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Friday, 03 June 2016 10:00
Summer Hitchhikers: Protection from Bed Bugs
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Summer is the season for bed bugs, and although they are mostly associated with traveling, they are not uncommon in the home or businesses. We caught up with Chris Quinn, branch manager of Catseye Pest Control in Saratoga Springs, for some advice, and found that they had received over 100 calls from homeowners and businesses in the past year for bed bugs across Saratoga County. “Usually our calls will increase with people traveling over spring break, summer vacations and Christmas,” said Quinn, who has been in the business for 25 years. “I remember a big outbreak when I was working in Boston. They were all over the whole area. Thing is, college kids love free furniture, and when someone puts a free mattress or couch out front, the kids take it and that’s how it really took off.” Bed bugs are roughly the size of an apple seed. The young can be as small as a period on a piece of newsprint. They change in color as they mature from translucent to light brown to a burnt-orange brown. The males are round and flat and the females are a little darker and longer. The good news is, according to the NYS Health Department, they do not carry diseases, so bites are usually harmless other than an irritating rash or itchy welt, which disappear after a couple weeks. They come out at night to feed, and then crawl back to their tiny crevice near the bed, such as an electrical outlet or baseboard. The most harm is both in the pocketbook and in the “creep factor,” the sleepless nights of getting up with a flashlight to constantly check the family beds for bugs, even long after they are gone. Bed bugs are opportunistic hitchhikers, which is why an infestation is not a reflection on a family’s cleanliness and personal habits. That said, a sense of embarrassment keeps them under-reported. Knowing a few tips about what to look for can help you prevent bringing them into your home. First, leave the free furniture on the side of the road. Use mattress encasements that are specifically labeled for bed bug protection, and it will protect from other pests as well. Keep your home, basement and storage areas free of clutter, where they like to hide when not feeding. Hoarding can exacerbate a problem. And they can be picked up traveling, but that can be prevented as well. “It’s way easier to get a flea problem from someone sitting next to you than a bed bug,” said Quinn, so don’t worry too much about your seat in an airport. “Sure, anything’s possible, but not very probable.” They are most likely to come from temporary living spaces like hotels and dorms, or from already infested items that you might get at a garage sale or used furniture. Quinn recommends travelers carry a flashlight and inspect their rooms before unpacking. “Put your suitcase in the bathroom in the shower,” he said, “to separate your clothes from the bed bug area until you can inspect the room. Start at the bedding, ideally with the skirting, which is rarely changed. Look in bedding folds, where there’s an overlap of material for them to hang out. Look at baseboards. If they are carpeted, pull it back so you can see under it. They like cracks and crevices around the bedding area.” What you are looking for are bed bug droppings, which look like black pepper flakes, or black smudges like graphite. They molt, like most bugs, so you are also looking for shed skins. Once you are satisfied the room is clear, put your suitcase on the luggage stand and keep it there. Don’t put it on top of the bed or on the floor next to the bed. The female wants to protect her young from the males, so she picks an area least like her environment as possible to lay eggs, such as the crack or crevice of a suitcase, which is typically how people bring them home. Bed bugs are attracted to human breath and scent, so keep dirty laundry bagged tightly and kept away from your suitcase until you are ready to pack and leave. “Bed bugs can go unfed easily for six months, and lie in wait for a food source,” said Quinn. “If you come home and put your suitcase in the basement or above the garage, it can stay in a suspended state until it senses a food source. They prefer humans, but they will feast on something else. Have seen them feed on rats.” Finding a food source once every six months or so can keep them in an uninhabited area for as long as 18 months, in some cases, so moving into a long-empty new home or apartment is no guarantee they aren’t there. According to Quinn, there are no foolproof bed bug detectors on the market, so testing for them is no guarantee, either, although it is better to have a monitor after treatment than not have one. If bed bugs do hitch a ride into your home, they multiply quickly, so best to get a professional in as soon as possible. “Bug bombs don’t work,” said Quinn. “They just shoot up into the air and land back on surfaces. Bed bugs don’t live in the air – they live in cracks and will just dig in deeper if a professional is not called in to get them where they live. And repellant materials just pushes them away without killing them, so eventually they come back.” Catseye provides a full week process, and then treats an individual’s home once a week for four weeks combining “The Cryonite Method” of freezing bed bugs with a residual insect growth regulator to disrupt the reproductive cycle of these pests. According to the company’s website, “The Cryonite Method uses the cooling properties of carbon dioxide to eliminate bed bugs and their eggs. Cryonite is created when carbon dioxide is converted to an exceptionally cold dry-ice snow. The temperature of this snow can reach as low as -110 degrees fahrenheit. Catseye uses it instead of heat, fumigation and other techniques because it is more environmentally-friendly, can better reach the tiny cracks where bed bugs like to hide, and can be used to target specific areas in your home. It is used to treat mattresses, box springs, furniture, window and door frames, curtains and other areas where bed bugs could be hiding. Any eggshells and shed skins are also removed.” They will take out dresser drawers and flip them upside down, and treat lamps and alarm clocks, starting with beds and couches and moving out in the home in a circular fashion. “It goes from a solid right to a gas,” said Quinn. “It doesn’t become a puddle of water, so it’s great for electronics as long as you’re grounding your equipment. They can potentially get in anything. If you can take a corner of a business card and fit it into a crack, a bed bug can fit in there.” Which is why it can be devastating when an infestation occurs. Most people eventually replace their mattresses, once they are sure the infestation is over so the new mattress isn’t infected. But if moving to a new location, some families have had to pay for just about everything to be hauled to a dump and start fresh with new furnishings in a new home or apartment. For college students, any stuffed animals must be run in a dryer on high heat for half an hour before packing them, or put into heavy black trash bags, tied tightly, and put in the hot summer sun for two days. Picture and poster frames should be wiped down, too. Everything must be cleaned thoroughly before bringing it somewhere else – because these tiny hitchhikers like to travel. Extreme heat and cold can kill them, so if you can wash it in the hottest dishwasher or clothes washer water and hottest dryer setting, your clothes and kitchen items are fine. The home freezer does not get cold enough, so a professional is needed for freezing. Dry-cleaning kills them, too. Anything that cannot be washed can be wiped down with rubbing alcohol, but keep in mind that it’s a flammable substance, and once it dries the bed bugs could return to it unless the infestation is gone. For more information about bed bugs and other pest control, contact your preferred pest control professionals or Catseye Pest Control at 518-581-7378.