Since July of 2010, bedbugs have been staging a comeback across the United States and much of Europe. These aren’t like their ancestors from a few short decades ago, when the 1960s last saw a marked rise in their population. The modern bedbug is tough, resistant to pesticides, and hard to kill. In trying to combat their renewed numbers, scientists have also run into other problems, include the widespread prevalence of popular myths about what bedbugs are, where they come from, and how an infestation gets started. These are important facts for caseworkers to be aware of as well, in order to recognize the signs of an infestation, and to avoid misunderstanding the circumstances which surround one. A well-prepared caseworker can evaluate the severity of an infestation, as well as help provide measures to cope with it successfully.
Here are five important facts about how to manage bedbugs which every caseworker should know about, particularly home visitors:
Bedbugs Do Not Prefer Filthy Environs
Bedbugs are attracted to body heat, and to the carbon dioxide we exhale while sleeping. Their habits perfectly oppose hours; they are often nocturnal, but can adapt themselves to a victim’s schedule. A bedbug can sense the change in carbon dioxide emissions which occurs when a person is sleeping, and react appropriately, staying hidden during heightened levels of activity and avoiding people who are simply sitting down and resting — unless they’re particularly hungry. Bedbugs do hide in clutter and untidy surroundings, but can just as easily hide in everything from clean, folded bathroom linens, to cracks in furniture joints, and even inside of modern appliances and electronic devices.
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Know the Signs of Bedbug Habitation
The presence of an infestation leaves a lot of trace evidence behind. Bedbug rashes, resulting from nocturnal feeding, most often occur on broad, uninterrupted expanses of flesh, with the backs of thighs, the neck, and inner upper arms being favored: places where there is an easily accessible flow of blood just beneath the outer surface of a person’s skin. Rashes appear like blotchy red, reddish-brown, or brown circles overlaid in overlapping pattern, the shape of a child’s drawing of a cloud. Where bedbugs have fed, there will likely be spotty red stains caused by the movement of a sleeper physically crushing some of the insects, as well as tiny eggshells (like miniature grains of rice), discarded yellowish-brown skins left by bedbug nymphs, and the tiny black spots (no bigger than the spot produced by dabbing the tip of a gel-ink pen onto dry cloth or paper) left when feeding bedbugs defecate.
Make a Cursory Inspection in Case of a Suspected Infestation
If a homeowner reports suspicions of an infestation, or if signs of a bedbug infestation have been noticed, keep your eyes peeled during the course of your visit. These nocturnal bloodsuckers are no thicker than a credit card, and can be as small in diameter as the head of a pin. They will hide in cracks and crevices in walls, moldings, and furniture joins, and one infestation may result in satellite colonies with multiple “central locations” of infestation. You will not be able to tell, on cursory inspection, where the infestation is, but you may be able to gain a sense of how bad it is: are there bedbugs active in significant numbers, visible even during daylight hours? That would be a severe infestation. Are you finding them, or signs of them, frequently, in a large number of the places you’ve checked, or are there only scattered indicators? This reflects on how many bugs are in the home, since those leaving signs are typically only a fraction of the total population.
In Case of Infestation, Avoid Upholstered Furniture
Do not sit on upholstered furniture or bedding when visiting a house with a bedbug infestation. Do not place personal items, or items from a home visit bedbug kit, on any bedding, linens, or cloth-covered furniture. While they are not normally active during the day, hungry bedbugs can function on an unpredictable time frame, and it is possible to jostle them into awareness outside of their usual activity cycle. Bear in mind that an infestation anywhere in a multi-family unit where there is a known bedbug infestation should be cause for taking certain basic precautions.
Keep a Basic Bedbug Kit in Your Vehicle
At its simplest level, such a kit might include a large plastic box, capable of being securely sealed, as well as a full box of wet wipes, and several large plastic bags. Other useful items include a flashlight, and a narrow bladed spatula (an icing spatula works excellently well for this). A plastic clipboard, preferably clear, high-grade disposable gloves, protective booties for your shoes, and disposable coveralls are also good to have, particularly in cases of severe infestation. If you know you are heading into a bedbug infestation, carry small personal items inside of a fanny pack, and bring a change of clothes. Bring a roll of clear plastic tape, like packing tape; the tape can be used to help seal vacuum bags and other containers.
Bedbugs carry known human pathogens, due to their diet of blood, but are not known to actually transmit any diseases between victims. They do not result from filthy or untidy conditions within a home or other residence. By knowing how to spot bedbugs, a caseworker or other home visitor can be prepared to face a minor infestation, while making appropriate note of the insects’ presence prior to engaging the services of a professional pest management expert.