Conference PaperPDF Available

Bed bug ecology and control

S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.1
Stephen L. Doggett
Department of Medical Entomology, ICPMR, Westmead Hospital, WESTMEAD NSW
2145, Australia.
Phone: 02 9845 7265 Fax: 029893 8659 Email:
From an early age the term “Bed Bug” is a name that is indelibly lodged into our psyche
yet, as one journalist recently suggested, for most of us they are still just a mythical
creature from a childhood nursery rhyme (Tucker 2004). Before the new millennium for
some 50 years, bed bugs rarely made an appearance and only the older members of our
community can remember the time when these annoying pests were an everyday part of
life. Yet bed bugs are back and to a degree that no one could have predicted. This
prolonged absence meant that society was caught unaware; few pest controllers had the
theoretical knowledge and practical experience to successfully undertake treatments, the
hotelier did not know how to recognise this pest and know what to do about it, and
research into modern control strategies has been nonexistent.
This is a pest that cuts across many industries and includes hoteliers and housekeeping
staff, charter boat operators, bus and train operators to even airlines, tourism operators,
environmental health officers, pest controllers, second hand furniture sellers, housing
organisations, landlords, the media, local state and federal government, to researchers in
tertiary institutions. Not surprisingly, each of one these groups has an important role in the
overall aim of bed bug control. Housekeeping staff are at the coalface and often the first to
recognise and deal with an infestation. Hoteliers and tourism operators need to consider
ways to prevent the spread of bed bugs and develop industry ‘best practices’. The
environmental health officer fields public complaints and must be assured that the correct
measures are undertaken according to due legal processes. The pest controller must
know how to successfully destroy an infestation. Second hand furniture dealers (which
often include charity organisations) need to ensure that products being sold are free of bed
bugs. Researchers must investigate the insects in order to develop better control
solutions. Finally, government dictates polices and laws, and will be called upon to provide
financial assistance and research monies.
The one aspect that each of these groups requires to be successful in their respective
endeavours is knowledge. While each group requires their own specialised areas of
expertise, the foundations are much the same and a broad awareness of bed bugs and
their impacts will help to appreciate just how challenging it is to defeat this pest and how
the various industry sectors must cooperate.
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.2 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
This documents aims to provide up to date information on bed bugs and their control along
with a comprehensive review of the literature, and attempts to address the challenges and
issues that the various industries face today and in the near future.
Initially, the identification and natural history of bed bugs is discussed as this information
forms the base of all control strategies. Following next is a discussion on why bed bugs
are a pest and this includes both the health and financial impacts. In many ways it is the
financial burden on the accommodation sector that makes bed bugs such a serious pest
as it is likely that the cost annually to the industry worldwide is in the billions. A look at bed
bugs through history will show how they have successfully adapted to coexist with humans
and how the cultural development of the human species has led to the insect inhabiting
almost every continent.
As indicated above, bed bugs seemed defeated as a public health pest and what follows
next is a discourse on how this was achieved, mainly via the development of powerful
residual insecticides post WWII, notably DDT, along with excellent research. This
discourse will also help to explain why bed bugs bounced back, due in a large extent to
development of modern environmentally friendly pest control procedures. The reasons for
the resurgence will be more fully detailed after the extent of the resurgence is explored
across the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia and elsewhere. Next
comes the all-important section on control and this encompasses the inspection process
and details where bed bugs can hide, the currently available non-chemical control
techniques, and the chemical methods of control. The latter not only deals with the actual
insecticides and their formulations but also discusses the treatment processes.
The penultimate topic is bed bug prevention, an area that is rarely discussed due mainly to
the lack of research. In fact this lack of research will be an ongoing theme; for almost 50
years bed bugs were a non-issue and investigations into methods of controlling this pest
almost ceased. Only through research will we be able to defeat this nuisance public health
pest again. However if the other industries, especially the accommodation sector and
governments, do not encourage and financially support research endeavours then the
situation can only get much worse as discussed in the final section, the future for bed
Bed bugs belong to the order of insects known as Hemiptera, which are the ‘true bugs’,
being a group of sucking insects that feed mainly on plant sap. The bed bug family,
Cimicidae, is one of only two groups of bugs (the other being Reduviidae) that have
evolved to become haematophagus, i.e. blood feeders.
The insect themselves are wingless, roughly oval in shape and flattened. The adults are
a dark brown in colour and around 5-6mm in length when unfed (Figure 1), while the
juvenile stages are a light cream becoming dark red following a blood meal.
Of the 89 species within the family Cimicidae, there are two main types that bite humans;
the Common bed bug, Cimex lectularius Linnaeus, and the Tropical bed bug, Cimex
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
hemipterus Fabricius. The Common bed bug is most appropriately named; the Latin term
for the genus is ‘bug’, while for lectularius it is ‘bed’ (Robinson 2004).
Figure 2. This is a stylised cross section
of the thorax of the Common bed bug
(left) showing the lateral flange and the
Tropical bed bug (right). It is the presence
of the lateral flange in the Common bed
bug that taxonomically differentiates the
two species.
Figure 1. Adult femaless of the Common bed bug,
Cimex lectularius (left), and the Tropical bed bug,
Cimex hemipterus (right). Note that the Tropical bed
bug is partially blood engorged, hence the elongation of
the body. The Common is approx. 5mm in length.
The Common and Tropical bed bugs are differentiated on the basis of an upturned lateral
flange on the thorax of the Common bed bug (Figure 2, 3), which is absent in the Tropical
(Ghauri 1973). To date, these two species have been recorded in Australia, with the
Tropical bed bug only just recently being recognised within the country (Doggett et al.,
2003) and so far only from Queensland.
Overseas, there are several species closely related to the bed bugs within the genus
Cimex that occasionally bite humans (Reid
1990). Some of these are associated with
bats, which roost in roof cavities (Whyte et
al. 2001) and, in America, with birds such as
swallows (Eads et al. 1980).
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.3
Naturally History
The natural history of bed bugs has been
reviewed in great detail in Usinger’s (1966)
seminal work, ‘Monograph of Cimicidae’,
and by Busvine (1980). It is important to
note that the information within this present
document does not attempt to replace either
of these texts. However, as both books are
long out of print and only found in scientific
laboratories and academic libraries, a brief
review of the biology and ecology of bed Figure 3. Lifecycle of the common bed bug,
Cimex lectularius.
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.4 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
bugs will be discussed, highlighting those issues relevant for control.
Life Cycle
There are five juvenile stages known as nymphs, which are miniature versions of the
adults in general appearance (Figure 3). Each nymphal stage requires at least one blood
meal to moult to the next stage and it takes 3-5 minutes for complete engorgement to
The length of the lifecycle is extremely variable and is dependent on temperature. For
example, in cold conditions, they can live for almost two years, even without a blood meal.
However, in average conditions of around 23oC, the lifecycle takes around two months to
complete and the adult can live for almost 4.5 months (Busvine 1980). All nymphal stages
and adults of both sexes require blood for nutrition and development. After mating, each
female lays 2-3 eggs a day throughout her lifespan. The cream coloured eggs (1mm in
length) are cemented on rough surfaces of hiding places and will hatch within
approximately 9-12 days at a room temperature of around 23oC but longer in cooler
conditions. Unhatched eggs are opaque and become clear in colour after hatching. They
can remain in place for a long time (Boase 2001) and this can confound inspections
months to even years later. It is important to note that most insecticides are non-ovicidal
and product reapplication is usually required to kill the emerging nymphs.
Like most insects, bed bugs show seasonal activity. An analysis of samples submitted
to the Department of Medical Entomology, shows that for Sydney, peak activity is from
mid-summer to the end of autumn (Doggett et al. 2004b). In warmer climates such as
northern Queensland, it would be expected that the season would be much longer.
During the cooler months bed bugs can overwinter in unheated premises (Reid 1990)
and the author has been involved one case of a failed treatment where control was
attempted within a home in early autumn, yet the bugs came back early the next
summer. The bugs remained inactive during the cooler months of winter.
The question of bed bug longevity is often asked in relation to infestations, particularly
where there is a dispute over when it may have initiated. For example, the author was
recently asked to comment on a situation where a tenant reported bed bugs, however
prior to them moving in, the unit was unoccupied for six months. Thus the question was
asked, did the tenants bring in the infestation or was it already present? Naturally
enough, the answer to this question may well determine if the landlord or the tenant is
responsible for the costs associated with control and repair or replacement of damaged
furnishings and fixtures (such as cleaning or repainting due to bed bug stains).
Figure 4 graphs the longevity of the Common bed bug using data derived from two
sources; Usinger (1966) [after Omari, 1941] and Busvine (1980) [after Johnson, 1942].
The conditions of these experiments where not entirely comparable, for example Omari
blood fed the bugs once, whereas Johnson did not, and the experimental conditions
were under different humidities. However, the results were remarkably similar and thus
combined to yield a greater number of data points for plotting. The resulting graph and
formula (derived via Microsoft Excel’s trend analysis), provides an indication of how long
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.5
bed bugs can survive at different temperatures. In the case described above, the unit
was closed over the summer months. It was estimated that the average temperature for
this period was around 23oC, then from the graph, the bed bugs could survive a
maximum of 134 days, well less than the six months the unit was unoccupied,
suggesting it was the new tenants that brought in the bugs. It should also be noted that
Busvine (1980) considers that the data in the graph represents optimal circumstances
and it would be unlikely that bed bug would survive this long under natural field
Figure 4. The longevity of the Common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, at different
temperatures. See text for further discussion of this plot.
y = 1261.4e
= 0.9465
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Bed bugs exhibit a behaviour called thigmotaxis, which means that they prefer to be in
constant contact with a solid surface. As they are dorsoventrally flattened, they thus
tend to hide in narrow cracks and crevices, making detection exceedingly difficult.
Bed bugs are also photophobic (they do not like light) and thus shelter in dark locations,
particularly nearby to where people sleep. These include on and under mattresses,
floorboards, paintings and carpets, behind skirting, in various cracks and crevices of
walls, within bed frames and other furniture, and behind loose wallpaper. Bed bugs stay
in close contact with each other and heavy infestations are accompanied by a
distinctive sweet sickly smell, which some authors describe as ‘sickly sweet’, however is
akin to that of ‘stink bugs’ that commonly infest citrus trees.
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.6 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
Since they are photophobic and also fast runners (Service 1980), inspections can be
challenging as bed bugs will quickly shy away from light sources. Despite this agility
they are somewhat clumsy and will fall from infested materials, hence it is important to
fully enclose any item in plastic that is being removed from an active infestation.
Blood Feeding Behaviour
The mouthparts of bed bugs are especially adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood.
Like most blood sucking arthropods, they inject saliva during feeding, which has
anticoagulant properties. Bed bugs respond to the body warmth of a host and quickly
locate a suitable feeding site. They tend not to live on humans and the only contact is
for a blood meal. Being a cryptic species, blood feeding typically occurs at night, with
peak feeding occurring between 1 and 5am, when people are in their deepest sleep.
During the day, bed bugs seek shelter and become inactive while digesting the blood
meal. This means that the bed area should always be the first location examined during
the inspection process. Bed bugs are opportunistic and will bite in the day, especially if
starved for some time. Their preferred host is human, in fact they are completely
dependant on humans to survive (Robinson 2004), they will however feed on wide
variety of other warm-blooded animals including rodents, rabbits, bats and even birds.
Due to the fact that bed bugs blood feed and inject an anticoagulant, which some
people react to, bed bugs are considered an important public health pest.
Bed Bugs as Pests
Bed bugs impact upon humans through their public health pest status and through the
cost burden posed upon the accommodation industry.
Clinical Association
Bed bugs are public health pests largely because of their nuisance biting, and often the
most serious health aspect for many individuals is the mental trauma of knowing that there
is an infestation. Skin reactions result from the saliva injected during feeding. First hand
reports from patients indicate that they are not always aware of the bites, but may have a
restless nights sleep, often waking (Pinto 1999). It has been estimated that around 20% of
the population will show no clinical reaction to the bite (Krueger 2000), while some develop
small indistinct red spots (Fig. 6). The most commonly affected areas of the body are the
arms and shoulders. Reactions to the bites may be delayed; with up to nine days before
lesions appear (Sansom, Reynolds & Peachey 2003). Common allergic reactions include
the development of large wheals, usually >1cm and up to 20cm across (Cleary &
Buchanan 2004), which are accompanied by itching and inflammation (Figs. 7 & 8). The
wheals usually subside to red spots and can last for several days. Bullous eruptions (i.e.
boils) have been reported in association with multiple bed bug bites (Fletcher, Ardern-
Jones & Hay 2002) and anaphylaxis may occur in patients with severe allergies (Parsons
1955, Anon 2003b). People who are regularly bitten can be sensitised and develop a
‘sensitivity syndrome’ with nervousness, lethargy and pallor (Anon 2001c). Treatment of
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.7
the bites include dabbing the bite site with antiseptic ointments or antihistamine creams, if
the reaction is severe than oral antihistamines may be needed. Currently, antigen is not
produced for desensitisation programs and thus for those individuals who suffer severe
allergic reaction then total avoidance is required. The author has been told by some
backpackers that in order to avoid bites in infested premises, it has been necessary to
sleep with repellent on. Studies have shown that bed bugs are repelled by DEET and
other repellents (Kumar et al. 1995), however to think that people should have to use
repellents to avoid bed bugs is abhorrent.
It is not uncommon for the medical profession, even specialists, to misdiagnose the bite of
bed bugs. Misdiagnosis has included scabies (Stevens 2003) [which should always be
confirmed by a skin scraping], antibiotic reactions (S. Doggett unpublished observations),
food allergies, hives, mosquito bites, spider bites and staph infections (Gooch 2004).
Parents have even suspected chicken pox (Gooch 2004). In one case of a severe allergic
reaction that led to anaphylaxis, the patient was initially diagnosed with a coronary
occlusion (Parsons 1955). This misdiagnosis often results in inappropriate medical
treatments, such as the use of scabicides, (Stevens 2003), biopsies of the bite site and
even blood tests (Gooch 2004), with obviously no solution forthcoming.
The problem than can go unresolved for months with the infestation becoming firmly
entrenched and a risk for spreading elsewhere. In once instance a child was suspected to
have been suffering for three months with hives before the pest was realised (Goff 2004).
The bugs were only found when the mother checked the child during the night whilst the
child was ill with the cold and saw the bugs feasting. In another example, a ten year old girl
went through a continuing nightmare of biopsies, blood tests, ointments for over six
months (Gooch 2004). The parents only suspected bed bugs after a search on the
internet, which led to the child’s room being inspected at night and the cause of all that
misery identified. One woman who was suffering ongoing skin reactions only discovered
the cause after she heard the author speaking on the radio. Suspecting the worse, she
lifted the mattress cover and was horrified to find literally thousands of bed bugs residing
on her mattress. Stevens (2003) recounts the tail of a woman who was being treated for
scabies by her dermatologist and only found out about bed bugs after a conversation with
a neighbour. In one extremely unusual case, seven different women developed a zone of
raised spots across the back of their calves in almost the identical position with all.
Investigations found two things in common; all travelled on the same tram and all wore
skirts. On inspection the seat cushions were found to harbour bed bugs, coinciding with
position of the bite marks. The bugs could only access the exposed legs of women in
skirts (Kinear 1948).
Unfortunately insect bites are generally poorly described and categorised, and the actual
bite reaction can vary tremendously from individual to individual, even for the same insect
species. Often with bed bugs, the bites are in a line (Pinto 1999, Thomas et al. 2004).
Tony DeJesus, Training Director, New England Pest Control, USA (cited by Ortiz 2004)
states that bed bug bites often occur in clusters of three lines, sometimes referred to as
“breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Generally, bed bug bites will be all over the body, whereas
insects such as fleas tend to bite more on the legs (Frishman 2000).
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.8 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
With the recent focus on bed bugs by the media, bed bugs are being blamed for any sort
of bite type reaction and it is important for the pest controller to determine that the cause of
an irritation is indeed bed bugs. Other arthropod possibilities include fleas, ticks, bird and
rat mites, various biting flies, thrips, lice and urticating caterpillars, to name a few. The list
of non-arthropod causes of bites and bite-like reactions is beyond the scope of this paper
but can include environmental contaminants (such as fibres), pharmaceutical reactions
(many drugs cause skin irritation), physiological changes and underlying medical
conditions (insects are often blamed for formication symptoms in postmenopausal women)
and chemical reactions (e.g. skin reactions caused by detergents).
