“Good Night…Sleep Tight…Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite!”
For many of us, this little quip was followed by a quick pinch from Mom, a few giggles and lights out. Until recent years, this was the extent of most people’s Bed Bug knowledge. Unfortunately today, Bed Bugs are no longer just an innocent bedtime pinch. They are a growing health concern, no matter where you live.
Bed bugs are not a new problem. They have existed as human parasites for thousands of years. In the early 1940s, they were nearly eradicated in the developed world as a result of advancing science and health practices. Unfortunately, since then, the prevalence of these parasitic creatures has increased due to pesticide resistance, bans on newly developed pesticides (effective but considered a health risk for other reasons), and the increase of international travel.
It is not our purpose, here, to waste your time with a History or Science lesson. We’ll leave that to Wikipedia. Our intention is to offer you relevant information that helps you when you need it. It has been our experience that Bed Bugs are generally not a topic of conversation until a problem already exist. So, here is a basic explanation of how Bed Bug problems arise and a common sense approach of what to do if this happens to you.
First, How do I know if I have a Bed Bug problem?
Generally, the first, obvious, sign of Bed Bugs is personal. Bed Bugs feed primarily on human blood. Although, they will attach to other warm blooded animals, it is rare. These creatures feed on blood so they tend to follow the food “trail”…in this case a vein. Bites tend to come in clusters and those clusters will be located along, visible veins. These bites normally happen when the host (the human) is sedentary for a prolonged period of time. Obvious sedentary times would include sleeping in the bed and “couch potato” sessions. These bites will appear red and leave small spots (blood) on your sheets, upholstered furniture or clothes. Bed Bugs only feed a couple of times a week, so catching them in the act isn’t the same as swatting a mosquito or a horsefly. Bed Bugs are nocturnal, so they generally feed at night. When they have satisfied themselves, they return to the “colony”. These gathering spots probably normally won’t be evident until the problem is already out of hand, so visual evidence of the bugs is best achieved through human ingenuity…Take a flashlight to bed with you. During the night, if you feel a bite, an itch or the sensation of something foreign on your body, check out the spot with your flashlight. Bed Bugs do not move quickly. They can be spotted. Eventually, left untreated, you will see patches of bug feces and/or clusters of the bugs, themselves. Typically these spots are around the seams of upholstered furniture (beds, sofas…) and adjacent to moldings on the walls.
What’s Next? What do you do if you discover that you have a Bed Bug problem?
Your first, best instinct is to Get Out! … but you need to be prudent. The last thing that you want to do is make this problem worse by not taking the proper precautions, and spreading this infestation to another location. Before you vacate the premises, you should take these steps, if possible:
1) Determine, or develop, a bug free path from your shower to the exterior of your home.
2) Find clean, uninfected clothing for anyone in the affected area.
3) Strip all beds and remove all clothing from anyone in the affected area. If available, put these items in a washer on the hottest setting available.
4) Have everyone on the premises take a thorough, hot shower. When done, dress in the pre-selected clean garments, follow your clean path and Get Out!
5) Once out, immediately call an Exterminator, your Landlord, Sales Agent or Property Management Company.
A can of Raid isn’t going to help you here. This problem will require the assistance of a professional and the sooner you make this call, the better your chance of salvaging your possessions, left on the premises.
Now the Detective work. How did this happen?
Things like structural damage, sewage disposal problems, no heat, no water, no roof, etc., are all issues that would violate the implied warranty of habitability and must be corrected before transferring a property to a new inhabitant. These problems are evident through inspection. Unfortunately, Bed Bugs often are not. Bed Bug problems, unless they are quite advanced, will be undetected by visual inspection. With no indication of a problem, there can be no treatment.
