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10 Frequently Asked Questions About Bed Bugs in the Healthcare Environment

In September 2016, Dr. Ron Harrison, entomologist and Orkin technical services director, presented a webinar called “Battling Bed Bugs: The Latest on Bed Bug Monitoring, Detection and Treatment,” in partnership with Health Forum. The webinar provided the latest information about bed bugs, including:

  • An understanding of the challenges bed bugs pose both to the general public and specifically within the healthcare environment
  • Need-to-know facts about bed bug biology
  • An overview of current and future monitoring and detection techniques, as well as treatment options

Read on for the 10 frequently asked questions about bed bugs in the healthcare environment. And if you missed the webinar, you can still access it and view Dr. Harrison’s presentation.

  1. Where are bed bugs commonly found? How do they get into healthcare environments?Bed bugs are most commonly found in patient rooms on the patient beds or furniture. Rarely, they have been seen on patients themselves. These pests like to hide in soft furniture, mattresses, box springs, in cracks in the baseboards and behind headboards. Bed bugs are known to hitchhike into healthcare facilities on the personal belongings of visitors, patients and employees.
  2. What is the best way to treat a bed bug infestation in a healthcare environment, and how long is the treatment effective?Every healthcare environment is different, and treatment for a bed bug infestation can take certain forms depending on the level of the infestation and your facility’s needs. With that said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating a bed bug infestation. Work with your pest management provider to determine the best plan, which may include heat or conventional chemical options. The duration of the treatments depends on the products used, so be sure to consult with your pest management team about this.
  3. What are the steps to take to clean the room and soft goods before and after treatment?Before the treatment takes place, your pest management provider may request that you complete a few preparation steps ahead of the services you selected. This may include moving the headboard or furniture, removing bed linens and more. After the treatment, you’ll need to restore the room’s furniture and items back to their original placement.
  4. How long should I wait to use a room after it has been treated?This will be based on the treatment and services agreed upon with your pest management provider. It could be a matter of waiting for several hours or for several days, so it’s important that you consult with your provider on the appropriate time period.
  5. How do you prevent bed bug activity from spreading if you have to move patients? When treating one room, should you treat an adjoining room?Bed bugs usually hide on belongings and not people, so take extra caution in transporting your patients’ belongings such as purses or suitcases from one room to another. In most cases, you aren’t as likely to transfer bed bugs on your facility’s wheelchairs or gurneys, but be sure to thoroughly inspect them regardless.Bed bugs do have an inclination to migrate. If there’s an infestation, which means all stages of the bed bug life cycle are present, we recommend that you work with your pest management provider to ensure an inspection take place in the rooms that share a common wall or are in the same hallway.
  6. Can hospitals and environmental services teams treat for bed bugs without the help of a pest management provider, especially if they use store-bought products like sprays and monitors?According to the National Pest Management Association’s 2015 Bed Bugs Without Borders survey, 68% of individuals say bed bugs continue to be the most difficult pest to control without the help of a professional. We highly recommend partnering with your current pest management professional – or hiring a new provider who understands the science behind bed bugs – to help manage the situation, rather than using DIY or store-bought methods that are not as effective. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating bed bugs, and it’s important to set a customized plan developed by your pest management provider in motion. Almost every time, products that are purchased for use in a facility need to be applied by a licensed or certified pest management provider, according to local laws.
  7. What are heat treatments, and how do they work? Will handheld steamers work if applied to soft goods?Heat treatments involve raising the ambient temperature of a room or the interior of a heat chamber to a specific temperature to treat for bed bugs. Results differ by temperature – for example, bed bugs will not survive at specific high temperatures if exposed for 1 second, and at lower temperatures, they won’t survive if exposed for a longer time. The key is that if you’re treating a room, every area – even crevices and areas underneath furniture – must be heated to the temperature set for the treatment. Talk with your provider to ensure the treatment is executed and temperatures are monitored appropriately.
  8. Does isopropyl alcohol kill bed bugs, young and old? Do UV lights affect bed bugs in any way?While isopropyl alcohol can affect bed bugs theoretically, it is not an effective treatment method. Spraying isopropyl alcohol on beds or other areas where bed bugs were spotted can actually pose a fire risk. There are products that professionals use that are alcohol-based, but they should never be applied by anyone who isn’t a licensed or certified pest management provider.For UV lights, there is no practical way for the UV light to reach all surfaces or areas where bed bugs are hiding. It could work in theory, but again, not practically.
  9. How do you handle situations involving patients who have a bed bug issue at home and continue bringing them to the hospital?These are sensitive situations that you should handle on a case-by-case basis, but you should take as many precautions as you can. As a first step, place the patient’s personal belongings in a heat chamber designated to treat for bed bugs (if available) under the direction of a pest control professional, and then inspect the area where they were waiting or being seen both before and after their visit. You may also consider proactive bed bug treatment plans and setting aside a few rooms where you know you’ll take extra time to inspect and treat the room after their appointment.
  10. How can employees protect themselves against bed bug activity in the healthcare environment they work, whether in a facility or at a patient’s home?Recommendations for how employees can protect themselves will vary based on the environment.In a healthcare facility, it’s important to know that the operating room, maternity ward and psychiatric ward are more likely have bed bugs since patients are staying overnight. In these areas, your employees should inspect for bed bug activity. If they do spot a bed bug, they should be cautious when arriving home at the end of the day, placing their clothes in the dryer at the highest setting as soon as they enter their home to kill any bed bugs that may have been on their personal clothing. For employees who are servicing these areas exclusively, they should have a change of clothing and shoes on hand at the hospital to avoid wearing any affected clothing when they arrive at home.For your employees who work in patients’ homes, they should do a cursory inspection upon arrival, and take increased precautions to be an island unto themselves – we encourage them to keep their bags, any kits and chairs, etc. that they are bringing with them separate from the patients’ items. They shouldn’t lean up against things and should try to be conscious of not bringing anything home. Always try to remove clothes and place them in dryer at the highest setting right away to make sure bed bugs are killed.

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