By Richard Diggs Sr.
There are many different methods and approaches pest management professionals (PMPs) have adopted to address this sudden resurgence of bed bugs. I’m not saying we have the be-all, end-all of answers, but we do have a method I know works.
At Alexandria Pest Services, we’ve taken the same approach to bed bug management that we’ve taken for all pests: thoroughness and quality service.
I can’t stress enough the importance of being thorough in your inspection. We firmly believe in providing thorough and quality services by going beyond the normal time spent on accounts and treatment methods.
We have three crews that do strictly bed bug jobs (and a separate crew for follow-up inspections). Our bed bug business has grown so well, we currently do an average of 15 to 20 bed bug jobs each day.
Our method works. That’s why I’m able to simply sit back and smile when I hear people say they can’t get rid of bed bugs — because I know our method works.
Learning About Bed Bugs
It was nearly six years ago when Harold Harlan taught us about bed bugs. He was staff entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) at the time, and bed bugs were just starting to re-emerge as a major problem for PMPs — nothing like they are today.
We tested many products on bed bugs back then. We did it ourselves, testing many different application methods. That’s when we discovered how well dusts work, but that it’s all in how they are applied.
Applying dusts, though, isn’t the only technique we employ. As PMPs, we know once bed bugs take hold of a dwelling, they can spread and get everywhere. It’s no wonder so many PMPs are having a tough time eradicating them.
Along with dusts, we use a combination of steam and liquid pesticides. The most important tool we use, however, is communication with the client. The more educated they are about bed bugs and the treatment method we’re using, the easier it is for us to thoroughly eliminate bed bugs from their dwelling.
PMPs who know bed bugs know they can get in the walls and live in there for an entire year. A big problem lies in how to treat something that’s hiding behind a wall. What can you put in there? Dust is the perfect solution (PMP, May 2009, pg. 22). We found that Tempo dust is the best. It works quickly, and we’ve been using it for years.
We start with an inspection. A bed bug team will make a complete analysis of the dwelling, much like a doctor taking down a complete case history of a patient.
Our inspection forms include basic information, such as apartment size and whether or not its been treated for bed bugs in the past. We also rate the sanitation of the dwelling and thoroughly check for any evidence of pests (casings, eggs, etc.).
The dwelling is then rated on its current risk and infestation of bed bugs from Low (no evidence or live pest activity) to Severe (live activity in multiple locations).
We even interview each tenant to find out who they are, whether they have any pre-exisiting medical conditions, if they have any pets and, most important, what type of pest activity they’ve experienced.
Once our team identifies bed bugs, we’ll service all the surrounding units whether there has been a complaint of bed bugs or not. Both sides, above, below — we service them all and create separate reports for each unit. We perform the same thorough inspection for each and every unit we service.
Normally, during initial treatment, the first thing the bed bug team does is steam around the baseboards and all the furnishings and mattresses. Since bed bugs will go in and under carpeting, we’ll steam the carpet as well. A good-quality steamer will kill them in the carpet.
After the team is finished steaming, they start drilling the walls. This process is similar to doing a wall-board treatment for termites, only inside. We drill just above the baseboards and that’s where we apply the dust.
We do this all the way around the apartment — bedroom, living room, dining room — anywhere we can drill.
We’ve also found that sometimes, if there are gaps in the ceiling area, bed bugs will move up to those areas as well. If that’s the case, we’ll also drill around those areas and apply dust there.
We use a liquid treatment around baseboards and bed frames in conjunction with the dust. We also do crack-and-crevice treatment when necessary. For heavy infestations, we vacuum up the bed bugs.
This whole process may be a little bit time-consuming, but a majority of the time it works after just one treatment. On some occasions a second treatment is required, but more times than not one treatment does the job.
Simply because a resident does not call to complain of pest activity does not mean the treatment in their residence was successful. A good bed bug management program does not solely rely upon the resident or customer to determine the effectiveness of the treatment program. Proper follow-up is necessary to successfully manage bed bugs.
After initial treatment, our team automatically schedules a follow-up appointment for 14 days later no matter what. We let the client know at the time of the initial treatment that we’ll be back in two weeks.
Most times, we send a different crew to conduct follow-ups, though it’s not possible some times. The majority of the time, they don’t find any signs of active bed bugs after our first treatment. Sometimes, however, if there’s excessive clutter in the dwelling, they will. Having a fresh set of eyes at the dwelling helps, plus they know exactly what to look for.
The first thing the follow-up crew does is a complete and thorough inspection, similar to the inspection the original crew did on the first visit.
If any live bed bugs are discovered during the follow-up — or any indication that live bed bugs may be present — the crew will steam-treat, perform a crack-and-crevice treatment and take care of whatever residual is left over from the bed bugs treatment.
We have a written protocol, and though each place will be a little different, we know exactly what to do.
Communication Is Key
The more our clients know about what we’re doing, the easier our job is. This is especially true in the case of apartment complexes. The more information an owner or manager has, the better they can communicate with their tenants, resulting in better preparation and cooperation.
With that cooperation, we get remarkable results on treating for bed bugs.
In addition, we conduct a bed bug training program for apartment managers. We’ve also held training programs with city offices — the health department, fire department and department of housing.
Our company has gone so far as to make a video to show in our training program that demonstrates how bed bugs get in dwellings and that anyone can get them. We make sure our attendees know that no one is exempt from getting bed bugs. The video even shows different areas in which bed bugs can live and hide.
It Really Works
One place we treated had 800 units. This apartment complex had been battling bed bugs for quite some time and had employed other companies to eradicate the problem to no avail.
We went in and did something we don’t normally do: We gave them a one-year warrantee on bed bugs. Our results were remarkable.
We inspected all 800 units. It took us nearly three weeks to inspect every unit, which were given a thorough report. We ended up serviced 480 of the 800 units for bed bugs.
It’s been 18 months, and they’re doing great. Occasionally, they’ll have new people move in and bring in bed bugs, but it’s an isolated case. Their problem is nowhere near what it was before we got there and treated.
We’ve found a method that definitely works. We know it works.
You can reach Diggs, owner of Alexandria Pest Services in Alexandria, Va., at 703-923-0925 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.