For a haematophagus arthropod, bed bugs take a relatively large blood meal, an average
of around 8µl (up to a maximum of 14µl) per adult female bug (Usinger 1966, citing
Johnson 1942). While it takes many hundreds of bites for even the loss of one millilitre of
blood, in India, iron deficiency in infants has been associated with severe infestations
(Baumann 2002). The author was made aware of one case in England of an elderly man
who was thought to have died through blood loss as the result of bites from literally
hundreds of thousands of bed bugs. Interestingly, the man passed away during the winter
months and as the central heating was switched off for some time, the local pest controller
found no bed bugs still living.
Another medical condition suggested to be associated with bed bug is asthmatic
reactions brought about from exposure to the allergens of the insect (Abou et al. 1991;
WanZhen & KaiShong 1995). However, such studies are limited and require further
Bed bugs have been implicated in the transmission of a wide variety of infectious
agents, although their status as vectors is uncertain (Kruegar 2000). It has been
proposed that they might play a role in the spread of hepatitis B (Ogston et al. 1979),
but this is not supported by epidemiological evidence (Vall Mayans et al. 1994) and
attempts to transmit the virus to chimpanzees have been unsuccessful (Jupp et al.
1991). However, hepatitis B DNA can be detected in the faeces of bed bugs for up to
six weeks post-feeding on a viraemic blood meal (Silverman et al. 2001) and so the
possibility that transmission through contact with contaminated faeces or crushing live
bed bugs cannot be excluded (Ogston & London 1980). Despite this possibility and the
fact that it is impossible to prove that bed bugs can not transmit an infectious agent, the
reality is that to date there has never been a single proven case of an infectious agent
passed on to humans by bed bugs (Goddard 2003).
The one aspect of the medical affects with bed bugs that is almost never discussed is
the mental trauma caused by the insect. Yet this is a very real health problem and can
not be ignored. There is still a stigma associated with bed bugs, particularly as older
articles published before the current resurgence paints a gloomy picture on the insect,
typically associating it with poor housekeeping and hygiene (Thompson 1983) and this
public perception continues today (Reid 1990). As a result, when people learn that there
is an insect in their bed that is biting them at night, they are horrified and disgusted.
Some people have reported to the author that they feel “dirty and unclean”. For most,
the bedroom is an inner sanctum for people to rest and unfold from the daily stresses of
life and to feel insecure in this area of the home is understandably detestable. With
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.9
some individuals, even when the problem is solved, the psychological trauma can
develop into a delusionary state, where the patient feel bites and insects crawling on
them, even if the bed bugs are longed control. Patients suffering delusionary parasitosis
can often be linked back to an initial infestation of bed bugs. Examples include a woman
who would wake up in the middle of the night and stuff her pillow into the freezer and
another who would regularly spray her mattress with insecticide (Vandam 2003).
The other aspect of how bed bugs impact on the mental health of people relate to the
financials consequences of an infestation, with control costs amounting into the tens of
thousands of dollars to even hundreds of thousands of dollars for some larger motels.
Naturally such costs are not meet with delight, and the author has had to console
several teary eyed owners after realising the costs that had to be paid out. The way in
which bed bugs impinge on the economic livelihood of individuals is detailed next.
Financial Impacts
The costs imposed upon the accommodation industry through the impact of bed bugs are
significant and include:
Immediate loss of revenue. Guests bitten by bed bugs refuse to pay for accommodation.
Loss of revenue through refusing guests. At a housekeepers meeting in 2004 in Sydney,
where the author was asked to speak on bed bugs, an employee of a well known local five
star motel mentioned another method by which the industry is loosing money to bed bugs.
If a budget traveller (such as a backpacker) requests a night’s accommodation, they are
usually refused by the management, with the comment that “sorry, we are fully booked”
(often such travellers will stay an upmarket motel towards the end of their journey). The
link between bed bugs and backpackers is increasingly being recognised amongst the
industry and it is felt that the potential risk of litigation, especially from wealthy guests, and
the costs of treatment and lost of business, negates the relatively smaller losses with such
Travel expenses. In the case where people have had their holiday disturbed due to bed
bugs, some companies have repaid travel expenses to the guest. For example, Outrigger
Enterprises which operates a number of motels in the south Pacific has reimbursed
affected guests for transportation costs including airfares, as well as medical treatment
and accommodation costs (Wojcik 2004, citing Charles Kelley Director of Risk
Management, Outrigger Enterprises Inc.).
Longer-term loss of revenue. Rooms need to be closed during the treatment process,
which can take well over a week. Guests once bitten are unlikely to return. For those
motels involved in legal disputes, the publicity surrounding such lawsuits can create
negative publicity and seriously damage the reputation of the institution (Wojcik 2004, see
also the web site which was developed by an irate guest
after being heavily bitten). If a pest controller fails to adequately control an infestation, the
cost burden to the accommodation owner can increase significantly, especially if a room is
closed for extended periods. It is not unreasonable to expect that in the future that these
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.10 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
costs may be passed onto the pest controller through legal action, especially if the pest
controller is shown to be negligent in their duties.
Loss of the tourist dollar. Tourists will become aware of the regions and cities that are
badly afflicted with bed bugs and avoid travelling to such areas.
False claims of bites. There are many anecdotal reports of guests falsely claiming they
were bitten and attempting to refuse accommodation payments.
Replacement of infested and damaged furnishings. In heavy infestations, furnishings may
need to be discarded to control the pest. Bed bugs stain bedding, furnishings and walls,
and omit an offensive odour. Guests noting indications of past infestations may refuse to
stay, hence all past signs of bed bugs need to be removed, even just to avoid confusion
with potential new infestations.
Bed bug treatments. Bed bugs must be controlled by a licensed pest controller. A single
treatment will cost hundreds of dollars. In the US, the costs of bed bug treatments are
being quoted from $US500 (Ortiz 2004) to even $US1,000 or more (Wahlberg 2004). Due
to the limited experience in the pest control industry, multiple pest controllers are often
employed before an infestation is eventually destroyed.
Medical expenses. The accommodation owner will be expected to cover medical costs for
guests who are bitten. If a patient is sensitive to the bite, then these may be substantial,
especially if the guest is a visitor from overseas and not covered by Medicare.
Litigation. One of the greatest threats to the industry is litigation. One company in the
United States was recently fined approximately $AUS500,000 after guests were bitten by
bed bugs. In the US, reports of litigation are on the increase (Stevens 2003). Lawsuits
include a beachfront Holiday Inn (Wojcik 2004), where a family of four was staying. They
claimed the family were bitten by bed bugs while staying in the motel and later infested
their own home. They were seeking damages in excess of $US50,000, which included
costs for pest extermination, and medical treatment and ongoing medical monitoring (they
claimed that bed bugs could transmit HIV, hepatitis and other blood borne disease, which
is clearly not true). Other claimants include two Mexican businessmen who maintained
that they were bitten while staying in a five star motel in New York (Bowles 2003, Wojcik
2004). In Australia, the author has been involved in disputes that have been taken to the
Rental Tribunal Board. As our country is one of the most litigious countries in the world,
there is a real potential that litigation will occur here.
In an effort to more accurately document the real costs of bed bugs to the accommodation
industry in Australia, the author has been working in association with tourism groups in
Queensland, and jointly developed an online survey ( This
information can then be used to demonstrate the impact of bed bugs upon the tourism
industry in order to lobby for financial assistance and research funding from government.
Questions included in the survey include the type of accommodation, the state, city or
country, the total number of guests, if the facility has been affected by bed bugs, the
number of rooms and beds affected per financial year and the number of nights lost, the
cost to the business caused by bed bugs, if there had been any false claims of bed bugs,
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.11
the method of control used and the quality of that method, and any comments that the
respondent may wish to make. The survey began in early September 2004 and up to
7/March/2005, there were 112 respondents. The salient responses included one
backpacker chain that estimated that they had 5,000 beds infested during 2004, another
that had 800, yet another with 600, and several with more than 300. The total number of
beds infested amongst these respondents for 2004 was almost 9,000! The number of
accommodation nights lost (i.e. rooms could not be used due to the bed bugs) reflected
the recent resurgence. In 2004, some 10,387 nights were lost, in 2003 some 4,829, and in
2002 some 3,415 nights. Disturbingly, 40% of all respondents stated that there have been
false claims of bed bugs in the beds; the author has even been told of backpackers
carrying containers of bed bugs with them to claim free accommodation!
The overall financial impact totalled an extraordinary $764,297 and included $330,948 in
lost trade, $186,900 in replacement of bedding (including mattress & beds), $169,234 in
pest control and $77,215 in various miscellaneous (such as medical expenses, extra
labour costs, laundry expenses, etc). It is clear that this survey is barely the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to the financial impact of bed bugs and it is likely for Australia at
least, the overall impact to the tourism industry must be in the hundreds of millions of
dollars annually, and worldwide, in the billions.
In terms of pest control, 63% of the respondents reported at least one treatment failure. In
fact on a scale 1 to 5 (1 being the poorest and 5 the best), pest controllers averaged a
lowly 2.6. This lack of confidence by the accommodation industry should be of great
concern to pest controllers and their associations, and highlights the need for continuing
professional development. Some of the other procedures mentioned used for controlling
bed bugs makes interesting reading. Methods include washing walls with sugar soap,
throwing infested materials away, wrapping infested furnishing in black plastic and placing
into the sun, lavender oil, ozone machines, washing clothes and backpacks, eucalyptus
oil, insect repellents, blocks of camphor, methylated spirits and cockroach bombs. Similar
home grown bed bug remedies have been used elsewhere out of sheer frustration with the
failure of traditional pest control procedures. Others note the use of soft soap and arsenic
(Kramer 2004), ammonia (Doty 2004) include flea bombs, cockroach baits, ant dusts,
camphor, boiling water, bleach, borax, and cigarette smoke (Ryan et al. 2005), and ultra
violet light (personal communication). Tea tree and eucalyptus oils have even been used
in an attempt to repel the bugs (Ryan et al. 2005). Interestingly in the survey, these home
grown methods were given a rating of 2.3, not much lower than that for the pest
controllers. However, the concern is that some of the methods used, such as arsenic and
ozone, pose serious health risks to the user and the client, particularly when undertaken
by the untrained hands.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey is the comments, which indicates that many
of the industry are desperate in their need for better control methodologies. Comments
“This problem has the potential to cripple our industry just as surely as terrorism or
SARS fears have done in the recent past”,
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7.12 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
“We in the hospitality industry are being driven mad. It is very frustrating because we
try everything and nothing works”,
“Loss of trade to WHOLE regions through bad WORD OF MOUTH.”
“Remember it is not the a town problem or even the states problem - it is a world wide
problem - a localised solution is not a solution”,
“This is really a widespread problem that is largely ignored”,
“There needs to be Government funding of this issue if Sydney wants to continue to
have a tourist industry”,
“The possibility of our industry collapsing is very real unless something is done in the
very near future”.
Clearly this is an industry deeply worried about the future.
Another great concern for those in and those who invest in the accommodation industry is
the recent proliferation of reports of the bed bug resurgence in business magazines (Arnst
& Sagar 2004, Lundine 2003, De Marco 2004, Ortiz 2004, Tucker 2003) along with the
reports of the lawsuits. With the financial losses due to the above reasons leading to
reduced profit margins and the ongoing potential for litigation while the problem exists,
presumably this has to affect the stock price and value of such businesses. Also with the
discussion of this threat of litigation in insurance magazines (Wojcik 2004) premiums may
be expected to rise. Although, Wojcik (2004) suggest that in the US at least, lawsuits
involving bed bugs may not be claimable against insurance.
The problem of bed bugs is not confined to hoteliers; many people pick them up on their
travels and bring them home. This means the home owner also has the financial burden of
control, and in the US, there are reports in the order of $US6,000 in costs mentioned as a
result of furnishings having to be discarded (Allen 2004). In one situation that the author
dealt with, a woman who was severely bitten by bed bugs and developed obvious wheals,
lost an employment contract as a professional dancer over the unsightly disfiguring marks.
In some cases, governments are forced to share the financial burden. In Allston-Brighton
(Boston, USA) the bed bug problem became so bad that there were around 1,000
documented infestations in the city. Tenants began to withhold rent payments, often
angered by landlords denying the presence of the pest (Allen 2004). Many tenants moved
out of infested apartments rather report the problem. Due to the severity of the problem,
the state government began the ‘Bedbug Eradication Initiative’ inputting $US50,000. The
money has gone to education, new mattresses and bedding for individuals afflicted and to
landlords for pest extermination (Allen 2004). This is probably one of the first such financial
initiatives anywhere in the world since the beginning of the resurgence and unlikely the
last. As an example, for a backpacker lodge, one room with eight guests may bring a daily
return of around $160. If the treatment costs are in the order of $400+ by a pest controller
and there is a good chance of the bugs being reintroduced with the next batch of
backpackers, something has to give. Without future government support, this industry is
facing potential ruin.
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.13
In order to account for this recent and unexpected financial burden, it is necessary to look
at bed bugs through human history, to examine how we managed to defeat them for some
50 years and why they are now coming back.
Bed Bugs through Human History
Bed bugs have been extraordinarily successful in invading the human home to eventually
spreading throughout the world, and this development has paralleled the social evolution
of the human species.
It is speculated that bed bugs originated on bugs that attacked bats in caves, where early
humans resided. It is thought that when humans moved out of the caves the bugs were
carried into the urbanised dwellings (Panagiotakopulu & Buckland 1999). Evidence for bed
bug association with humans goes back some 3,555 years (Panagiotakopulu & Buckland
1999) when specimens of Cimex where discovered in archaeological digs from the south
of Cairo, which date back to c1350-1323 BC. While the species of Cimex was not
identified, it was assumed that they were lectularius. These authors note that many
famous figures in history mention the presence of bed bugs including Aristotle, Pliny and
Dioscorides. Aristotle for example, believed that bed bugs originated from sweat (Van
Dyke 1995). In England, records of bed bugs date long back, with the first probable
evidence of bed bugs from a Roman pit dated from the second century AD
(Panagiotakopulu & Buckland, 1999).
It is believe that bed bugs extended their distribution through the post-medieval period,
probably through increasing urbanisation and improvements in housing (Panagiotakopulu
& Buckland 1999, Kramer 2004). For example, bed bugs do not breed below 13oC and it
was likely that superior housing provided insulation to thermally stabilise the environment,
which benefited the bugs. Further evidence of this is from the 18th century, whereby it was
found that for homes that were centrally heated by coal, where more likely to be infested
by bed bugs than those that were not heated as such (Panagiotakopulu & Buckland 1999).
During the 17th century, bed bugs were considered the main pest of the day and one pest
control company with the charming name of “Bug Destroyers to Her Majesty and the Royal
Family” developed a powder in 1695 to control the insect (Kramer 2004). The constituents
of this powder are unknown. In the 19th century, wealthy travellers would often be
accompanied by a pig, which would be placed in the bed to feed the bed bugs, prior to the
gentleman settling for the night (Birchard 1998).
Bed bugs originated in the Old World (i.e. Africa & Asia) and their global expansion was
via shipping. It was known that old sailing ships tended to be heavily infested and so this
means of transport was the most likely method by which they spread (Pinto 1999). In
Great Britain it is thus not surprising that it was the seaport towns that were first to become
infested and later the bugs were to spread inland (Gunn 1933). By the 19th century in the
US, it was rare for an American to have never experienced a bed bug bite (Pinto 1999). In
fact bed bugs were the first insect to achieve pestiferous status in the US (Kramer 2004).
Bed bugs were extremely common in the States before World War II (Ortiz 2004),
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.14 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
although they tend to be associated with premises with poor sanitation and transitory
residents (Krueger 2000).
In England at the start of the 20th century, it was estimated that around 75% of British
homes were infested with bed bugs (Birchard 1998). A government report in the 1930s by
the United Kingdom Ministry of Health stated that, “In many areas all the houses
are…infested with bed bugs” (cited by Owen 2004).
In Australia, it is thought that bed bugs have been in the country since European
settlement (Woodward et al. 1970). Published reports of infestations before 2000 are rare.
Presumably this means that Australian homes were not as seriously affected as those in
the UK or US. Lee (1975) stated that gross centres of infestations tended not to occur here
and that most bed bug cases reported to him were the result of travellers picking them up
overseas. Waterhouse (1991) stated that bed bugs by the early 1990’s occurred mainly in
“poorer, overcrowded dwellings”.