So, in order to solve this problem and prevent a recurrence, the best course of action (aside from treatment) is to find the source. In most cases, Bed Bugs are transported into the affected area by humans. Other animals may bring the creatures but it is rare. They also may arrive in traded (used) furniture or in shared clothing. Bed Bugs will not, independently, invade your domicile. They must be transported in. The incubation period is reasonably short; normally not more than a month. Backtrack the stops made by the members of your household or visitors to your home prior to the outbreak. Places that service itinerant people are the most common sources. Hotels, Motels and Group Shelters are good examples of likely sources. Most people assume that the source is an unhealthy or unsanitary looking place but this is far from the truth. Bed Bugs don’t pay rent or make mortgage payments. They merely hitch a ride with a host and travel with that host to a new location. Once in that new location, a new colony is formed. Make inquiries about the suspected, source locations. Unfortunately, there is a societal shame associated with Bed Bugs. You may find that the people responsible for these suspected sources will not be forthcoming about this issue. In these cases, a warning that a problem exist may, at least, make the people at these locations more vigilant about the possibilities of their own infestation.
If the problem has arisen in your residence, it is possible that the insects were there prior to your move-in. However, because the incubation period is short and the Bed Bugs require a food source to survive, it is far less likely than the ways, mentioned, above…but it is not impossible. If you begin to see evidence, shortly after your move-in, make inquiries immediately. Check your furniture and clothing. It is just as possible that the bugs came with you. However, the longer a place has been vacant (ceased to provide a food source), the less likely that this will be a suitable living environment for Bed Bugs. A few weeks of vacancy will normally solve the problem but, in rare cases, gestation and incubation periods may have begun very close to the prior resident’s move out and an alternative food source has been found. In a worst case scenario, there could be undetected Bed Bugs in your new residence, up to 60 days after the prior residents have moved out. A standard cleaning of the premises, after their departure, would not have much affect on an existing colony. In all likelihood, however, if you didn’t see evidence during your first few weeks in the residence, the parasites were imported through one of the sources, mentioned above. At this point, any infestation should lead you to investigate your movements, as well as any of the movements your co-residents, friends or family that may have visited you during the time period in question.
Treatment to eradicate Bed Bug Problems is almost always the biggest source of contention. The treatment, though effective, is costly and, generally, requires that the residents find other accommodations during that period. Depending on the level of infestation and the number of rooms affected, this period could mean weeks…sometimes up to a month. Your “soft” furniture, in the contaminated area, will almost certainly be lost. These items should be covered in plastic and disposed of, properly, to avoid the spread of the problem. You should be able to save your clothing with a thorough, hot wash. Bag your garments as they come from the washer and remove them from the premises immediately. Hard surfaces (tables, bed frames, TVs etc) are treatable by the Exterminator.
This leaves the infestation victim in a tough spot. Who Pays?…
Secondary accommodations, new furniture, bedding and Exterminators are expensive and inconvenient. Unfortunately, if you have lived in this residence for more than a few weeks, the burden will probably fall on you. Of course, no one believes that they could be the source of the problem…And in your favor, no one will ever be able to prove that you brought the bed bugs into the infected area. For all anyone knows they were already in the house when you got there (assuming that you have recently moved in). HOWEVER…this ALSO means that there is no proof that they were already in the house when you got there and, for all anyone knows, you brought the Bed Bugs with you when you moved in. Either is a plausible scenario and, when these cases end up in Court, that is normally the finding.
Although there are, undoubtedly, unscrupulous people that knowingly rent/sell infested property, in most cases the Owner (or their Agent) makes a living in this industry. It is in their best interest to avoid these scenarios by delivering a clean property. If you suspect that there is a problem, it is always the best choice to IMMEDIATELY contact the Property Owner or their Agent. Cost to correct this problem will rise with each day you wait before beginning treatment. In cases where responsibility is in question, negotiated settlements are possible. Early detection and warning will abate cost and increase the likelihood of a shared settlement.
In a nutshell…Be Vigilant, Be Prudent, Be Pro-Active and Follow the Steps Listed Above. Money is always an issue but embarrassment or disbelief in the existence of the problem will only make it worse. Worry about the money after you are cleanly and safely out of the infected area.
**In the interest of complete disclosure, it should be understood that, the Author of this post represents a Property Management Firm. A Property Manager represents the Landlord. The Management Company not only has a shared, legal, obligation with the Landlord, to provide the public with safe and sanitary living conditions but they are also held to higher standards by Governmental and licensing authorities than Landlords representing themselves.