Photo by: A. M. Sutherland

Capturing the ABCs of bed bug management

  • PMPs reported use of many bed bug detection and control methods, though visual inspections and insecticide applications were clear mainstays.
  • The working group will consider the survey data as they work collaboratively with regional PMPs to design effective IPM programs for bed bugs in MUHs.
  • Survey respondents want more applied research, insecticide efficacy studies, more grant and other funding opportunities, and development of educational materials, especially online resources.
  • View the online survey.

Capturing the ABCs of bed bug management

Bed bug management is especially challenging in public and subsidized housing environments, apartments, and other low-income multi-unit housing (MUH) situations. High rates of resident turnover, lack of economic and educational resources, ease of bed bug dispersal between units, and communication barriers, such as literacy and language limitations, may all contribute to chronic infestations.

Researchers and policymakers recognize the need to address this challenging situation and design valuable and timely extension and research programs in order to assist pest management professionals (PMPs) engaged in this work. Data on bed bug incidence and management approaches in the western US are lacking, as compared to those on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest.

IPM Advisor Andrew Sutherland and several western urban entomologists and extension specialists—Dong-Hwan Choe, UC Riverside; Vernard Lewis, UC Berkeley; Deborah Young, Colorado State University; Alvaro Romero, New Mexico State University; Helen Spafford, University of Hawai’i; and Dawn Gouge, University of Arizona— formed a working group with funding provided by USDA’s Western Integrated Pest Management Center.

An online survey was developed and distributed to PMPs to assess their current bed bug management practices, the most challenging aspects associated with bed bug management in MUHs, and the self-reported needs of the industry that may improve bed bug management outcomes in these environments.

A total of 114 individual PMPs completed this survey, with over 76% of these responses coming from the targeted western region, and mostly from California (60% of total responses). Though considered a very experienced group of PMPs (average experience in pest control industry was 22.7 years), most had only started managing bed bugs during the past ten years, thus reflecting the recent resurgence of bed bugs as key urban pests.

MUHs, the focus of this survey, were considered by most respondents to harbor the worst (highest-density) bed bug infestations, to be the most difficult locations in which to manage bed bugs, and to be the locations most often treated by their companies.

Pest management professionals look for bed bugs or their signs, which include fecal spots, egg cases, and shed skins.

Most PMPs reported relying on visual inspections to monitor for bedbugs. Additional detection methods were sometimes used, including active monitors, glue boards, pitfall traps or interceptors, and harborage traps. Canine detection, though considered by some to be the most accurate and efficient manner for detecting infestations in complex environments, was reported as never being used by 58% of respondents.

Once bed bugs were detected, insecticide applications were reported as the most common management tactics, with 94% of respondents reporting they used pesticides most of the time. Other tactics commonly used included desiccants, mattress or box spring encasements, and vacuums.

Educational efforts by pest control companies, designed to prevent and detect bed bug infestations, were most likely to have been directed inwards to employed PMPs rather than to management and staff at MUHs, and tenants at MUHs rarely (reported by less than 30% of respondents) received these educational programs. The educational component of bed bug IPM appears to be one on which the pest control industry may be able to improve with help from university research and extension.

Sutherland’s survey led to a better understanding of current bed bug management used by PMPs in MUHs. He also determined the challenges faced by pest management professionals and what information they believe they will need to manage bed bugs successfully. It is anticipated that having this information can lead to new research that develops solutions to some of the problems identified. Providing outreach information to MUH management, staff, and tenants could increase their ability to make informed choices that help with bed bug management.