Despite the high incidence of bed bugs in both the UK and US, by the mid-1950’s
infestations became rare. The decline of bed bugs is one of the great success stories of
modern urban pest control.
How Bed Bugs were Defeated
The main reason why bed bugs were defeated as a public health pest by the mid 20th
century was the development of powerful insecticides. Post WWII saw the introduction of
the chlorinated hydrocarbons including DDT, Lindane, Chlordane and Heptachlor, to name
just a few. These chemicals had high insecticidal activity and were non-repellent, enabling
bed bug control to be much more effective and relatively easy (Reid 1990, Kramer 2004).
The pesticides also had long residual activity, meaning that often only a single treatment
was necessary and there was a high degree of protection from further infestations.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the cause of infectious diseases was finally understood
and this lead to dramatic improvements in the level of sanitation. This was aided by
innovations in cleaning equipment such as the vacuum and washing machines, which
were not only labour saving but became affordable by the average home. A generally held
opinion is that these raised standards of hygiene helped to curtail bed bugs. How much
these improvements actually contributed to the decline is not really made clear, particularly
as we now have even better cleaning equipment. By the 1950’s in the US, bed bugs were
mainly confined to substandard housing such as homeless shelters, transient
accommodation and prisons (Pinto 1999). However, it is likely that such housing rarely
used insecticides and so it is difficult to assess the effect of raised hygiene standards.
Research into bed bugs was at its height from 1900 to the 1950s. This period saw the
great ecological studies of Girault, Omori and Johnson, the taxonomic work of Reuter,
Rothschild, Horvath and Usinger, which culminated in Usinger’s 1966 Monograph of
Cimicidae, and the insecticide resistance studies of Busvine. This meant that the latest
research on the pest’s ecology and control was available, and that there were many
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.15
experts across many continents with a great knowledge base for teaching and
Other contributing factors to the decline of bed bugs in America post WWII that have been
suggested include the dousing of returning soldiers in DDT to rid them of any infestation
(Laurence 2003). Krueger (2000) mentions that the regulation of the used furniture market
in the US helped to stem bed bugs. Although what these regulations entailed was not
mentioned. In Denmark, government policy dictated that for anyone moving to another
premise, a bed bug inspection was required. A similar policy was enacted in Britain for
those in substandard housing. This naturally helped to identify active infestations, which
were promptly controlled.
Just how successful these combined strategies were in controlling bed bugs is
demonstrated by Busvine (1964). The number of bed bug treatments undertaken by one
large British city declined over a 26 year period from 10.7% of homes being infested in
1934 to just 0.11% in 1960 (Table 1). Similar figures were noted in Denmark (Table 2,
Busvine 1957).
Table 1. The percentage of bed bug infested homes in one British city (name not
stated), from 1934 to 1960. After Busvine (1964).
Year 1934 1937 1940 1943 1947 1950 1953 1957 1960
% 10.7 5.2 2.1 1.3 1.2 1.2 0.5 0.18 0.11
Table 2. The number of bed bug infestations within Denmark, 1945 to 1955. After
Busvine (1957).
Year 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955
No. 8,138 7,117 7,149 4,993 3,309 1,910 1,155 634 472 306 282
By the early mid-1970s in the UK, bed bugs rated as the 13th most important urban insect
pest by Rentokil and 11th by local government authorities (Cornwell 1974). Thus both
groups saw them as a minor pest. No longer were bed bugs seen to be associated with
substandard housing and poor hygiene as most infestations occurred in private homes
and units, and were generally acquired during travel.
But in recent years, the incidence of bed bug infestations have unpredictably changed and
the reverse has been very dramatic.
The Bed Bug Resurgence in the UK
The first published anecdotal reports of the resurgence anywhere in the world were from
England, where it was noted by Birchard (1998), that bed bugs had returned. It now
seems somewhat ironic that a pair of English authors (Paul & Bates 2000) asked the same
question some two years later in a medical journal when the title of their article was “Is
infestation with the common bedbug increasing?” This highlights a major issue; namely
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.16 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
that most of the reports of the bed bug resurgence have been in industry-based
publications or in the local press, and as a result, kept more or less underground. Most of
these articles are not included in literature abstracting databases and so have not come to
the attention of the scientific community. As these are the professionals that are most likely
to address important research questions and find positive control solutions, it is perhaps
not surprising that such research is yet to occur.
The first real solid evidence for the resurgence was provided by Boase (2001). He
obtained figures of bed bug treatments over the years 1999 to 2000 from four different
organisations involved in pest control. One was a pest control company, two were different
municipalities and the other was a hotel chain. The result from each was startling similar;
almost an identical upward trend of around a doubling in the number of treatments
annually. In the same article, Boase makes that comment that during the early 1990’s,
most people thought bed bugs were a pest of the past. He points to around 1996 as the
beginning of the resurgence.
In the following year a report appeared in the popular scientific journal, New Scientist
(Coghlan 2002) that quoted Ian Burgess, Director of the Medical Entomology Centre at the
University of Cambridge. In this he was reported to say that “…the number of [bed bug]
cases reported to local councils has more than the quadrupled each year for the past five
years…” and that the rise “…started going up at the end of the cold war at the beginning of
the 1990’s.” In a later publication in 2004, Boase was reported to state that parts of
London had seen a tenfold increase in infestations.
The Resurgence in the US
In the US, early reports of the bed bug resurgence were from the late 1990’s. Pinto (1999)
indicated in an article that he felt that bed bugs “seemed more common than a decade
ago.” He went on to comment that at a recent pest control meeting, some 10 percent of
the audience had undertaken a bed bug treatment in the last year and appeared an
increasing pest problem. In 2000, Kevin Moran, Technical Sales Representative, Residex
Corporation, Massachusetts, US (cited by Krueger 2000), stated that he had seen a
tenfold increase in bed bug related calls in 1999 from 1998. In the same article, Krueger
(2000) detailed similar trends by other pest managers. From New York City and New
Jersey, a “noticeable increase in bed bug calls” was reported (Frishman 2000). By 2001
other pest control companies had also reported a ten-fold increase in bed bug calls since
1999 (Anon 2001b). In 2003, the US National Pest Management Association reported
infestations occurring in 27 states in the three previous years, whereas only “a handful” of
states had reports during the 1990’s (Anon 2001b). Similar comments on the bed bug
resurgence were to be made elsewhere. Cindy Mannes, Director Public Affairs, US
National Pest Management Association stated in 2003 (cited by Lundine 2003) that some
of their members were getting 50 times as many bed bugs calls then they were previously.
By the end of 2003, bed bugs had been reported from 28 states (Laurence 2003). Richard
Kramer, Director Technical Services, American Pest Management in Takoma Park
(quoted by De Marco 2004), reported that their business had never undertaken bed bug
treatments until the early 2000’s and initially the “company treated only a handful of
cases”. This increased to 40 to 50 treatments in 2002 and hundreds were treated in 2003
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.17
(actual number not specified). Anthony Lopatowski, Manager Safeguard Exterminating
Services, New York (cited by Vandam 2003) stated he used to perform one or two bedbug
treatments per month, and as of August 2003, this was up to several per week.
In 2004, Orkin Pest Control reported as stating that they had undertaken no bed bug
treatments in 2000, 10 in 2001, 90 in 2002 and 390 in 2003 (McGinnis 2004). Frank Meek,
Technical Manager of Orkin Pest control (cited by Ortiz 2004) claims that the return of bed
bugs in the US can be dated back to 1999. Phil Koehler (Entomologist, University of
Florida) was also acknowledged as saying that Florida had seen a tenfold increase since
1999 (Anon 2001b). Later reports from 2004 stated that more than 40 states had by now
reported bed bugs (De Marco 2004).
It was suggested that the first signs of the bed bug resurgence in the US started with
infestations appearing in hotels in major cities, followed by college dormitories, high-rises
and private homes (Goff 2004). Generally, those cities in the US with high overseas
visitation rates tended to have more bed bugs infestations (Anon 2001b, Stevens 2003).
Beyond the above papers, there are now numerous reports of the resurgence of bed bugs
(Baumann 2002, Stevens 2003, De Marco 2004, Ortiz 2004, to name just a few), but it is
being recognised that the problem can only get much worse in the US in the near future
(Anon, 2005a).
The Resurgence in Australia
The first published mention of a resurgence of bed bugs in Australia was in a New
Scientist article (Coghlan 2002), with the comment, “From New York to Sydney…bed bugs
are making a comeback.” The initial source for this report has not been fully established,
although Coghlan mentioned to the author that it was attributed to Ian Burgess, a Medical
Entomologist from the University of Cambridge. Either way, the facts were indeed correct.
Some two years prior to this report, an infestation in England was linked to luggage
coming from Australia (Paul and Bates 2000), which is probably the earliest documented
case linked to this country from the era of the modern resurgence. This also highlights the
fact that the transfer of bed bugs internationally is multidirectional.
The first scientifically documented evidence in Australia was provided by the author and
colleagues (Doggett et al. 2004b). In this report it was stated that the Department of
Medical Entomology pathology service at Westmead Hospital, had received an increase in
the number of bed bug samples of almost 250%. This was from the beginning of January
2001 to January 2004, compared to the previous four years. As of January 2005, the
increase is now over 500%. The Department also had a notable increase in the number of
bed bug related emails. Over the three-year period from 1998 to 2000, 16 bed bug
enquiries were received, while from the start of 2001 to January 2004 there were 138
(Doggett et al. 2004b).
Other organisations were reported as seeing comparable increases. The Australian
Quarantine and Inspection Service saw a dramatic increase in the number of bed bug
interceptions from 1999 onwards. Likewise, similar reports were made by other
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
government bodies, including the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit in New South
Wales and the Pesticide Safety Branch, Western Australia Department of Health.
The pest control industry was not to be left out. One pest controller reported some 50
treatments of bed bugs from late 2000 compared with some five in the preceding 25 years,
while another saw more than a 700% increase in the number of treatments (Doggett et al.
2004b). For the latter, the company is now reporting nearly a 1000% increase over the
period 2001-2004 compared with 1997-2000. The graph of this rise (Figure 5), shows that
over the last four years, there has been virtually an exponential increase in the number of
treatments and the upward trend indicates that worse is yet to come. Bed bugs are now
seen as the fourth most important urban pest behind termites, cockroaches and rodents
(Gary Jones, Operations Manager, Eagle Pest Control, personal communication).
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Figure 5. The number of bed bug treatments undertaken by Eagle Pest Control, 1996-2004. Source: Gary
Jones, Operations Manager, Eagle Pest Control.
In 2003, the first report of the Tropical bed bug in Australia was published (Doggett et al.
2003). This species was originally identified from a sample collected in a café in coastal
Queensland in 1998. Ironically, the title of the paper was “Has the Tropical Bed
Bug…invaded Australia?” The answer now is a categorical yes and the entire coast of the
Queensland has been heavily impacted by this species. The author has now received
samples of the Tropical bed bug from southeast Queensland through to Cairns in far north
Queensland. It appears that the New South Wales/Queensland border is the northern
most geographical limit for the Common bed bug, while along the Gold Coast both species
cohabit, and north of this is the realm of the Tropical bed bug. When this latter species
was actually introduced into the country is not known.
Following an increase in anecdotal of bed bug infestations, the City of Sydney Council
initiated a survey of short stay accommodation. The survey involved a questionnaire rather
than site inspections and so there may have been an under reporting of the true incidence.
Despite this, 79% of the short stay lodges in the survey reported that there facility had in
7.18 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.19
recent times, been impacted by bed bugs (Ryan et al. 2005). The manager of one of these
operations stated to the author that up to 35% of their beds were infested during the 2004
summer (personal communication to Stephen Doggett, the name of the manager withheld
for confidentiality reasons). Unfortunately, this is not a one off sample; several others in
the accommodation industry have reported similar rates to the author from both within and
outside of New South Wales.
The rate of the resurgence in Australia is presumably a reflection of what is happening
elsewhere in the world. In fact only recently at a pest management forum in the US, Dr
Michael Potter, a Medical Entomologist from the University of Kentucky, stated
emphatically that “This [bed bugs] is going to be the worst pest problem facing this
generation of [pest managers]” quoted by (Andorka 2005).
The Resurgence Elsewhere
In 2004 in Bahrain, it was estimated that around 3% of households were infested (Anon
2004a). This prompted the government to initiate a national control campaign,
encompassing education and pesticides.
In Canada, a survey of homeless shelters in Toronto recorded a marked increase in bed
bug infestations (Hwang et al. 2005). In 2001, only 2 of the 17 surveyed had reported the
presence of the insect. By 2002, this had rose to 7, and towards end of 2003 all shelters
had had seen bed bug activity. Despite the seemingly stereotypical objective of this survey
(namely that the poor are more likely to be associated with bed bugs, and so homeless
shelters should be surveyed first), over 70% of calls to pest controllers in Toronto were
from single-family dwellings. The pest controllers interviewed in this study also had
undertaken more bed bug treatments in recent years.
The Resurgence, what Resurgence?
Unfortunately, sectors of the accommodation industry have repeatedly denied that there
has been a growing problem with bed bugs, while others are reluctant to openly talk about
the issue (Wahlberg 2004). Tia Gordon, spokesperson for the American Hotel and
Lodging Association was reported as saying that “As an industry, we don’t see it as a
problem…it’s a constant, and hoteliers are always making sure they are adequately
dealing with bedbugs” (quoted in De Marco 2004). The same spokesperson was later
quoted as saying that “This is not a major problem at this point…” (McGinnis 2004). At
least by February 2004 her association started to recognise that here was a problem, even
if not considered major! In the same article Gordon also stated “I would not call it
resurgence.” If only this was true. The facts are that bed bug infestations are on the rise
and not all hoteliers are dealing with the problem, as indicated by the recent successful
litigation. Clearly this ostrich head in the sand mentality can only harm the industry on a
greater scale in the long-term and this association is clearly not supporting its members by
confronting a real issue. At least Gordon does take the precautionary concession, just in
case… “[the American Hotel & Lodging Association] encourages the entire hotel
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.20 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
community to continually evaluate its existing housekeeping policies and practices as a
precautionary measure” (Wahlberg 2004).
This is a problem not confined to just the US. In Australia, the author has tried to raise the
issue with major accommodation associations as well as federal tourism departments to
be largely ignored. Generally, the accommodation industry in Australia has been slow to
respond and acknowledge the resurgence and it was not until exposure via the national
media (e.g. Channel Seven 2004, ABC TV 2004, Channel Nine 2004, Channel Ten 2005)
that some started to react.
Fortunately, others in the accommodation industry are recognising the problem and the
appearance of articles in trade magazines such as hotel and motel management
periodicals (Holmes 2004, Howard 2004), housekeeping journals (Anon 2001d, Goff
2004), local government publications (Anon 2004b), as well as the plethora appearing in
pest control magazines in Australia (Doggett 2004, Doggett et al. 2004a,b,c,d,e, May
2005) and overseas, along with the world first bed bug forum held in Queensland in
August 2004 by the local tourism association, is all highly encouraging.
The evidence for the bed bug resurgence is clearly overwhelming and we are currently in
the middle of a true pandemic (Owen 2004), so the question is, why is this happening?
Why are Bed Bugs Coming Back?
There are many explanations for the recent increase in bed bug numbers, although none
has been scientifically substantiated (Boase 2001). The general consensus is that
changes in pest control procedures have been one of the major reasons for the
resurgence (Anon 2001c, Watkins 2003). In the past, chemical applications in the
bedroom were common and this has been reduced for both environmental and health
reasons. For example, hotels often used to have their rooms treated every month (Simon
2004), while DDT was widely sprayed within the home (Ortiz 2004). The other factor that
led to decreased spraying was technological innovations in cockroach control, notably the
development of baits and gels. These tend to be less toxic than the sprays of the past
(Anon 2001a) and target the actual pest. This however in relation to bed bugs, is their
downfall. Bed bugs suck blood and do not feed on baits and gels, and thus while the
sprays of the past helped to inadvertently control bed bugs, the newer products just don’t.
It appears that by suppressing one insect such as cockroaches via the use of baits, this
has created a niche, which has been quickly exploited by the bed bug (Anon 2001d).
