Closeup of bed bugs feeding on a person's skin.
Bed bugs are a growing problem, not only in homes and hotels, but also in schools and colleges. Facility administrators and staff need to understand the bed bug resurgence and develop best practices to deal with an infestation.
Today's bed bugs
The 2011 "Bugs Without Borders" survey of U.S. pest professionals, conducted by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, found that bed bug encounters in non-residential settings had increased significantly from the previous year. A majority of pest professionals — 54 percent — said they encountered bed bugs in college residence halls in 2011 compared with 35 percent in 2010. Similarly, 36 percent said they encountered bed bugs in schools and daycare centers in 2011, compared with 10 percent the previous year.
Bed bugs, although no longer front-page news, still are a prevalent problem in America. Because of the bugs' hitchhiking nature, schools and universities easily may become infested — perhaps students or staff have an infestation at home and unknowingly bring the pests to school; in the case of college students, they may bring them back to school after traveling. In schools and universities, the locations of bed bugs can be unpredictable — from residence halls, to classrooms, to cafeterias and even offices — and can be difficult to control.
Adult bed bugs resemble a flat apple seed, while hatchlings are so small they can pass through a stitch-hole in a mattress. These pests feed on human blood and are found wherever people are, often hiding in spots humans can't see and coming out to feed only when an opportunity arises. What makes these pests especially problematic is that they are elusive and breed quickly. A female bed bug can lay one to five eggs in a day and more than 500 in a lifetime.
Bed bugs are transported easily from one place to another. They hide in suitcases, boxes and shoes to be near a food supply. They like to hide in small cracks and crevices close to a human environment. Bed bugs most often are found in bed parts, such as mattresses, box springs and headboards.
They also can conceal themselves behind baseboards, wallpaper, upholstery, picture frames, electrical switchplates and in furniture crevices.
Because the presence of bed bugs may generate anxiety among students, parents and staff, administrators should develop a protocol to effectively deal with an infestation.
Responding to an infestation
Recently a large university in the Midwest experienced a bed bug infestation and the consequences of not handling the problem properly. According to the university newspaper, reports of bed bug problems spread across campus through word of mouth and through articles in the publication. A resident adviser even told the media that she informed the university's housing administration that she had bed bugs and alleged that she was told not to inform her floor about the problem.
The university eventually used bed bug-sniffing dogs to search all the rooms and treated nearly 200 for bed bugs. Additionally, the school established a website providing bed bug information, prevention and detection tips and daily updates about the bed bug issue on campus.
This case illustrates how a bed bug situation may get out of hand quickly and cause an image problem for a school. Although the university took the right steps in the end, they would have benefitted from a proactive plan and open communication.