When I was a child, my mom would tuck me into bed and say “sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite”. I have never actually seen a bed bug and wasn’t sure that they existed. Come to find out, I’m not alone. It seems that most householders of this generation have never seen a bed bug, until recently.
Bed bugs were common in the United States before World War II. With improvements in hygiene and the wide use of DDT in the 1940’s and 50’s, the bugs all but vanished. However, the pests remained fairly prevalent in other parts of the world such as Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. In recent years, the bugs have also made a comeback in the U.S. They are increasingly being encountered in homes, apartments, hotels, motels, health care facilities, dormitories, shelters, schools, and modes of transport. Other places where bed bugs sometimes appear include movie theaters, laundries/dry cleaners, furniture rental outlets and office buildings. Immigration and international travel have undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs in the U.S. Changes in modern pest control practice — and less effective bed bug pesticides — are other factors suspected for the recurrence.
Although I am crawling out of my skin just thinking about it, I have chosen to talk about bed bugs today because they are increasingly being found in common spaces such as office buildings. Pest control companies are saying that it is more and more common to find bed bugs in offices and they are being asked to inspect and even treat entire floors of office buildings.
So, what do bed bugs look like? Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is the species most adapted to living with humans. It has done so since ancient times. Adult bed bugs are about 3/16-inch long and reddish-brown, with oval, flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks or cockroaches. The immatures (nymphs) resemble the adults, but are smaller and lighter in color. Bed bugs do not fly, but can move rapidly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Female bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded areas, depositing 1, 2 or more eggs per day and hundreds during a lifetime. The eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard to see on most surfaces without magnification.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into tiny crevices — especially those associated with mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. Bed bugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but do tend to congregate in habitual hiding places. Because of their habit of hiding in small crevices, bed bugs are easily transported in luggage, purses, backpacks and clothing. After realizing that they can hitch a ride in a briefcase or suitcase when someone travels, it is not surprising that we are seeing them in common occupancy areas of buildings.
The big question is what can we do? A proactive inspection of office areas using canine detection dogs is a way to detect early activity. Education programs for workers on how to detect bed bugs at home or on luggage can also help. Heat treatment of the offices or of the furniture can be an effective control measure with little interruption of the workplace. The most important step a company can take is to think through and develop an action plan that can be implemented if bed bugs become established in common work areas.