The insecticides that were so successful at controlling bed bugs post WWII, notably the
chlorinated hydrocarbons, are no longer used for general pest control. The main group
utilised these days are the synthetic pyrethroids (SPs), as they have high insecticidal
activity and low mammalian toxicity. One of the main problems with the SPs, as anyone
who has undertaken a bed bug treatment can testify, is that the majority are repellent and
thus the bugs can avoid lethal contact. In fact Kramer (2004) makes the comment that
“…many, if not all of the pyrethroids will cause the bugs to disperse if they are not killed by
direct contact...” and this has led some authors believe that the removal of the non-
repellent insecticides from the market place has contributed to the spread of bed bugs
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.21
(Baumann 2002). The SPs also have a relatively short residual activity and thus
reinfestations are more likely to occur. As bed bugs are a long-lived insect, it may be
possible that they can outlive the insecticidal activity of many SPs due to the repellent
nature of the pesticide. A concern is that if bed bugs are continually exposed to sublethal
doses, then resistance will develop more rapidly.
In the last 50 years there have been many developments in pest control technologies, yet
for bed bugs there have been no specific advances (Krueger 2004). This surely has to be
a contributing factor for their resurgence.
It was recognised in the early 1990’s that few pest controllers had practical experience in
controlling bed bugs (Reid 1990) and this was later echoed with the early identification of
the resurgence (Frishman 2000). The lack of experience by pest controllers has been
mentioned above with the bed bug survey, where 63% of respondents reported a fail
treatment. In fact some of the respondents had five pest controllers before complete
eradication was achieved! Unfortunately, inspections are often inadequate and all hiding
places are not identified, which inevitably leads to control failures (Reid 1990, Anon
2003a). Even the industry is now admitting that pest control companies need to select only
the most competent technicians for bed bug control work (Gooch 2005). In the most self
defacing and introspective articles (yet realistic) produced by the pest control industry to
date, Gooch states “Focus on your most thorough technicians, those who revel in finding
clues, possess endless patience and display excellent communication skills…” This article
is a must read for any company or individual pest controller considering taking on bed bug
Consider from an actual example the flow on effect of what can happen if a bed bug
inspection goes pear shape. While the author was filming with a national television station
at a backpacker’s facility on the rise of bed bugs, the management was questioned as to if
there were any currently active infestations. The manager stated that there were none at
the time, in fact the sofa bed in a common room had only been inspected on the previous
day. Upon examination, the sofa bed had a moderate infestation; only blind Freddy, the
inexperienced, or the incompetent could have missed some very obvious signs, including
live bed bugs. The result was that the pest control company not only lost the contract for
bed bug control, but the entire pest services to the facility, a loss of over $10,000 of
potential income.
Perhaps this particular failure could be explained by the current training regime of pest
controllers, which may have also contributed to the bed bug problem in Australia. In recent
years, pest control courses have followed a more competency-based approach with the
sacrifice being that basic pest ecology is often no longer taught. It appears that the
industry is arguably now becoming less flexible to adapt to sudden changes as
exemplified by the extraordinary high number of treatment failures reported by those in the
accommodation industry. It is important for the industry that these deficiencies are
recognised and promptly addressed. Fortunately, a recent development in the pest control
industry in Australia is a requirement for ongoing professional training. While not yet
mandatory, such obligations can only benefit the industry in the long term.
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.22 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
Even staff training within pest control companies has probably not been adequately
addressed, which may be contributing the high number of treatment failures. In compiling
evidence for the bed bug resurgence in Australia, the author contacted several pest
control companies for the number of applications for bed bugs they had undertaken over
recent years. While some mentioned that they felt there had been more bed bugs of late,
only one company actually had a database that compiled all of their control efforts. By
regularly analysing the database, the company could observe current trends and direct
staff training accordingly. For the other companies, failing to know the current trends and
training imperatives immediately places the staff and the business on a backward step.
Not surprisingly, the accommodation is facing a similar situation on this aspect. Bed
bugs were not a problem for 50 years and so most hotel workers do not know how to
recognise an infestation (Anon 2001c). As a result, it can take some time for an
infestation to be identified within a premise (Simon 2004). This means that many people
can spread the infestation from the initial site before that site is treated. Unfortunately,
there is still a stigma attached to bed bugs by the hospitality industry and the perception
is that if an infestation is reported, the business may be threatened, and so minor
infestations are often ignored or treated in an ad hoc manner (King 1990). Ignoring bed
bugs does come with a risk; the possibility of litigation as a result of guests being bitten,
which has happened in the US. Often hoteliers do not always follow the appropriate
advice. As an example, in the survey of short-stay lodges by Ryan (2004) mentioned
above, 57% of the respondents suffered a repeat infestation in the treated room.
However, only one half of the lodge owners followed up with a second treatment (Ryan
et al. 2005). It would appear that in many cases this was due to the cost of the job, as
the lodge owners cannot continually afford the treatment costs. Until cheap
technologies are developed, the cost of bed bugs treatments will hinder future control
efforts and contribute to the resurgence.
The unfortunate situation is that currently there almost no bed bug researchers anywhere
in the world and thus it will be some time before any new developments in bed bug control
technologies occur. It is extraordinary to think that we really don’t know which are the best
chemicals to use, as the science just has not been undertaken. Research is urgently
needed, not only to do with the insecticides, but also non-chemical means of control that
may help prevent infestations in the future. As there have been hardly any researchers in
the last 50 years, this also means that there have been very few experts on bed bugs who
can provide control solutions and training programs. The lack of up to date research and
expert advice must be a factor for the bed bug resurgence.
The lack of awareness of the bed bug reappearance cuts across many other industries.
When the author compiled evidence for the resurgence in Australia (Doggett et al.
2004b) most state health departments were contacted regarding the apparent rise and
very few had received any bed bug enquiries. This may help to explain why the
dramatic increase has escaped the notice of many health workers and why they have
not actively responded to the rise of this public health pest. It has also taken some time
for the resurgence and the incredible extent of the problem to come to the notice of
government tourism bodies and the various accommodation associations. The rather
lethargic response (or in many cases no response) to the issue can only acerbate the
rise in bed bug infestations.
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.23
Another major blame for the bed bug resurgence is globalisation, especially the ease of
world travel (Krueger 2000, Baumann 2002, Tucker 2004). It is now virtually possible to
get to any destination on the earth within a 24 hour period and air travel has never been
cheaper as it is now. This led to a tourism boom through the 1990s and in the US, it was
reported that around 50 million overseas visitors travelled to the country in 2000 (De
Marco 2004). Thus with the high number of travellers and the fact that many people now
journey to the more economically disadvantaged nations where bed bug numbers did not
decline, there have been great opportunities for the insect to hitch a ride all around the
world. These days, travellers are also much more likely to encounter the pest (Anon
To give an idea of how bed bugs remained a problem for many parts of the world,
research from Tanzania showed 56.5% of houses were infested with bed bugs in 1993
(Temu et al. 1999). In the KwaZulu region of South Africa up to one quarter of huts were
found infested during a survey in the mid-1980s (Newberry & Mchunu 1989). In the
early 1980s, a Venezuelan investigation found 16.4% of beds infested (Tonn et al.
1982). The question that can not be answered is, whether these poorer nations acted
as the reservoir for bed bugs, with travellers bringing them back to initiate the
resurgence (which was probably the case for the Tropical bed bug in Australia), or the
resurgence was just the result of other factors such as changing pest control practices,
or a combination of both.
It should be mentioned that there is some debate about international travel being
responsible for the bed bug resurgence. Clive Boase (cited in Owen 2004) states that if
this was true, it would be expected that more Tropical bed bugs would turn up in England
along with the Commons. However, it could be that this species just does not thrive in the
colder climates of Britain. For Australia at least, there appears to be a solid association
between bed bugs and international travel as motels with high overseas patronage are
hardest hit.
There have been suggestions that the trade in second-hand and rental furniture,
especially beds, has facilitated the transfer of bed bugs locally and around the world
(King 1990, Coghlan 2002, Vandam 2003, Kramer 2004). Anthony Lapatowski,
Manager Safeguard Exterminating Services, New York (cited by Vandam 2003)
mentioned that in certain areas of New York, bed bugs are being spread as a result of
people picking up used furniture off the street and sleeping on mattresses that are
directly on the ground. The author has become aware of a number of cases where bed
bugs have been introduced into the home via used furniture and mattresses. One case
involved the purchase of a bed from a charitable group. The worry for such groups is
that they could be asked to pay for any control costs. Perhaps the most amusing case
of transfer of bed bugs via furnishings was a situation in Queensland where an hotelier
had placed infested mattresses outside in the sun prior to treatment. Unfortunately for
the owner, these were stolen, but knowing that the thief will be bitten did offer a certain
degree of poetic justice.
The introduction of the Tropical bed bug to Australia (Doggett et al. 2003) has undoubtedly
contributed to the general increase in bed bug infestations in the country. This species
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.24 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
prefers a warmer climatic zone than that of the common bed bug, and thus most of
Australia is now at risk of developing a bed bug infestation.
Resistance to insecticides is another possibility that cannot be ignored. Bed bugs have
a long history of insecticide resistance and this is extremely well documented. Recently,
resistance was reported with the SPs in the Tropical bed bug overseas (Myamba et al.
2002). As this species occurs in Australia, it may be expected that treatment failures
may well occur here in the future, especially as this group of insecticides are often the
preferred choice by pest controllers in Australia. There are anecdotal reports of
resistance (Birchard 1998, Coghlan 2002), although whether this was the result of true
resistance of treatment failure is unknown. The situation is that there have been no
published modern studies of insecticide susceptibility undertaken, and thus any
resistance may not be recognised for some time and control failure would probably be
attributed to other causes.
It was stated in the section on bed bugs through history that improvements in housing
helped to create a thermally stable environment, which has aided bed bug survival. This
is even more the case now with modern buildings, which are mostly air-conditioned. As
extreme variations in temperatures have been eliminated, it is thought that this has
allowed bed bugs to become established in some countries (Abul-Hab et al. 1989).
Perhaps current trends in bedding have also aided the revival of bed bugs. Metal-
framed beds seem to help in containing and isolating infestations. These days the main
bed type used in motels are ensembles and the base provides numerous harbourages
and tends not to contain an infestation.
Other more debatable possibilities for the resurgence include the suggestion that
German cockroaches ate bed bug eggs and the control of cockroaches has led to the
explosion in bed bugs (Robinson 2004). This is probably unlikely considering that both
were common pests before DDT was widely used.
In the early 1990’s it was surmised that bed bug infestations would increase due to the
upsurge in homeless people (Reid 1990). Indeed this author even intimated that there was
a direct link between the rise in the homeless and increase in bed bug infestations. As
most bed bug infestations seem to be associated with travellers, the suggestion does not
hold much credence.
One pest controller commented that changing cleaning habits have helped the bed bug to
come back. Harold Harlan (Entomologist, National Pest Control Management Association,
USA, cited by Ortiz 2004) states that in the 1940’s and 50’s that households undertook
spring cleaning and this is not done anymore. Again, there is little evidence to support this
Glader (2003) suggested that the synthetic materials used in mattresses today rather than
higher priced cotton or silk is more attractive to bed bugs, however there is no solid
evidence for this.
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.25
Many pests go through periodic cycles of activity and Robinson (2004) proposed that bed
bugs may be going through one at present. As bed bugs were not much of an issue for
some 50 years and prior to this they were a common pest of the home, Robinson’s
comments seem ludicrous.
Gil Bloom, President of the New York Pest Management Association (cited by Stevens
2003), blames the resurgence in America on immigrants from Eastern Europe and South
America. Other authors also put the responsibility onto Third World Immigrants and
European travellers (Laurence 2003). This seemingly parochial viewpoint ignores the fact
that many infestations are unquestionably brought into the country by Americans travelling
overseas (Wahlberg 2004) and probably spread around the country by locals as well.
Clearly, it is inappropriate that any one group should be blamed, as the facts are that the
origins of the resurgence are simply not known. It may not be until disparate populations of
bed bugs across the world are analysed via molecular techniques that the origins of the
insect are realised.
It thus appears to be many compounding reasons for the bed bug resurgence, even if
the actual causes are yet to be scientifically established. Despite this, the methods by
which bed bugs are transferred are reasonably well known.
How Bed Bugs are Spread
It would appear that bed bugs can be transported through a variety of means; if the item
has nooks and crannies, then the insect can hide, and if transportable, bed bugs may hitch
a ride.
The methods that have been reported how bed bugs are spread are numerous. One
individual received a second hand mattress from a neighbour, which resulted in an
infestation (Doty 2004). Bed bug infestations have been linked to removalist vans (Goff
2004). Krueger (2000) reports of nannies bringing bed bugs into the US from eastern
Europe. Frishman (2000) implies that people can pick up bed bugs when sitting on an
infested bed or couch and transport them elsewhere. Certainly lounges in common rooms
in backpacker lodges can be heavily infested (S. Doggett, personal observation). Bed
bugs have been reported to be carried in golf bags (Baumann 2002, quoting Cindy
Mannes, Director of Public Affairs, National Pest Management Association, USA), stuffed
toys (Goff 2004), blankets and pillows (Pinto 1999), and even in the cuffs of pants
(Stevens 2003). It is suggested that bed bugs can pass from room to room via wiring
(Simon 2004). In fact some authors suggest that they can spread through the walls into
adjoining rooms, even to those that are either above or below (Pinto 1990). At least two
infestations were traced back to car boot sales (Coghlan 2002). There are anecdotal
reports within Australia that bed bugs can be passed from room to room via cleaning
trolleys and the author has been told of one pest controller who unwittingly took his work
home and infested his own house through his pest control equipment.
There is a report of an infestation in a laundromat in Sydney and it is likely that at least one
infestation in a unit was acquired from this source (Nathan Ryan, Shared Accommodation
Officer, City of Sydney Council, personal communication). This particular laundromat is in
Bed Bugs Ecology & Control S.L. Doggett
7.26 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
area frequented by backpackers, who probably introduced them. In a similar situation, one
backpackers lodge in Sydney received infested linen from their laundry service. It was
suspected that the delivery van or delivery containers were the source of the bed bugs
(Nathan Ryan, Shared Accommodation Officer, City of Sydney Council, personal
Despite these situations it does appear that luggage is the prime means of moving bed
bugs around the world (Anon 2001c). A recent investigation of how bed bugs are brought
into Australia through interceptions by the Australian Quarantine and Interception Service,
showed two main points. The majority of interceptions were through personal luggage and
most were via air travel (Doggett et al. 2004b). What was especially interesting was the
variety of items that bed bugs were found in. These included fresh flowers, dried curry
powder, packing boxes, musical instruments, packing paper, a mosquito net, dried grass,
carvings, airline bedding, as well as in luggage. A large number were detected in woven
materials including straw bags, fans and mats, and cane baskets. It thus appears that bed
bugs preferred the items that contain many hiding places, such as material of plant origin.
However, the quarantine service does focus their inspections on such materials to keep
out agricultural pests and so the results are probably somewhat biased.
It is likely that any stage be it eggs, nymphs or adult bed bugs can be passed on via
guests’ belongings (Simon 2004) and once someone has had their luggage infested in one
location, they can then spread the bed bugs to other premises, infesting them as they
progress on their journey (Simon 2004).
One problem that can occur due to the longevity of bed bugs is if a room is renovated and
the bugs not fully controlled, the bugs can reappear (Frishman 2000). This is something
that the author has observed on a number of occasions in both homes and sailing vessels.
As bed bugs are now so easily transmitted, it seems that wherever a human head lies at
night, so will the bed bug. It would appear that budget style accommodation such as
backpacker lodges are most impacted by this insect, due to their high visitation from
overseas guests and frequent occupant turnover. However in recent years, all levels of
accommodation from the cheapest motel to the five star resorts are being hit by bed bugs.
In Australia, some of the tourist icons have become infested, including interstate trains,
ocean going liners and sailing yachts (Figs 33-35). University dormitories are often
reported with the pest (Arnst & Sagar 2004, Lundine 2003, Stevens 2003, S. Doggett pers.
obs.) and staff accommodation within major hospitals have felt the bite of bed bugs. Bus
coaches, trams and even aircraft (Wojcik 2004) are not left out. In Pueblo, Colorado, US,
one infestation occurred in a tea-room in a telemarketing firm (Tucker 2004). During the
start of 2005, the author has received a notable increase in calls from residents with
infestations in their own home. While it is unlikely that we will reach the pre-insecticide
levels of infestations seen in homes, the latter is a disturbing trend.
