(Beyond Pesticides, November 13, 2006)
Bed bugs have made a comeback of epic proportions in the United States and around the world lately, and in cities around the country are reported to be major nuisances. Reports of growing resistance to pesticides and evidence of toxicity of conventional bed bug products has led to the production of new least toxic bed bug products.
For example, the company K4 Products, L.L.C., has released a new least-toxic product called EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs claiming to kill bed bugs on contact. EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs qualifies as an EPA exempt minimum risk pesticide, and therefore is considered a low-risk product.
Bedbugs are tiny reddish-brown insects, about 1/5 inch, which live in the cracks and crevices in bed frames and adjacent walls or in mattress seams. They usually become active at night, while their host is sleeping, in order to feed. Human reactions to bedbug bites can be anywhere from swelling and pain to nothing at all. Bed bugs can easily be transported from one host to another by riding on clothing to buses and trains, movie theaters and other public places where another person could pick them up. They can also be introduced to a home on a used mattress, or can travel between apartments and hotel rooms.
While bedbugs were not much of a problem in the last several decades, they have recently been making a comeback. The Washington Post reports that in the past five years, bedbugs have been reported in 27 states. Last spring a Chicago woman sued a New York hotel for $20 million after suffering more than 500 bed bug bites (see Daily News 5-10-06). Both New York and San Francisco have recently passed city legislation to help control the spread of the bugs. In San Francisco, the legislation centers on landlord and tenant rights while in New York, it involves controlling the sale and transport of used mattresses.
EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs is currently being used by hotels and shelters to manage their bed bug issues and is being stocked at hardware stores and pharmacies for sale to the general public. According to the manufacturers, EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs is a safe product that can be used on and around the bed as well as in the presence of children and pets.
As with any pest problem, before resorting to pest control, consider alternative practices first. The first step is to inspect to see if you really have a bug problem. Some signs of a bedbug infestation include a pungent odor, and blood or fecal spots on your pillow casings and sheets. Search out eggs and adult bedbugs in the cracks and spaces in your bed frame and along the baseboard if you think you might have a bedbug problem.
The next step is to investigate the possible cause of the infestation. The bugs could be coming from a nearby bird’s nest or bat nesting area. By getting rid of the source, you will help rid the infestation in your home. Be sure to caulk and paint the openings and cracks in your bed frame and surrounding area to close up any hiding places.
There are also more direct strategies to take care of a bedbug problem. If you need to take action right away, a good short-term emergency technique involves setting up a barrier so that the bugs cannot get on your bed. Place the legs of your bed in containers filled with soapy water, and make sure that no part of the bed is touching the wall.
You must thoroughly clean sheets and blankets. Try using an enzyme cleaner or borax for this. Steam clean all the furniture in your home. Infested mattresses and beds should be replaced.
Temperature manipulation provides another control method. Bedbugs can only survive in the range of 48¬∞ F and 97¬∞ F. By artificially raising the temperature in the infected area to 97¬∞ and 99¬∞ for several days, a large number of bedbugs will be killed. Lowering the temperature to 32¬∞ to 48¬∞ will take 30-60 days to kill off all the eggs. If you opt for temperature manipulation, use it in conjunction with the other techniques discussed above so that you can get rid of the entire infestation.
In addition to K4 Products EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs, insecticidal soaps and silica aerogels provide least-toxic controls that you can employ if all else fails.