Are Bed Bugs Biting Your Wallet?

Bed Bug media hype has spurned considerable action in the travel industry, hospitals, prisons, homes and (of course) fire stations. These pesky little critters have developed resistance to many pesticides (which may account for the recent increase in infestations), are particularly good a hiding, but remain visible to the naked eye. That’s right; you can see them! What you might not see so clearly are the unscrupulous profiteers hoping to drain your wallet with ridiculously expensive equipment and supplies. They’re out there, and some fire departments have already been bitten.

Noted Fire Service and EMS infection control expert Katherine West points out that a comprehensive bed bug control program involves minimal cost. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have outlined a simple yet comprehensive strategy of prevention and control.

Preventitive efforts include:
– remove clutter in sleeping areas
– seal cracks and crevices
– wash linen after each use in hot (> 120 degrees F) water and dry in a hot dryer
– vacuum beds and quarters frequently and discard vacuum bag after each use
– use mattress covers
– roll linen off beds (instead of pulling)

Control measures during an infestation include:
– spray surfaces with 91% isopropyl alcohol (kills on contact)
– ventilate areas after spraying
– allow surfaces to dry before placing clean linens/sleeping
– steam cleaning surfaces may be effective (done every 5-10 days until resolved)

Kathy West points out that 91% isopropyl alcohol is available at most drug stores for less than $2 per bottle. Departments may wish to spray surfaces prophylactically (as a preventative measure). For infestations, departments may wish to consider contracting with a pest control company. There is absolutely no reason to purchase expensive cleaning equipment, solutions, or supplies. There is also no reason under the sun to burn or discard linens and bedding items. Prevention is a responsibility we all share.

These same measures are equally effective for EMS cots, stretchers, equipment, and bags brought into homes and businesses. Changing linens after each use, vacuuming and spraying surfaces of equipment and bags with 91% isopropyl alcohol are wise prevention strategies. Like fire gear, EMS linens, bags, and equipment should never be carried into crew quarters.

Bed bugs infestations are increasing in every area of the world. Like any other health concern, an informed and common sense approach will protect your members, their families, and your community. There is no reason to waste money, time, or energy on expensive and unproven solutions when practical, inexpensive prevention and control stragies are readily available.

Reference: Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Publications/Bed_Bugs_CDC-EPA_Statement.htm.

Mike McEvoy
EMS Editor
Fire Engineering