependable. As for cryogenic treatments that have recently been in the news, they penetrate even less that steam does, so it is not a service we desire to sell. UPDATE: Feb 10, 2011 A recent study showed Bed Bug eggs can survive freezing temperatures for up to 30 days.

Encasements

What are “encasements” and how do they work?

Encasements are fabric liners that fully engulf the mattress and/or box spring. Their purpose is both to entrap Bed Bugs and eliminate future harborages for them. The concept is that if the insects remain inside the encasement long enough (months to a year) they will starve to death. This eliminates the need to purchase new mattresses & box springs (or introduce new ones before the problem is resolved). In addition, by eliminating all of the manufacturers folds, beads and wooden frames (box springs), the number of hiding places is seriously reduced and future inspections are also made much easier. We strongly recommend doing both the box spring and the mattress. We install them as part of our BedBug Free program, and sell them in our Anchorage store or over the phone.

Are all the products the same?

No. There are a large number of “encasements” on the market, ranging wildly in price. However the differences are significant. The material used can be comfortable or uncomfortable. The ability of Bed Bugs to bite through ANY SIDE of the encasement varies. The total enclosure, including zipper size and stop guard are very important to consider. At the present time we are only installing and recommending one of these – Protect-A-Bed.

Other Tools and Devices

Do Leg Protectors really protect furniture?

Yes they certainly can, in fact Pied Piper uses and strongly recommends them. These devices can isolate insects that are on the furniture to prevent their spread, or keep them from crawling from elsewhere onto the furniture. Some come with a talc powder already in them, some come “dry”. These “dry” ones can have an oil or dry material placed into them. One device, the Climb-Up, features dual rings which can assist in identifying whether insects found in them are “coming or going”.

How Do Detection Devices Work?

There are several devices out there used and sold for this purpose. Some use only heat, some only CO2 (mimic human exhalation), some utilize a pheromone, some use various combinations of these. We use, sell and rent some of these. Their effectiveness can be limited by poor placement and they can miss beginning levels of infestation.

What about “Bed Bug Dogs”?

Bed Bug dogs are cute and effective in many situations. However, they do have their limitations. First is the expense of training and maintaining them. These animals need daily exercise in detection, whether they have work available or not. Given the lack of constant use here in Alaska, the potential for losing their edge is strong.  False positives are also not uncommon, making dual working dogs preferable. If you do decide to hire canine detectors, be certain that a “find” is followed with a physical search by the handler to find the BB and show it to you. While Ken would love to have a couple of these dogs,  Ollie, d’Artagnan and Hobbs (his children’s dogs) would NOT be pleased!

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