The only thing worse than bringing bed bugs into your home after a vacation is to have them come crawling over from your neighbor’s house. If you happen to live in a multi-unit housing complex, your neighbor is a potential source of bed bugs and can spread the creepy crawlers throughout the building without even knowing it.
The mode and frequency of bed bug movement within and between apartments are the most significant findings of a new study from the Public Library of Science
(PLOS), published in the September issue of Discover
magazine. Here, entomologists from Rutgers University captured and marked bed bugs from six infected apartment units in New Jersey, released them, and then closely monitored them for 32 days to observe where they ended up.
After a week from the release, there were between 2,433 and 14,291
bed bugs in each of the monitored apartments. Even in the absence of a host and the chance of a blood meal, the marked bed bugs continued to be recovered 134 days later, while the naturally existing unmarked bed bugs, mainly large nymphs and adults, were still found 155 days later when the study ended. That’s approximately five months in which marked and unmarked bugs managed to survive without feeding in a vacant apartment.
According to the scientists, “Our findings provide important insight into the behavioral ecology of bed bugs in infested apartments and have significant implications in regards to eradication programs and managing the spread of bed bugs within multi-occupancy dwellings.”
Aside from the startling numbers, the study also demonstrates how apartments and condominiums can become infested by bed bugs migrating from infested neighboring units. That often happens when the owner of an infested apartment attempts to kill the bed bugs by spraying their beds and entire home with over-the-counter pesticides (or other dangerous DIY remedies
). Bed bugs that are not killed will try to escape the poison by fleeing into the structure, often ending up in adjoining units on the left side, right side, above, and below.
Bed bugs are no longer a rare occurrence in apartment buildings. Since approximately 2000, they have reemerged as a public health issue in North America, invading not only home dwellings, but also public spaces such as schools, hotels, hospitals, offices, nursing homes, and transportation. They are host-dependent and usually favor places where a blood meal is always available, with their ever-increasing resistance to pesticides
ensuring their survival even in the unlikeliest of environments.
As a tenant living in a multi-unit apartment building, your responsibility is to report any suspected bed bug problems immediately. Your landlord or property owner must contact a licensed pest control company that will carry out a thorough inspection
, determining the most effective control method based on the size and spread of the infestation. Treatment is labor-intensive and may require several visits and treatments until the bed bugs are permanently removed from the premises.
Here’s how you can prepare your apartment for the pest service visit:
- Leave all your things inside. Moving furniture or boxes to another location while your home is being treated may result in further spreading the infestation or even re-introducing the undetected bugs on your belongings into your newly-treated apartment.
- Organize all loose items in your home to be treated. Clutter makes it easier for bugs to hide and harder for the pest control professionals to inspect all items in your apartment.
- Bag and disinfect clothes before returning them to your home. Dry cleaning, as well as washing clothes at high temperatures (about 60ºC), has been shown to kill all life stages of bed bugs.
- Vacuum your entire house. Carpets, couches, and upholstered chairs are typical hiding places for bed bugs in an apartment, and vacuuming them with particular attention to seams and edges will help eliminate some of the bugs and eggs from these surfaces. Make sure to throw away the vacuum contents in a tightly sealed garbage bag.
- Consider discarding your bed and mattress if they are severely infested. While bed bugs can find shelter in other areas away from your bed, a high concentration of bed bugs is often associated with the mattress and box spring. For some owners, it makes more economical sense to replace their mattress if it’s been severely infested, while others can benefit from a bed bug-proof mattress encasement. Remember to wrap in plastic and mark the infested items when discarding them so nobody will be tempted to pick them up and spread the infestation further.
It’s crucial to cooperate with your property owner and pest control professionals to get bed bugs permanently out of your house using the most effective and safe treatments
. Since people react differently to bed bug bites, and some owners can go months without even knowing their apartment is infested, professional control is instrumental in diagnosing all affected areas and eliminating the stress of living with or near bed bugs.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.