The question is, what will the future hold? Tony DeJesus, Training Director, New England
Pest Control, USA, (cited by Ortiz 2004) suggests that in the future bed bugs will be a
problem in movie theatres, subway stations and airports.
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.27
Unfortunately the reality is that the bed bug problem will get much worse as indicated by
the trend in Figure 5. To slow down the upward curve, it is the responsibility of the hotelier
to act promptly with any new infestation and for the pest control to understand the pest
and its biology, to operate in the most diligent manner and to know the best methods of
Bed Bug Control, an Overview
The most important aspect of bed bug control is that the pest controller must realise that
management is not an option, only complete control is acceptable by the client. As in
the words of Gulmahamad (2002) “…customers have zero tolerance for this pest.” The
nature of bed bugs means that complete eradication with a single pesticide application
is unlikely, especially in heavy infestations. The inspection process must be extremely
thorough and may take several hours, as all harbourages need to be identified and
subsequently treated. Follow up inspections are required in all but very minor
infestations and repeated applications are always necessary in large infestations. If
control is inadequate, and the SPs used as the main insecticide, this often leads to a
spreading of the infestation. The inevitable result is escalating control costs to the
Good communication with the client is always vital and this is especially so with bed
bugs, as furniture will need to be moved and even dismantled, during the inspection and
treatment process. It is vital that furniture from the infested room is not moved to other
rooms before treatment and the importance of this has to be stressed to the client. It
may be necessary to chemically treat mattresses and the appropriate safety cautions
with the product relayed to the client. The client will need to be advised on proper
housekeeping practices to reduce the possibility of ongoing problems. The Department
of Medical Entomology web site ( has a Fact Sheet on bed
bugs and all pest controllers are welcome to print this out for distribution to clients.
Some older articles make light of bed bug control and very much underemphasise the
modern challenges that now face the pest controller. For example, a publication by the
NSW Department of Agriculture states that to control bed bugs, one should treat “infested
rooms with an insecticidal surface spray, such as is conveniently available in aerosol cans”
(Thompson 1983). While these instructions seemed to be directed towards the home
owner, they are no longer appropriate as such a treatment is likely to spread the
infestation further, rather than controlling it and probably increase the overall treatment
costs. It is important for the home owner and the pest manager that texts pre-1990 be
treated with a degree of caution, as the situation with bed bugs has changed dramatically
since the resurgence. Many of the insecticides referred to in the past are no longer
available, and the labelling of registered products change over time. Consulting recent
information sources is essential to find out what are the current methods of attack, what
insecticides can be used and what insecticides are most effective.
Most importantly for the pest control company, the costs of bed bug treatments must be
realistic and reflect the time required for the inspection, treatment and essential follow up
investigations. In the US for example, a typical treatment is suggested to cost in the range
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7.28 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
of $US500 (Ortiz 2004) to even $US1,000 or more (Wahlberg 2004). For the pest
controller knowing how to treat bed bugs with success is a wise commercial venture. In
fact, one pest controller openly admits that this has been a great opportunity for the
industry. Richard Kramer, Director Technical Services, American Pest Management in
Takoma Park (quoted in De Marco 2004) is reported to state “It’s a nice added revenue
stream for the business.” Interestingly, it seems that Australian pest controllers are yet to
realise the benefit of bed bugs to their business. A survey of the Sydney 2005 Yellow
Pages by the author revealed 68 ads for pest control, but only one company included bed
bugs! The reality is, is that bed bugs will continue to get worse for some years and will
represent an opportunity for increased profits (Gulmahamad 2002). However, profits will
only be forthcoming if the pest controller knows how to undertake a successful treatment.
Unfortunately, in recent history in bed bug control, there seems to be too much reliance on
the insecticide doing the job, rather than the pest controller themselves. This means
control failures are all too common as the next section testifies.
Pest Control Disasters – Case Studies
The following are just some of the actual situations that the author has dealt with in recent
times. The examples either demonstrate that the pest controller has practiced poor
operational procedures, had inadequate knowledge of the pest, that communication with
the client was unacceptable, and or a combination of these. In most cases, control failure
was the outcome.
Case 1. The pest inspector liberally applied permethrin dust over the mattress and in the
ensemble base and over the floor of the motel to control the bugs. The pest controller
failed on several accounts. Dusts used as a contact poison seem to be not very efficacious
for bed bug control (S. Doggett, personal observation). This is exacerbated by using
permethrin, which is also repellent. Being a highly visible white powder, and not very
aesthetically pleasing to guests, would naturally be quickly vacuumed up by housekeeping
and so all residual effects would be nullified.
Case 2. The operator sprayed along the carpet edge in the treatment process, yet the
bugs kept coming back. After two applications, he refused to undertake another without
further payment. Again, the pest controller failed in numerous ways. First of all he treated
the pest as though it was a cockroach and showed a total lack of understanding of the
pest’s ecology. The inspection was poor and many areas were left untreated. While
spraying along the edge of the carpet, he failed to lift the carpet and treat underneath,
where many hundreds of bugs were harbouring. Needless to say, they failed to be
contacted with the poison. The chemical used was a SP, and as a partial treatment was
undertaken, this caused the bugs so spread to all rooms within the unit and into an
adjoining unit. The pest controller was paid to undertake a job but did not honour his
contract and failed to offer any guarantee or customer satisfaction. What began as a
relatively straightforward job became a nightmare for the owner. Eventually a
conscientious pest controller was employed, however as the bugs had spread so much,
some eight treatments were undertaken before complete control was achieved, the room
was closed for months, eventually costing the owner around $15,000 in lost revenue,
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.29
replacement of furnishings and treatment costs. The full details of this case study have
been published (Doggett et al. 2004e).
Case 3. The pest controller dragged an infested mattress through the house so that he
could treat the item outdoors. The operator failed to seal the infested item in plastic before
removal from the room. As bed bugs are somewhat clumsy, it was likely that many would
have dropped off the mattress and some would have been rubbed off along the carpet.
This led to the infestation being spread even further. The item should have been treated in
situ, or sealed before removal. Ideally it should be sealed even if treated, as an added
precautionary measure.
Case 4. A large pest control firm offered a ten day guarantee to a resident in a private unit.
The guarantee was clearly inadequate. The eggs take from 7-10 days to hatch and so it is
unlikely complete control would be achieved within the 10 day time frame. As the unit was
a private dwelling, it was unlikely that a reinfestation would soon occur and so the
guarantee should have been for at least several weeks. Again it appears that the pest’s
ecology was poorly understood.
Case 5. The pest controller treated a motel room taking great diligence in the inspection
and care in the treatment process. The treatment failed because the bed head, which was
glued to the wall and had numerous harbourages, was not removed prior to treatment by
hotel management. Thus complete access was not available to all harbourage areas. In
this case, failure was due to poor communication with the hotel maintenance staff. It
should been made clear that such items had to be removed and that treatment would not
begin until such actions were completed. In this case, the bed head was removed, and the
pest control company honoured the contract.
These are just a few examples from Australia and unfortunately many tales of poor pest
control procedures are often mentioned in other countries. In one report from the US, after
the initial treatment failed, the pest inspector suggested for the client to use insect bombs
available from the supermarket (Gooch 2004)! As treatment failures by inept operators are
all too common, it has become a challenge for the hotelier as to which pest controller
should they choose for the job of bed bug control. So how can the hotelier be assured of a
pest controller's competency?
Choosing a Pest Controller
The following suggestions can assist the hotelier to select a reliable pest control company
(after Watkins 2003, with several modifications by the author):
Look for renowned and reputable companies.
Ask other hoteliers whom they have successfully used.
Request information on the company’s response time, and that insurance cover
(both professional indemnity and public liability) and licenses are current.
Enquire as to what guarantee the company is willing to offer (see below).
Ask the pest controllers about their treatment program, as follow up inspections are
essential part of the bed bug control strategy. If a company suggests undertaking
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7.30 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
just one treatment and makes the comment “see how you go after that”, then shop
Ask the company for a list of current clients with contact details that have had a bed
bug infestation successfully treated (although many in the industry will not allow
their pest controller to pass this information on).
Ask for a list of clients that the company have lost over the last year.
Check the local consumer affairs association to see if there have been any
complaints brought against the company.
Ask the company if they belong to a professional association. In Australia, this is the
Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association ( Such
professional associations provide educational seminars to members through
national conferences and regional meetings and often are better trained (although
it should be stated that are many competent pest controllers in Australia who do
not belong to an association).
Request for proof of training such as attending courses where bed bugs were
included as a topic. In Australia, all pest controllers will soon be required to
undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for licensing purposes.
Already many courses are offering CPD points, and the pest controller should be
asked if they have earned any CPD points relating to bed bugs.
Ask if the company subscribes to industry journals, such as Professional Pest
Manager or Garrards Pest Review in Australia.
Once the hotelier has finally selected a pest controller and requested them to undertake a
quote for the control of a bed bug infestation, the hotelier should quiz the pest controller on
their knowledge of bed bugs using the information contained within this document. It is
unfortunate how many hotel owners have stated to the author that they have known more
about the insect than the pest inspector!
The issue of warranties, in particular the length of cover for bed bug jobs are rarely openly
discussed, yet the pest controller should be willing to back the quality of their work and
offer a guarantee. After all, if a client pays for a bed bug treatment, then total control is
expected. However, any guarantee that a company is willing to offer has to vary with
circumstances. Pragmatically speaking, the potential risk of bed bug reintroduction, the
cooperation of the client during treatment, the quality of ongoing housekeeping and the
nature of the room itself (whether or not it is ‘bed bug friendly’ - see under Prevention), will
probably determine the length of the warranty. Thus if a room contains many beds, which
have frequent turnover of international guests such as in a backpacker lodges, then bed
bugs are likely to be introduced on a regular basis. Any guarantee would be unlikely. At
the other end of the scale are the five star motels where the client base demands higher
standards, and clients are usually well educated and more likely to litigate if bitten by bed
bugs. Thus standards of the pest control company should be raised and a reasonable
warranty covering several weeks would be appropriate. For a private home, where
reinfestations are even less of a risk, a longer warranty still should not be out of the
question, unless the quality of housekeeping is less than desirable.
If the hotelier finds a pest controller that fulfils the above criteria and comes with excellent
recommendations, they should not attempt to haggle the price of the treatments down. Not
only is this potentially disrespectful to the skills of the pest controller, it also is giving the
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.31
message that any old treatment will suffice. Frankly it won’t do, in which case the pest
controller should be willing to walk away from the job. A pest operator with a successful
track record in bed bug control is worth their weight in gold and will save the
accommodation facility money in the long run.
So now the focus comes back to the pest controller and how a treatment for bed bugs
should be undertaken. An examination of the bed bug control strategies prior to the
development of the modern residual insecticides will show how such operations were
conducted when bed bug infestations were at their peak. This should provide an insight
into what was successful then and how control procedures could be undertaken today.
Bed Bug Control Pre-DDT
In the days before the development of DDT the battle to control bed bugs was an ongoing
challenge. Hygiene was a common theme, along with the use of strong chemical agents.
The Home & Farm Manual (Periam 1884) advises the use of Paris green and that “bed-
bugs will flee from powdered borax”. The author of this manual also recommends that,
“Travellers should always carry a paper of borax in their bags, and sprinkle it
under and over their pillows, if they fear they shall become food for the last-named
As borax is a gut poison, presumably this advice wasn’t all that effective.
In the late 19th and early 20th century petroleum products became readily available and
often mentioned in texts of the period for the control of bed bugs and included kerosene,
turps, benzene and petrol itself (Kramer 2004). Often the legs of beds were placed into
tins partially filled with kerosene (Goff 2004).
Such chemicals were recommended in The Woman’s Book (Jack 1911). On page 79, the
conscientious housewife was advised,
“These [i.e. bed bugs] are rarely found in clean and well-kept houses, although
occasionally through accident they may be introduced. They must be attacked at
once, as they breed very rapidly. Whenever their presence is noticed in a bedroom,
the bedding must have the most careful attention. The mattress should be well
brushed, and especially in the corners and crevices, where eggs may possibly be
laid. Then the bedstead itself should be taken to pieces, thoroughly washed with
hot water and carbolic or paraffin soap. When dry, paint it over with turpentine and
allow it to air. Any woodwork too that seems to be infested should be painted over
with turpentine.”
With the additional, not so safe for humans suggestion,
“A formaline lamp left burning in the room is very good for fumigating.”
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7.32 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
Lady Hackett, author of The Australian Household Guide (1916) also recommended
“They can be got rid of by the use of turpentine painted freely over all their haunts
and the crevices where eggs are likely to be deposited.”
Soon after, sulfur dioxide (SO2) became available for insect control in a fumigant form and
was the main insecticide of choice for combating bed bugs. This chemical featured in one
of the most comprehensive documents during the 1930’s dealing with bed bugs and their
control, which was produced by the Department of Health for Scotland (Gunn 1933). The
advice proffered ranged from demolition, to prevention, to control. It was suggested that if
bed bugs had penetrated the structure of the building then “demolition becomes the only
efficacious remedy.” For prevention, high levels of cleanliness were recommended and
health inspectors and sanitary staff had to be appropriately trained to recognise an
infestation. For tenants moving to new housing, the health department was advised and
an intensive cleaning process was initiated to prevent the bugs being transferred to the
new premises. All articles were scrubbed with soap and hot water, which had the addition
of washing soda and a disinfectant. It was suggested that this would destroy many bugs
and their eggs. On the day that the tenants were to move, the bedding was taken by
health officials and disinfected with steam. Once a room was unoccupied, items that offer
many harbourages such as skirting boards, picture rails and loose wallpaper were
removed. The room was sealed, fumigated with SO2 gas from cylinders and kept closed
for 24 hours. It was noted that some bugs may survive and another cleaning program
would be repeated. Fumigation was recommended to be repeated ten days after the first,
in heavy infestations. The picture rails and skirting that was removed were scrubbed with
warm water and soap with washing soda, and heat treated with a blow torch. Finally, the
ceiling was whitewashed and the walls painted. In some cases sulfur was burned to
produce SO2 or hydrogen cyanide gas used, although the latter was generally not
recommended due to it being highly toxic to humans. In old buildings, a variety of
chemicals were used including paraffin, petrol, turpentine, creosote, pyrethrum solutions,
carbolic acid and formaldehyde. These were in addition to the usual scrubbing, SO2 and
blow torches.
What was made clear throughout many of these early references was the need for the
operator to understand the biology of the pest and to undertake a detailed inspection.
These points are still very much relevant today.
The Inspection
The main aim of the inspection process is to detect every possible bed bug harbourage,
which are then targeted during the treatment process. Frank Meeks, Technical Manager of
Orkin Pest Control (quoted by Anon 2005a), notes that the inspection process must be
very detailed and can take 1.5 to 2 hours. This eye to detail is echoed by many who have
successfully undertaken control (Gulmahamad 2002). One of the most common reasons
for control failures is thought to be the result of poor inspections that fail to reveal all hiding
places (Reid 1990).
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Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.33
If a treatment is being undertaken in a hotel, then it is important that the housekeeping
staff are interviewed. Such staff are at the coalface and are more likely to have detailed
knowledge about an infestation than the management (Gulmahamad 2002).
Bed bugs prefer wood, paper and fabric surfaces (Pinto 1999) and so these materials
should be paid special attention in the inspection process. Drawers in tables and
cupboards should be removed (Gulmahamad 2002), and items on the walls and ceilings
inspected. Likewise, beds should be thoroughly disassembled (Simon 2004). In any
infestation, the adjoining rooms, either side and above and below, should be examined
(Simon 2004).
If public areas such as common rooms need to be investigated, then ideally these should
be inspected with minimum disruption to the hotels guest, such as during the night or very
early in the morning (Watkins 2003).
The other major motive for a detailed inspection is to anticipate the potential number of
treatments required for eradication. This is the only way accurate job costing can be
achieved (Gulmahamad 2002). Poor inspections can lead to poor profits!
So what are the signs of an active bed bug infestation?
Signs of an Infestation
Reports of bites during the night are often the first indication of a bed bug infestation.
However, other biting arthropods need to be considered and ruled out. This includes
fleas, biting flies and mites (such as bird and rat mites), as well as many other irritants
that can produce bite type reactions, which may confound the issue. Hence, a thorough
inspection is essential to establish if bed bugs are the responsible culprit.
