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Bed Bugs are Back

Hotels may not be able to avoid them, but here’s how to fight back against them.

Monday, September 20, 2010
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For too long, the first rule about bed bugs was that no one talked about bed bugs.

“Bed bugs are taboo,” said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, a specialist at the Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management program who has studied bed bugs for the past 10 years. “No one wants to talk about them and no one wants to admit they have them.”

But the problem has become more widespread and infestations seem to be reported nightly on the news; it’s something that hotels will have to confront, if they haven’t already.

Hotels are not alone in dealing with this issue. Retail stores, offices, schools, nursing homes and cruise ships have all faced bed bug outbreaks. Bed bugs are not just an urban issue; they can just as easily invade suburban and rural spaces — and they have.

But the pests’ impact on the hospitality industry is particularly notable because it strikes at the heart of a hotel’s product: a clean, safe and comfortable place to stay. The anxiety about being bitten can lead to sleeplessness, which is counter to a hotel’s mission to offer a pleasant night’s sleep.

“It’s a real public relations nightmare,” said Gangloff-Kaufmann, who recently served as the Chair of the New York City Bed Bug Advisory Board.

It’s not comforting, but the bottom line is that there is nothing a hotel can do to prevent bed bugs. But with alert housekeeping staff, regular pest control service and tools like matress encasements, it’s possible to contain infestations and minimize disruption to guests.

“It’s like the flu. We have to be vigilant and we have to protect ourselves and expect that you could encounter it anywhere.”

Worldwide, bed bugs never went away, but they have become more common in the developed world over the past 10 years.

“No one is 100 percent sure why bed bugs are back,” Gangloff-Kaufmann said, but one theory is that exterminators are using baits for cockroaches and ants instead of sprays that may have had side effects of keeping down the bed bug population. She also noted that other pesticides that have been taken off the market may have been limiting the bed bug population.

Controlling a bed bug problem starts with discovering any infestations before guests do. Housekeepers are the first line of defense, and they should be trained to identify bed bugs and to regularly inspect mattresses and headboards for bugs or evidence of bugs. Spotting an infestation early also means a hotel can prevent a small problem from becoming a larger one.

The best way to treat bed bugs in the bedding is to place it in a dryer for about 30 minutes. Treating the mattress, carpet and other areas is more complicated. Managers can choose from a number of treatments, including chemical sprays, steaming and flash freezing. One of the frustrations is that bed bug chemicals only work when they hit a bug directly. There is no lingering or residual effect.

Gangloff-Kaufmann cautioned that there are many questionable, untested products that have popped up on the market recently. She recommended finding a certified, insured exterminator who is registered with the state. There is no specific certification for treating bed bugs, but hotel staffs can check an exterminator’s references or research its reputation online.

Bed bug-sniffing dogs have become a popular way to diagnose a bed bug problem. Gangloff-Kaufmann said they are useful in larger areas like hotels because they can pinpoint a problem. If the dog hits on one spot, she said, it’s likely the only spot that needs to be treated. If the dog hits on a few spots in the room, it’s probably necessary to treat the whole room.

Hoteliers searching for other ways to deal with the issue have contacted Protect-A-Bed, which makes bed bug-proof mattress encasements.

“Bed bugs is an issue no one wanted to address,” said Sandra DiVito, Vice President of Hospitality at Protect-A-Bed. “This problem is not going to go away. We need to take a proactive stance on education and solutions. We need not to deny it’s a problem, but to own the problem and proactively come up with remedies.”

Mattress protectors let guests know the hotel cares about creating a healthy sleep zone, DiVito said.

“Let’s face it: ten years ago we didn’t have bed bugs in this country. We now do,” she said. “The bed bug is not a socioeconomic issue, not a hygiene issue. It’s a travel issue. If you move from one location to another you could be a carrier of bed bugs and not even know it. It could be on a shoe or a piece of luggage. You could have an infestation and totally clear it up - so you think - but they could come back again. This is an ongoing educational process on how to resolve the issue. Encasements is an important one, but it is only part of the solution.”

Protect-A-Bed’s most popular hospitality product is its Allerzip, a six-sided encasement that totally encapsulates the mattress. DiVito said it prevents bugs from getting into the mattress, escaping from the mattress or biting through it. At the same time, it has a porous membrane that still allows the mattress to breathe.

Housekeepers can easily spot bed bugs on the white encasements. Protect-A-Bed also offers storage and disposal bags for transporting infested encasements to the laundry. Securing them into disposal bags can help ensure that bed bugs stay contained to one space instead of contaminating other parts of a hotel.

The top reason hoteliers are interested in mattress encasement is to extend the value of their investment -- the box spring and mattress.

“This is extended mattress insurance,” DiVito said. “You’re never going to stop bed bugs through encasements, but you will take a huge proactive step toward solving the problem.”

Being proactive is one way to deal with any potential legal liability because of bed bugs. While it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine how a bed bug entered a space, that’s not stopping some people from filing lawsuits.

Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, but they can affect mental health and cause fatigue.

To limit liability, Gangloff-Kaufmann advised hotels to have a protocol in place for how to deal with bed bugs, and if bed bugs are discovered, hotels must take every reasonable measure to combat them. Finally, and hopefully obviously, they should never rent a room that has a known infestation.

“It does depend on a hotel’s history of that hotel’s reaction to bed bugs,” she said. “Nearly every hotel has dealt with them by now and has a track record.”

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RE: Bed Bugs are Back article link
Dear Beth: I am the owner of the TurnAround Spa Lodge in Sharon Springs, NY
Happily I've never had ANY kind ofinfestation, however, as a "science buff' and inventor, let the public know of a very simple solution to any pest problem. Naptha flakes , used very generously and an open window for the critters to flea towards works for fleas and should work with bed bugs and happily is 10% of what an exterminator would cost and much quicker. Can you pass this along? Best wishes, Rick Barr
Posted by: Richard Barr
Email: richardbarr@verizon.net

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