As noted in the section on the health impacts of bed bugs, a high percentage of the
population do not react to the bite and may not be aware of that the insect is present. In
this case, the appearance of blood spots on the sheets (Fig. 9) may be the first sign that
bed bugs are present (Goff 2004). These spots tend to be small, usually around 1-2mm
in diameter and the result of bleeding at the bite site and can be the remains of the
digested blood, which have been defecated. The blood spotting on the sheets can often
be picked up by housekeeping staff and all such staff should be trained to recognise
this tell tale sign. By catching the infestation early, control will be much easier and more
reliable, the room will not have to be kept vacated as long, there is less chance of it
spreading to adjoining rooms, and the job will be cheaper in the long term.
The first obvious sign of bed bugs to the pest inspector is usually the blood spotting of
the defecated blood, which appears as groups of small dark spots (Fig. 10). The bugs
themselves tend to hide during the day and are not so obvious. Usually the spotting will
be first observed on the mattress, rather than the sheets as these are usually removed
by housekeeping staff prior to arrival of the pest operator. The faeces of cockroaches,
particularly nymphs, can appear similar to that of bed bugs. In the case of the former,
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7.34 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
the spots tend to be slightly more raised than the blood spotting of bed bugs and
unlikely to be on the mattress.
Bed bugs nymphs and adults are a sure sign of an active infestation (Fig. 11). There
may also be cast skins observed, which are light brown and translucent, and are more
likely noticed in established infestations. The eggs (Fig. 13) will be laid in well hidden
locations such as along beading of mattresses, in cracks of wood, in screw holes and a
range of other crevices. Many people report a distinctive smell associated with bed bug
infestations, often described as being “sickly sweet” but is very similar to the scent
produced by stink bugs. This is usually only noted in very heavy infestations.
The list where bed bugs can hide will almost represent a complete inventory of a room’s
content, which makes this important aspect of bed bug control very taxing.
Where to Inspect
As bed bugs have a very flat body shape, they can hide in virtually any crack and crevice,
making the inspection process extremely challenging for the pest controller, especially if
the bed bugs get into wall cavities. Using a pyrethroid as a flushing agent may help to
uncover the more elusive hiding locations. The flushing agent has the added benefit of
killing those bugs directly contacted (Gulmahamad 2002). Generally, efforts should be
concentrated on dark, isolated and protected areas (Reid 1990).
The mattress should always be the first site inspected (Figs. 23-32) and if there are not
bed bugs or the associated spotting on the mattress, then there is unlikely to be a bed
bug infestation. For a mattress, close attention should be paid to the seams, beading,
under buttons, labels and corner protectors (if not removed). For an ensemble, the base
is more likely to harbour the bugs then the top mattress. The edge of the material
underneath the ensemble base is a favourite spot for bugs as well as any hollow plastic
caster legs. Bed bugs are more likely to be present in the darker areas near the wall.
For metal framed beds, the wooden slates contain many cracks for bed bugs to hide in
and lay their eggs. Bed bugs can also hide in coils of bed springs (Reid 1990) and
inside hollow bedposts.
The areas around the bed should be investigated next. This includes the bed frames
and bed head, bed side furniture (especially the backs of the drawers) and any other
furniture in the room but especially around the seams and buttons of upholstered
furnishings (Pinto 1999) and wooden joins (especially fibreboard), appliances such as
telephones and in hi-fi equipment (Coghlan 2002), books, power points and behind
switch plates (Fig. 15), underneath carpet edges and the straight edge that holds the
carpet in place (Fig. 12) along with rugs, skirting boards, joins in floor boards and under
floor boards (Ortiz 2004), loose wall paper and paint, architraves, old nail and screw
holes (Fig. 14), ornaments, window casings and wall voids. In moderate to severe
infestations, bed bugs may be found higher on the wall in wall hangings, picture frames
(Fig. 18), wall mirrors, Venetian and vertical blinds, curtains (Fig. 16) and curtain rods
(Fig. 17), behind electrical conduit (Krueger 2000) and even cracks and joins in the
ceiling (Fig. 19), under ceiling mouldings (Frishman 2000), smoke detectors and light
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.35
fittings. Bed bugs are often found in lounges in common rooms of backpacker lodges
(Figs. 21 & 22).
Once the inspection is complete it is then necessary to choose the control options. The
control (or management) of any pest should follow the basic principles of Integrated Pest
Management (IPM), which encompass both non-chemical and chemical means of control.
Those non-chemical means of bed bug control will be initially considered.
Non Chemical Control
The main reason for undertaking non-chemical methods of control is to reduce the
overall insect biomass of an infestation. With fewer insects, pesticides should be more
effective as there would be less reliance on the insecticide and less would be needed
for control. This also means that the possibility of treatment failure should be reduced
and there is a lowered risk of the development of chemical resistance. For some
customers, insecticides may not be an option for various health reasons, be they
respiratory problems or the patient may be undergoing chemotherapy where exposure
to any chemical can be hazardous.
Overall, there are few non-chemical options for bed bug control, the main being hygiene
related and the use of extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. For some agricultural
pests there are biocontrol agents, but not for bed bugs. It is reported that certain species of
assassin bugs known as ‘kissing bugs’ will naturally predate on bed bugs (Schmidt and
Roberts 1981). However, kissing bugs do not occur in most parts of the world and would
not be considered as a potential biocontrol agent as they also bite humans and transmits a
trypanosome, which is the causative agent of Chagas Disease.
Hygiene related options include discarding infested materials and vacuuming. In an
infestation, furniture often contains many bed bugs including unhatched eggs (Anon
2001c). As noted above, all infested materials need to be sealed in plastic to help contain
the bed bugs. There is however some debate about discarding infested materials; some
entomologists believe that this is not necessary and that a good pest controller should be
able to control bed bugs (Lundine 2003). As bed bugs do cause unsightly staining, usually
leaving behind obvious signs of their past presence, many motels may be more than
happy to discard such items. For many people knowing that bed bugs have been in their
bed is enough reason to dispose of the mattress. The pest controllers should recommend
this option so that items destined to be discarded can be done so prior to treatment. After
all, the less bugs, the easier the control.
Physical removal of bed bugs via vacuuming (or sticky tape with small numbers) is an
option undertaken by some pest controllers. Usually this is to quickly remove accessible
bed bugs prior to treatment (Gulmahamad 2002). The added advantage is that this may
reduce the use of insecticides on mattresses (Frishman 2000). By vacuuming cracks and
crevices prior to treatment, not only can this help to remove the bugs but dirt as well, which
may allow the chemicals to penetrate better (Anon 1999a). It has been suggested that
people should vacuum the outside of their luggage after travelling to reduce the possibility
of establishing bed bugs in their home (De Marco 2004, quoting Cindy Mannes, Director of
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7.36 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
Public Affairs, National Pest Management Association). Like many suggestions for bed
bug control, the effectiveness of this has not been scientifically assessed.
The main caution with the use of vacuum is the potential for the bugs to be transferred
elsewhere by the vacuum cleaner itself and there are anecdotal cases of this happening.
After vacuuming is complete, the unit should be emptied into a plastic bag and sealed.
This should then be destroyed by heat, rather than just placed into the general rubbish. As
there are reports of bed bugs being spread by cleaning equipment, perhaps the vacuum
unit itself should also be kept in a sealed bag.
Bed bugs are very sensitive to heat and are killed rapidly when exposed to
temperatures over 45oC; eggs will die within 1 hour, 1st instar nymphs within 15 mins
and adults less than an hour (Johnson 1941). This can be exploited by several means.
For example, all bedding and clothing can be washed in hot water and placed into a
clothes dryer. Overseas, various systems have been developed using super heated air.
The ServiceMaster (Anon 2003b) can treat entire beds, while the Thermapure
( has been reported to treat entire rooms or even houses
(Miller 2002), presumably at considerable expense. However, the efficacy of these two
products is yet to be fully independently assessed.
The use of steam is becoming increasingly popular for treating bed bug infestations and
has the advantage of being able to kill eggs as well as nymphs and adults. As steam is
composed of only heated water, some clients may favour this treatment over chemicals,
particularly for their mattress and bed. It is important to note that there any many
different brands and types of steam machines on the market, however not all are
appropriate; the unit must be able to produce steam of a low vapour and high
temperature (Wahlberg 2004). In Australia there are now several brands that fulfil this
requirement including the Tosca and Eurogem. The price for these professional units
start around $AUS1,000. The more expensive units will provide a quicker start up time,
longer rate of steam flow and a greater time between refills, but will cost upwards of
So just how effective is steam at managing bed bugs? In a trial in the US, one pest
controller selected two motels; in one, only insecticides were used, while the other, a
combination of steam and chemicals were employed (Meek 2003). The first motel
experienced treatment failure within 90 days, while the second facility remained free of
bed bugs for more than a year. Such a result is probably not unexpected; less bugs
means less work for the insecticide. An added bonus if control is more effective with a
combination of steam and insecticide is that the period a room is closed for during
treatment should be reduced. This could amount to a considerable financial saving to a
Like any tool, steam machines are only as effective as the operator. To achieve
anywhere near control, an intimate knowledge of the pest and its ecology are essential,
inspections must be diligent and the treatment process must be meticulous.
Management via steam is also far more labour intensive than chemicals; one manager
of a backpacker lodge has stated to the author that in their facility, staff will spend up to
five hours treating a single room! Despite this, managers of lodges are finding steam
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.37
treatments cost effective. After the initial capital outlay, treatment costs are only a
fraction of that of what a professional pest controller charges, as the manager and staff
can undertake the treatment themselves.
As well as the extra labour costs, steam has other drawbacks. It cannot be used
everywhere. Being water based, electrocution becomes an issue and thus power points
and other electrical fittings cannot be treated. The heat and steam may damage
sensitive materials. However, the most important disadvantage of all is that steam is
non-residual. Thus bugs that are not killed (and it is prudent to assume that a certain
percentage will survive) are not exposed to any further control influence unless a
pesticide is present. Thus it is always necessary to complete the control process by
following up any steam treatment with a residual insecticide.
Many authors suggest that bed bugs can be killed by putting infested materials into the
sun (Anon 2003a) or into black plastic bags before placing them into the sun. However,
this has never been fully scientific investigated. Despite this, the method is almost
universally recommended, although some authors do wisely show a level of caution.
When Doug Mampe, Advisor to the journal Pest Control, was recently asked about this
method in an online forum (Mampe 2004), he responded that “…it should work…” and
appropriately added that “…make sure that the clothing is not too tightly packed…”,
referring to the fact that the thermal inertia may prevent the temperature rising high
enough to kill the bed bugs. In the summer of 2004, one pest control operator in south
east Queensland placed two mattresses in the sun that had been wrapped in black plastic
for approximately two days, when the temperature was 44oC on the first day and 45oC the
next, yet the bed bugs survived (personal communication to the author). It was probable,
based on geographical location, that these mattresses were infested with the Tropical Bed
bug, which tolerates a warmer climate, but clearly the thermal inertia of such a thick object
buffered the temperature to such an extent that the bugs survived. Also, as they are highly
mobile insects, it was likely that the bugs may have even run around to the cooler side.
The most important point is that the black plastic bag method should be used only on
small items and be employed with a degree of caution. If unsure, do not use it.
Another use of heat that has been suggested as a DIY approach is to blow hot air from
hair dryers into “their nests” (Wahlberg 2004). For a start bed bugs do have nests but
places where they aggregate and it is unlikely that the heat would be high enough as a
single hot burst is required and this could even lead to the bugs dispersing (Gulmahamad
2002). The jet of air may even blow them elsewhere.
The alternative to extreme heat is extreme cold, i.e. freezing the bugs. This has the
advantage that heat sensitive materials will not be damaged. The amount of time in the
freezer would be dependent on the size of the item; the same arguments relating to
thermal inertia for items to be heated apply for also cooling. Items should be placed
loosely into a bag, and as always, this must be done in the infested room prior to removal.
Goff (2004) recommends that items should be frozen for four days, but the longer the
more likely the bugs will be destroyed. Some people are reported to even put their shoes
into the freezer to prevent bed bugs from becoming established (Vandam 2003).
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7.38 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
The non-chemical alternative of leaving a room vacant for extended periods is not an
option to control the bugs as they can live for many months without a blood meal (see
discussion relating to Figure 5, under Ecology).
All of these non-chemical options should be considered as management tools only. Thus
while they can be utilised to reduce the overall bed bug population, complete control of an
infestation is unlikely unless pesticides are used as an adjunct.
Chemical Control
For the pest controller, one of the most difficult dilemmas is knowing which insecticide to
use. The main problem is that there have been so few published independent studies that
have examined the efficacy of the currently available products against bed bugs. Often for
those in the industry, the chemical used is based on trial and error, or on the
recommendation of others. Despite this lack of information, as of 23 March 2005 there are
some 107 products registered for the control of bed bugs in Australia. This includes sprays
for the home user to professional products available for the pest controller. Likewise, there
are a range of formulations including aerosols, dusts, wettable powders and various
liquids. The most important aspect with bed bug control is that the product must have good
residual properties. This is for two reasons; (1) the pesticides will not kill the eggs, which
will take up to 10 days to hatch when temperatures average in the low 20oC’s and even
longer in cooler conditions, and (2) it will be almost impossible to treat every harbourage
and make chemical contact with all bed bugs present. As bed bugs are cryptic in their
habits, complete control is usually unlikely with one treatment. This is especially so with
heavy infestations and thus a post control treatment evaluation is always required. As an
example, Kramer (2004) reports treating up to five times in some apartments before
complete control was achieved, while the author was involved in one horrific infestation
that took eight treatments to completely eliminated the bugs (Doggett et al. 2004e).
One of the few relatively recent studies (although still some 12 years old!) that have
compared the efficacy of different products for controlling bed bugs was that by Fletcher &
Axtell (1993). They tested both the dose response and the residual activity on different
surfaces of various insecticides to the Common bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Table 3
summarises the dose response and shows that pirimiphos methyl was the most active
insecticide of those listed (note that the authors tested other insecticides but the results
were not included in Table 3 as the excluded chemicals are not registered in Australia and
unlikely to be). The second most active insecticide at the dose to kill 50% of the bugs (i.e.
the LC50) was lambda-cyhalothrin. However, at the 90% lethal concentration (LC90) a
relatively greater amount was required, and this chemical then ranked the 4th most active
at this lethal concentration. This indicates a steep slope for the dose response curve,
whereas a shallow slope like that of pirimiphos methyl or bendiocarb is more desirable.
Presumably to kill 100% of bed bugs in an infestation, a much greater dose again of
lambda-cyhalothrin would be required.
The residual activity of the insecticides is summarised in Table 4. The results suggest that
liquid formulations of bendiocarb and pirimiphos methyl offer little long-term residual
activity, while permethrin provides good residual activity on metal and wood, but poor on
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.39
cotton materials. Carbaryl and lambda-cyhalothrin offered the best residual activity after 12
weeks on a variety of surfaces, however neither are currently registered for bed bug
control. In reality, the results from this study are somewhat difficult to compare as different
concentrations of the insecticides were used for the different surfaces and between the
various chemicals.
Table 3. Activity of various insecticides on the Common bed bug, Cimex lectularius.
LC50 and LC90 expressed in parts per million. The Rank represents most active (1)
to least active (6) for the insecticides tested at the different lethal concentrations.
Modified from Fletcher & Axtell (1993).
Insecticide LC50 Rank LC90 Rank
Pirimiphos methyl 13.5 1 29.8 1
Lambda-cyhalothrin122.2 2 357.7 4
Bendiocarb 47.1 3 95.9 2
Permethrin 71.4 4 201.7 3
Carbaryl1166.3 5 364.0 5
1As of 23 March 2005, these chemicals are not currently registered for the
control of bed bugs in Australia.
Table 4. Percent mortality of the Common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, exposed to
various insecticides on different surfaces aged 0-12 weeks after treatment. Modified
from Fletcher & Axtell (1993).
Mean per cent mortality at weeks after treatment
Insecticide Surface
AI 0 3 7 12
Metal 100 90 10 0 12
Wood 600 97 87 23 3
Bendiocarb Cotton 600 97 47 3 0
Metal 500 80 63 27 7
Wood 8000 37 50 17 20
Cotton 4000 40 43 33 43
Metal 60 100 33 0 0
Wood 20 83 0 0 0
methyl Cotton 200 73 87 0 0
Metal 20 90 13 37 50
Wood 50 73 93 87 47
Permethrin Cotton 100 80 0 0 0
Metal 5 95 47 63 10
Wood 20 90 67 70 53
cyhalothrin1Cotton 200 83 73 80 77
1As of 23 March 2005, these chemicals are not currently registered for the control of bed bugs in
What Fletcher & Axtell did not include in this study was the degree of repellency of the
various insecticides. Thus while some products such as permethrin may work well
against bed bugs in small enclosed vessels, in the real world, they be rendered largely
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7.40 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
ineffectual due to being highly repellent. Many authors note that the SPs do cause the
bed bugs to scatter (Frishman 2000, Kramer 2004). It would be expected that the so-
called non-repellent SPs should be more effective. One such is reputed to be Bifenthrin,
however even this chemical has been shown to be repellent when freshly applied for up
to four days (Dr Scott Ritchie, Senior Medical Entomologist, Tropical Public Health Unit,
Cairns, personal communication). This was observed with mosquitoes, although has not
been evaluated with bed bugs.
The high repellency of the SPs means that many pest controllers find the
organophosphates and carbamates more effective for controlling bed bugs. Kramer (2004)
mentions the successful use of propoxur, chlorphenapyr and acephate, which are all non-
repellent, although the latter chemical has an odour problem. Some pest controllers in
Sydney rely on bendiocarb (Ficam) as the main insecticide of choice, although this can not
be used on all surfaces.
In fact most scientific studies show that the organophosphates and carbamates tend to be
more effective than the SPs. Fenitrothion was found to provide more residual activity and
thus greater control in mud walled African huts than bendiocarb and deltamethrin
(Newberry 1991). Such information may be relevant in treating brick walls. A study in
Japan using Fenitrothion also found it highly effective, with the added benefit of being
extremely economical (Ori 1967). Propoxur and malathion had greater activity against bed
bugs than deltamethrin and permethrin (Negromonte et al. 1991). It is unlikely however,
that malathion would be used within bedrooms due to its unpleasant odour, Despite
malathion’s high insecticidal activity, one study reported that it had virtually no residual
activity, whereas propoxur controlled bed bugs for 60 days, and better still, azamethiphos
for 5-6 months (Gupta & Tomar 1991). Another organophosphate, although with low
odour, sumithion was found very effective at controlling bed bugs (Shetty et al. 1965)
along with propetamphos (Kamath & Renapurkar 1987), which gave seven months
For the SPs, lambda-cyhalothrin was found to be highly variable in its residual effect but
gave complete control for at least four weeks (Le Sueur et al. 1993). Cypermethin was
found to have residual action for 30 days (Putintseva et al. 1994) and was very effective at
controlling bed bugs in poultry houses (Chirikashvili 1989). It also outperformed
deltamethrin and permethrin in one Chinese study (Li & Chen 1987), while a Russian
investigation found that both cypermethrin and deltamethrin was far more effective than
permethrin (Putintseva & Dremova 1992). Finally, bifenthrin was found to be even more
active than cypermethrin (Putsintseva et al. 1996). Note that both of these chemicals are
not currently registered in Australia.
The insect growth regulators (IGRs) can be effective at controlling bed bugs. Methropene
has been shown to disrupt bed bug embryos, whereas hydroprene was found not very
effective (Takahashi & Ohtaki 1975). Despite this, hydroprene is now registered for the
control of bed bugs in the US. Pyriproxifen is very effective at reduce bed bug fecundity
(Boase 2001). In Africa, the product Tenopa (alphacypermethrin with the IGR,
flufenoxuvon) was found to clear beds of nymphs within four weeks (Curtis et al. 2003).
The advantages of the IGRs are their long residual effect (which is often up to nine months
or more) and very low mammalian toxicity. However, they are not lethal to the adult insect
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Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.41
nor immediately toxic to the juvenile stages and thus need to be used in conjunction with a
fast acting killing agent.
What all this discordant information means is that further efficacy studies are urgently
required. Not only do the currently available insecticides need to be tested but other
potential candidates as well. They need to be tested on different surfaces that are typically
found in bedrooms, with the residual duration recorded, along with any repellency effect.
The tests must include both the Common and Tropical bed bugs. Until this happens, pest
controllers will be working somehat blind and the industry will continue to call for the
development of more powerful insecticides to cope with the resurgence (Andy Linares,
President Bug-Off Pest Control, cited by Laurence 2003).
The type of formulation selected will be dependant on its usage patterns. For example
dusts if applied in obvious areas in a motel, will be quickly vacuumed up and rendered
ineffective. Dusts can be used in electrical areas with liquid formulations for more
obvious locations. Some authors believe that dusts are not very effective against bed
bugs as the insect cannot digest the product (Kramer 2004). Unfortunately, objective
scientific data is lacking. Dusts can be used in wall voids if the bugs are suspected of
penetrating such areas (Pinto 1999). Currently there are several brands of dusts
registered for the control of bed bugs in Australia, although only four different active
ingredients occur in these products. These include bendiocarb (Ficam), permethrin
(many brands), propoxur (Baygon Dust) and a combination of triflumuron/propoxur
(Stardust). The latter two brands are not so readily available, which is a pity as propoxur
is very effective against bed bugs and triflumuron being an IGR would offer several
months of residual activity. As permethrin is repellent, the main dust used should be
bendiocarb. Overseas, silica based desiccating dusts are used widely and can be
effective at controlling bed bugs (Boase 2001).
In the past, as noted in the history of control, fumigants were widely used to treat bed
bug infestations. Chemicals that have been employed include hydrogen cyanide, sulfur
dioxide, ethylene formate, ethylene oxide (Kramer 2004) and dichlorvos (Smittle &
Burden 1965). In the US, sulfuryl fluoride is currently registered for bed bug control
(Krueger 2000). In Australia, some companies still use methyl bromide in certain
circumstances. These include treating mattresses off site and the complete fumigation
of sleeper cars of tourist trains. Many tourist trains have suffered badly from bed bugs
infestations over recent years and since they are mobile and can be isolated from the
public, complete fumigation is a practical option.
A DIY fumigant that has used in recent times is ozone. Ozone is a form of oxygen gas
(O3 instead of O2) and is produced by ozone generating machines. At the levels
required to kill bed bugs (which have never been scientifically established) would
certainly far exceed the acceptable guidelines of exposure. This is a chemical that can
cause serious health problems such as triggering asthmatic reactions, to even
permanent lung damage (USEPA 2004). In one recent case in NSW, one company was
fined $AUS120,000 after workers were exposed to unacceptable levels (Workcover
NSW 2003). In some states of Australia, ozone when used for the control of bed bugs is
actually illegal without a fumigation licence. Also, the main component of photochemical
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7.42 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
smog is ozone and its use should be morally questioned while other treatments are
The disadvantages with fumigants are that they offer no residual action (although some
like dichlorvos are absorbed by various materials and afterwards slowly released). As
they are largely non-residual, there will be no protection against immediate reinfestation.
Fumigants are highly dangerous to humans and can only be applied by specialised pest
controllers with an appropriate fumigation licence or level of competency. As the
treatments require expert skills and take considerable time, they tend to be expensive.
Hence, fumigation tends only to be used in limited circumstances.
Aerosols have their use as a quick killing agent. Products such as synergised
tetramethrin (i.e. containing piperonyl butoxide, such as Blattanex which also includes
propoxur), in the author’s experience, act very effectively as a knockdown, killing the
bugs rapidly in situ. With extension nozzles, the chemical can be very accurately
applied to areas such as beading on mattresses (Fig. 42), and cracks and crevices in
furniture. For wall hangings and delicate or antique furniture, aerosols may be more
appropriate than other formulations. Aerosols should never be used as a space spray;
the fine droplets simply will not penetrate into the locations where bed bugs hide. As
most contain pyrethroids, there is an associated excitory effect and by spraying into a
space rather than harbourage areas, the bugs are likely to disperse and can spread an
infestation. Like aerosols, the smoke generating insecticides (known as pyrotechnics)
are also unlikely to penetrate into harbourage areas.
Insecticide impregnated paints may have a role in bed bug control. Products such as
Killmaster, which contains the non-repellent organophosphate chlorpyrifos, could be
effective in sailing vessels, where the nature of the wooden construction means that
there are many harbourages and control is extremely challenging. The product could be
painted around the bunks and may help to prevent the establishment of an infestation.
Thus it would not be used so much for control, rather as a preventative treatment.
Currently, this product is not registered in Australia for such uses.
For applying liquid formulations, fan sprays should be used along carpet edges and pin
streams for cracks and crevices. Most pest controllers currently use a hollow cone spray
(number 6 nozzle) for all treatments. This nozzle does not perform very well when it
comes to barrier sprays on carpet edges and is even less effective for crack and crevice
treatments. Pest control operators should be encouraged to purchase and use fan
sprays and specialised crack and crevice nozzles (Doggett et al. 2004d).
It is important to note that not all surfaces can be treated with all pesticides. For example,
mattresses can be chemically treated, however not all insecticides are registered for such
use and so the label needs to be carefully consulted. Most of the carbamates and
organophosphates cannot be used on mattresses. Also, prior to treating a bed, the linen
must be removed and should never be treated (Anon 1999a). If mattresses are to be
treated, there are often specific instructions for this use pattern and it is usually advisable
to recommend to the client that a nonporous cover be placed between the mattress and
sheets. Some authors propose that when treating beds or close to beds then non-residual
S.L. Doggett Bed Bugs Ecology & Control
Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005 7.43
insecticides should be used and more residual products used further from the bed (Reid
1990). As beds are often the focus of an infestation, such an approach may not be wise.
Before ending the section on chemical control, a discussion of bed bugs and insecticide
resistance is essential, although recently reviewed in detail by May (2005). It seemed that
no matter which chemical was applied, bed bugs developed resistance to some degree.
Busvine (1958) recorded resistance in numerous chemicals, even the pyrethrins, although
rarely used in those days (this may have represented cross resistance with other chemical
There were suggestions of insecticide resistance early in the bed bug resurgence
(Birchard 1998), where it was noted that only a few rarely used insecticides were effective.
Of course, there is the obvious question of whether this was truly resistance is or just
treatment failure; most operators at the time had little experience in treating the pest.
However, Boase (2001) reported on an investigation that demonstrated that field collected
Cimex lectularius (it is not stated where these were from, presumably England) showed
reduced susceptibility to some pyrethroids and carbamates, but were fully susceptible to
the organophosphates tested. In Africa, where pyrethroid impregnated bed nets are used
to reduce the risk of malaria transmission, resistance to both permethrin and
alphacypermethrin was demonstrated (Myamba et al. 2002).
Going on historical data, it can be certain that more resistance will develop, particularly as
chemicals are mainly used as the weapon of control. As the SPs are so repellent and the
bugs can avoid lethal doses, presumably resistance will develop far more rapidly than it
did with chemicals such as DDT; which did take less than 10 years!
So what are the complete steps in a bed bug treatment? Combining the information from
the above sections, the following treatment schedule is proposed.
Bed Bug Treatment Schedule
This schedule was initially developed by Peter Lamond (Field Biologist, Pest Control
Division, Rentokil Initial) and further refined by the author. Much of the preliminary details
require cooperation of the client and thus the process must be fully explained in advance
of the treatment.
Prior to the Treatment
All bed linen, curtains and clothing must be removed from the infested areas. These
must be bagged before removal from the room and washed in the hottest water
possible and/or dried in a hot air clothes drier. Delicate items can be placed into the
Likewise, all wardrobes, drawers and cupboards must be emptied and the contents
treated as above. After clothing and materials have received the heat treatment, these
should not be return to wardrobes but keep sealed in plastic bags (Goff 2004).
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All loose articles must be removed from the floor and pictures removed from the walls.
The pictures may need to be treated and should be sealed in plastic before removal.
Where possible, beds and other possible harbourages should be dismantled to allow
thorough inspection and treatment.
All occupants and pets must vacate the premises and/or area of treatment.
The Treatment
A complete inspection of the premises must be carried out, looking for signs of activity.
This includes live or dead insects, cast nymphal skins, eggs and blood spotting.
Non-chemical options of control including physical removal such as vacuuming should
be employed. Steam treatments can be undertaken on the mattress and to all cracks
and crevices.
The insecticide/s to be applied must be registered and directed to all harbourage areas.
Particular attention should be paid to areas such as mattresses (ensuring that the
product is registered for such use), bed frames, bed heads, carpet edges, furniture and
their contents, behind skirting boards, loose wall-paper, joins in floorboards,
architraves, picture frames, wall hangings, wall mirrors, power points, pelmets, curtains
and blinds. In heavy infestations, the carpet and underlay should be pealed back, and
the straight edge gently lifted prior to insecticide treatment.
At least one follow up visit must be made in 7-10 days, with a further chemical
application. If the infestation is heavy, further inspection and treatments will be needed.
The client should be asked to lightly vacuum dead insects between treatments to help
assess the efficacy of treatment
Post Treatment
Occupants and pets should be encouraged not to re-enter the treated area until after
the chemical has completely dried, which is 2-4 hours afterwards.
The client should be requested not to vacuum floors and upholstered furniture for at
least 10-14 days (excluding removal of dead bugs).
The room should be kept vacant until the area is declared free of bed bugs by the pest
controller in follow up visits. As the eggs take 7-10 days to hatch, this should be the
minimum period, but will be much longer in heavy infestations.
All past signs of the infestation should be removed, such as dead bugs and the blood
spotting on walls and mattresses, to avoid future confusion.
Cracks and crevices should be sealed, which may be used as harbourages.
For accommodation facilities, dead bed bugs should be kept for future training of
housekeeping staff. Signs of the infestation should be pointed out to housekeeping
staff so that they can made be quickly aware of future infestations.
Several of these points are aimed at prevention of further infestations. This theme will
be elaborated in the next section.
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Bed Bug Prevention
It is important to be pragmatic about bed bugs; it does not matter what type of
accommodation that a facility has or how many stars the room rates, there is always the
potential for a bed bug infestation. As the incidence of bed bugs is growing, this potential is
unfortunately becoming a reality to many in the industry. Hence it is essential that pest
control companies should not make any claim about preventing bed bugs, as the insect
can come in any time, with any new guest (Simon 2004).
The problem is, is that the science of bed bug prevention is in its infancy; it is almost
impossible to find publications that have objectively examined either non-chemical or
chemical means of avoidance. Despite this, intuitively there seems to be a number of
possible approaches to reduce the chances of an infestation becoming established and
most of the ideas that follow are suggestions of the author. Broadly speaking, these
include maintaining high standards of hygiene and ongoing maintenance, staff training,
and aspects relating to bed type and room construction (& design). The key concepts that
need to be in the mind of hoteliers are “isolation & compartmentalisation” (and quarantine);
if the bugs are isolated or confined to certain compartments (through physical barriers,
distance or some other means), then they will simply not spread. How this is achieved, is
of course, the great intellectual challenge, but several of the following sections do
incorporate these concepts.
When people think of ‘hygiene’, the immediate thought is cleanliness. However, hygiene
is a broad encompassing term that goes far beyond this and includes aspects such as
reducing conditions favourable for the pest, to changing the behaviour of guests and
staff within the accommodation industry.
In relation to cleanliness, it is often mentioned that good housekeeping is a key aspect
for controlling most household pests. When this is mentioned to the hotelier regarding
bed bugs, such comments are often met with distain. There is after all, a generally held
believe that bed bugs are associated with substandard living conditions. Naturally
enough, it is important for the pest controller when communicating with housekeeping
staff and hotel management that this concept is explained with sensitivity, otherwise
clients can quickly get off side. However, the accommodation industry is starting to
recognise that maintaining a clean environment can help reduce bed bug problems
(Baumann 2002). By ensuring that a regular regime of vacuuming to all areas of a room,
especially around skirtings and under lounges and sofas, the severity of a bed bug
infestation may be reduced, and the potential for spreading further may also be
lessened. Regular vacuuming should be part of integrated management approach. The
contents of the vacuum should be sealed and discarded (Goff 2004) and the vacuum
when not in used should ideally be confined to the one location. For larger
establishments vacuums and cleaning trolleys should be confined to one floor or to a
certain section of a floor. As noted in the section on how bed bugs are spread, the
insects can be transferred via cleaning trolleys and isolating the trolleys to an area
should help contain this possibility. In fact the cleaning trolleys should not even be
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brought into a room, they should be left outside and used sheets and bedding sealed in
plastic bags before taken outside and placed into linen hoppers. Clean and used linen
should be kept separate and both should not be transported to and from rooms via the
same trolleys.
As bed bugs seemed to be intrinsically linked with backpackers, many lodge operators
have banned the use of sleeping bags (Ryan et al. 2005). This seems logical, as luggage
seems to be the prime means of bed bug transportation. While isolating backpacks
separately from rooms may help, this presents obvious logistical problems in terms of
storage. If they are to be stored elsewhere, this would have to be on metal shelves, which
could be readily treated, otherwise the storage area could aid in the spreading of the bugs.
Inspecting the bags themselves is not appropriate; the eggs are too small and can be laid
in any small crack and crevice, and would be logistically unfeasible (Baumann 2002).
One of the major problems that contribute to bed bugs being such an issue amongst
backpacker facilities is the high number of guests per rooms. If one person brings in bed
bugs, then they can quickly spread to seven others in a dorm of eight. Perhaps isolating
the backpackers further, by reducing the number of guests per room and/or by making the
rooms smaller, the risk of bed bug transmission may be reduced.
Those in the accommodation industry who are seriously affected by bed bugs, should
consider undertaking a risk analysis of past infestations. Rooms afflicted should be
analysed to see where the past guests have come from, whether locally or overseas. If
clear patterns emerge (for example, it has been stated to the author anecdotally that
British backpackers are a greater risk more likely to bring in the bugs), then these high risk
groups should be kept separately from the low risk groups. This may help to contain
infestations to certain rooms. This also has the added advantage that if the bed bugs are
shown to be largely associated with overseas visitors, there would presumably be a
reduced litigation risk, as legal action can usually only be initiated in the country where the
problem originated.
On the issue of reducing potential litigation, it is imperative for the accommodation industry
to work with pest controllers, researchers and legal representatives to develop guidelines
for industry ‘best practice’ in relation to reducing bed bug infestations. If adopted by the
accommodation industry and followed verbatim, which would include the appropriate
documentation, the risk of successful litigation has to be reduced.
Finally, hotels should beware buying second hand furniture, preferably still not at all. If they
do so, then the furniture must be treated appropriately via vacuuming, steam and/or
insecticides (Watkins 2003).
Staff Training
Prevention must include staff education (Simon 2004). Ideally the housekeeping staff
should be able to recognise bed bug signs before the guests become aware of the
problem. While this may not always happen, vigilance can prevent the bed bugs from
becoming well established. Management should record bed bug signs via digital imagery
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and even keep mattresses that have been infested (ensuring that they of course have
been treated and stored sealed). As housekeeping staff in Australia often do not have
English as the first language, staff information must be multi-lingual. The pest controller
can add value to their service by providing such an information package to the hotelier;
this would have to help maintain and improve the business/client relationship. For the
hotelier it is important to maintain records of staff training.
Procedural guidelines must be established if housekeeping staff detects the presence of
bed bugs. In the backpacking industry some managers insist that backpackers wash their
clothes and linen in hot water (although the backpacks themselves are not treated).
Management should record when the infestation was first reported, along with any
customer complaints, when the pest controller was contacted (ideally the same day), when
treatment was undertaken and when the pest controller declared the infestation was
controlled. If such procedures are in place, along with evidence of staff training, then any
litigation attempts over bed bugs would presumably less likely to succeed.
The problem is if a guest report bed bug bites and has to be removed to another room.
Again, procedural guidelines must be introduced to prevent the second room becoming
infested. This may include offering to treat all clothing via hot washes. Failing that, a
precautionary chemical treatment of the second room may be judicious.
Staff training is just as relevant to the pest controller. Understanding bed bugs, their
ecology and control takes book skills and practical knowledge. For a pest controller on the
job training is thus essential. For a company receiving a bed bug job for the first time, they
should take this as an opportunity to not only train themselves but also their staff. Offer a
cheap deal with the customer, with the caveat that staff training will be undertaken and
that control will be guaranteed. By doing this and getting the job done right, future
patronage and profits are more likely. In the US, some pest managers now have prioritised
bed bugs as the number one pest for staff training (Robinson 2004).
Bed Type & Room Construction
Bed bugs are adverse to climbing smooth hard surfaces; not terribly surprising as they
evolved in rough surfaced caves. Smooth surfaces also provide little in the way of
harbourages. This important piece of information becomes relevant to the construction
materials that should be considered for beds and the room itself, to minimise the bed
bugs. For example, wooden beds offer numerous cracks and crevices, and provide many
foot holes for the insect. Whereas metal framed beds can help to contain an infestation. If
bugs fall off the bed, they are unlikely to climb back up and eventually die without a blood
meal. In the heaviest infestation that the author has experienced to date, one particular
mattress must have been infested with around 5,000+ bugs (Figs. 24, 27, 28 & 31 are all
from this infestation). Yet very few bugs were to be found anywhere else in the room. The
bed frame was indeed metal, although with a hard enamel surface. The bugs were largely
confined to the mattress seams, to the canvas base of the bottom mattress (in this case
there were two mattresses on the metal frame, the bottom being an ensemble base), and
where the mattress met the metal frame. Despite the presence of so many bed bugs,
control was relatively straight forward as the insects were well contained. The other reason
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that this particular bed helped to contain the insects was the design of the legs
themselves. Here the feet of the legs splayed out, so that it was impossible to push the
bed hard against the wall and so no access was available via the wall for the bugs . The
advantages of such beds can be rendered ineffective if valances or bed linen are in
constant contact with the floor or walls. Likewise this will happen if curtains are touching
the bed. To be most effective, the bed must be made like an island, with some authors
even suggesting that the effect can be enhanced by placing the legs into machine oil
(Wahlberg 2004) or smearing the legs with petroleum jelly (Goff 2004). However, either of
these would unlikely to very aesthetically pleasing in a motel room and probably be met
with some horror by the guests, while the jelly would attract dirt.
Other bed designs are not so effective at containing an infestation. Ensemble beds, which
are so common in motel rooms, contain many places for bed bugs to hide and lay their
eggs. The base of this bed type is especially notorious; the canvas base limits inspection
(unfortunately if removed, this may violate health regulations in some states), and the
areas between the staples are a favoured bed bug haunt (see Figs. 25 & 26). If the caster
legs are plastic, they will be hollow and provide further harbourages. The other problem
with ensemble bases is that they can be pushed hard against the wall, enabling the bugs
to spread via the wall and utilise other locations. Perhaps the worst bed frame design of all
is that depicted in Figure 37. The frame consists of five sheets of MDF (a type of
compressed timber based product) overlain with the same carpet used on the floor. This
frame offers no form of isolation and the carpet easily lifts off the wood frame providing
many crevices. The wood frame is also highly prized by the bugs. Often the bed head is a
separate component to that of the mattress and firmly fixed to the wall (see Fig. 36). This
makes inspection and treatment impossible unless the bed head can be unscrewed from
the wall (often they are nailed or glued). If power points are attached to the bed head, this
can make the inspection more time-consuming as power will have to be turned off and
electrical fitting disconnected. Where such electrical wires penetrate the wall, this can be
an access point by which the infestation can spread to adjoining units (Fig. 15 are the
leads that go to the bed head in Fig. 36). Often the bed heads are made of laminated
fibreboard, which is a material that must be avoided in a room to limit bed bug infestations.
Ideally in a bed bug unfriendly room, bed heads would not be used.
As bed bugs often hide on the seams of mattress, presumably a seamless mattress may
be less attractive. The alternative is to have some sort of seamless mattress cover that
can be easily removed for cleaning, such as the Dunlop cover in Figure 44. These are
currently being trialled by some backpacker operators.
For the other areas of the room, access for inspection and treatment, and reduction in
harbourages should always be the overriding design philosophy for the unfriendly bed bug
room. For example, fixed cupboards should be replaced with metal removal shelves.
While these are probably not as aesthetically pleasing, control would be easier as there
are fewer places for bed bugs to hide. Many motels use cane or wicker furniture,
especially in seaside and tropical locations. Such furniture is very bed bug friendly, offering
numerous harbourages (Figs. 38 & 39). Likewise, so is open brickwork (Fig. 40) and
sprayed concrete walls. Such walls should be rendered and heavily painted or covered
with plasterboard ensuring all joins are well sealed. Carpeted floors provide more
harbourages than solid tiles. The latter having the advantage of being easily cleaned via
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vacuuming or even washed with hot water (or steam). Unfortunately due to noise issues,
solid tiles cannot be used above the ground floor of multi-storied dwellings. Perhaps the
lower floor could be used for the ‘high risk’ traveller, if such groupings can be defined as
outlined above.
Ongoing maintenance
The main aim of ongoing maintenance for preventing bed bugs is the reduction of potential
harbourages, via sealing any cracks and crevices. Loose wallpaper should be reglued
(Simon 2004), while paint should not be allowed to deteriorate until it is flaking from the
wall. Decorate plates are often placed over wiring that penetrates into the walls and it is
important that a seal such as silica is placed around the wiring. This is also true for any
plumbing pipes.
Ongoing pest inspections by a pest controller are essential to reduce the severity of
infestations. Some operators suggest preferably once per month (Watkins 2003), however
this should be dictated on the number of past infestations and modified according to the
frequency of new infestations. The hotelier should see this as part of the risk management
process to reduce the impact of bed bugs, which may also be beneficial in the advent of
litigious actions. The use of preventative pesticide applications are rarely discussed and
considering the residual effect of many of the currently available products, probably not
very effectual or economically viable. Perhaps the IGRs are currently the best candidates
for such use; while they will not directly kill the bugs, they can stop breeding cycles. As
they are often effective for several months, they could be applied well in advance before
the peak of bed bug activity. However, using any chemical as a preventative tool will
increase the risk of insecticide resistance.
Monitoring is an aspect rarely discussed in relation to bed bugs. Gulmahamad (2002)
suggests the use of “monitoring traps” (he does not specify the type, but presumably sticky
traps), which are placed in strategic locations, following treatment to monitor its
effectiveness. One hotelier suggested to the author that maybe squashing bugs on a piece
of paper would release pheromones that could attract bed bugs. This paper would then be
placed under the beds and monitored. While this seems unscientific, aggregation
pheromones have been discovered in the Tropical bed bug (Parashar et al. 2003) and
could be used in the future as a basis of a lure. However, squashing bed bugs in such a
manner would elicit alarm pheromones, which would disperse any bugs present (Levinson
et al. 1974). Other pest controllers recommend leaving on corner protectors of ensemble
bases as these provide a harbourage that can be readily monitored. Despite this
suggestion, it seems more prudent to reduce the number of places that bed bugs can hide
and lay eggs.
Preventing bed bugs while travelling
For the traveller who wants to avoid taking bed bugs home, it is important to check their
room for evidence of bed bugs in a motel room. Ideally, luggage should be initially left
outside, or in the centre of the room (less harbourage areas for bed bugs), and sheets and
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mattress protectors pulled off the bed. The seams and beading of the bed should be
checked for the tell tale signs particularly in the darker areas where the bed meets the
wall. It is advisable also to check the areas where luggage is placed. Naturally a new room
would be requested if bed bugs signs are present. If there are signs of blood spotting,
even if no live bed bugs are present and the hotelier states that the room has been
treated, it would still be highly advisable to ask for a clean room as it is impossible to know
how well the room has been treated and what stage of treatment it is in (such as between
the initial treatment and subsequent inspections). On return home, luggage should be
inspected and kept isolated from the bedroom (such as in a garage). All clothing should be
hot washed and/or dried in the hot cycle of a clothes dryer. If there is any possibility an
infestation may have been acquired, then a pest controller should be contacted
In tropical countries, bed nets treated with insecticides such as permethrin are used to
reduce the risk of transmission of malaria. In fact many indigenous people use the nets
primarily because they repel bed bugs. It was in this situation that the first modern reports
of resistance arose (Myamba et al. 2002) and in Tanzania and elsewhere people stopped
using bed nets because they no longer repelled bed bugs (Wahlberg 2004).
The Future for Bed Bugs
The future of bed bugs is clear; the problem is going to get much, much worse. Over the
last four years as noted in the earlier sections, infestation rates are rising in an alarmingly
exponential fashion, with no signs of going backwards. So what while it take to reverse this
upward trend?
Only a multidisciplinary approach with the cooperation of all stakeholders can effectively
lead to a lessening of the problem. To reduce the impact of bed bugs, several objectives
are identified:
1. Detailing the Problem,
2. Education,
3. Development and adoption of industry “Best Practices”,
4. Government enforcement, and
5. Research.
Detailing the Problem. The first priority for the accommodation/tourist industry must be to
accurately define the extent of the bed bug problem, especially the financial losses to the
industry, and ultimately, the costs to each state and the nation. By compiling these losses,
the information can be used to help gain political support and encourage financial
injections into progressing the other objectives. As noted under financial losses, this
objective has begun with the development of the online bed bug survey. It is important for
the accommodation industry to complete this and be honest and open about bed bugs.
Education. Knowledge on bed bug biology and control is often lacking. Cleaning staff often
fail to recognise the signs of an infestation before it becomes a major problem. Many pest
controllers are unfamiliar with the pest's biology and where the insect can be within a
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premise, and so not all harbourages are treated. Thus treatment failures are extremely
common. Clearly, there is an urgent need for the dissemination of accurate and up-to-date
information on bed bug biology, control and prevention strategies. Fortunately this has
begun through education seminars and publications such as this.
Development and adoption of industry “Best Practices. The accommodation industry
should develop “Best Practice” strategies in dealing with bed bugs. This must include
prevention (both preventing new infestations and passing them onto other facilities) and
treatment. Such procedures will be challenging to develop and may not be universally
adopted without government financial support. For example, closing a room for 7-10 days
during the treatment process is wise, so that guests are not bitten by hatching nymphs,
which could also be passed on. For some organisations, such as backpackers, this may
not be financially viable.
Government enforcement. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are unscrupulous
operators in the accommodation industry who are not concerned about bed bugs. The
comment that “as backpackers are not paying much, they can put up with bed bugs”, has
been stated to the author on several occasions. Stopping such operators can only occur
through legal enforcement. However, the inspectors themselves will also need rigorous
training in bed bug detection.
Research. As noted in an earlier section, bed bug research was most active from 1910 to
the 1950’s, and numerous publications were produced on the biology and control of bed
bugs. During this period, many powerful insecticides were available, which had long
residual activity and were highly effective control agents. The combination of good
research and effective insecticides meant that into the last half of the 20th century, bed
bugs infestations were rare. As a consequence, the need for research on bed bug control
was minimal and by the end of the century there were no fulltime bed bug researchers
anywhere in the world.
With the resurgence in bed bugs, huge gaps in our knowledge base have become evident.
The chemicals that were once so effective are now no longer available. Research on
control and preventative options is urgently required; knowledge is needed on which are
the best chemicals to use and the most appropriate strategies to treat the insect.
It was through research that bed bugs were largely defeated in the mid-20th century; it will
be research that will do it again.
The present resurgence of bed bugs in Australia is a very serious issue, especially for the
accommodation industry, which is faced with huge financial losses. There is no single
solution for controlling bed bugs and only a multidisciplinary approach will reduce their
impact over the long-term.
Boase (2001) notes that the one saving grace with the insect is their apparent inability to
transmit disease-causing agents. This may also be the main reason why governments do
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7.52 Pests of Disease and Unease, 2005
not see them as a serious issue, and why research funding is so difficult to obtain. Public
servants from health departments do not see bed bugs as a health risk and are not
prepared to support research. The accommodation industry claims they do not have the
funding to support research and it is a tourism problem. Government tourism bodies see
that bed bugs bite people and therefore are a health problem. Catch 22 and nothing is
done. Yet every year the tourism industry as a whole is loosing tens to hundreds of
millions of dollars annually in Australia alone and undoubtedly, billions worldwide. The
great bed bug challenge has now arrived; to find the financial resources to undertake
those objectives defined in the previous section and to defeat bed bugs once again.
The challenge has begun.
The following are acknowledged for contribution to this paper. Gary Jones, Operations
Manager, Eagle Pest Control provide the information on the number of bed bug treatments
undertaken by Eagle. Gary also provided useful discussion on several sections. Peter
Lamond, Field Biologist, PestControl Division, Rentokil Initial, provided the framework for
the bed bug treatment schedule. Permission for the reproduction of several images were
given by; Dr Nigel Wood, London School of Tropical Hygiene (Figs. 6 & 7), and Peter
Wilson, Mattress Care, Brisbane (Figs. 16 & 40).
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