Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bed Bugs in D.C. (and the Dogs That Find Them)

Bed bugs have infested the Washingtonian media: apartment buildings and even government offices. And while D.C. has not yet been taken over by an infestation as large as New York City's, we definitely have a problem. Before you panic, though, we thought we'd cut through the myths and hysteria with some real information from a specialist in the bed bug business.

DCist spoke with Justin Shaffer, a NESDCA-certified handler in the K9 Bed Bug Detection Team at Connor's Pest Protection and k-9 Pest Detectors for some information about the blood-sucking pests, how to detect them and what to do (and not do) to get rid them. Shaffer has also graciously offered to answer any follow-up questions DCist readers have.

[Ed. note: Normally, we close our comments on interviews, but since Mr. Shaffer has graciously offered to field follow-up questions from our readers, we figured it'd be easiest to keep them open. Fire away on all your bed bug questions, folks!]

For some general information on how to detect and deal with bed bugs, check the EPA's bed bug site and Bed Bug Central, which has some helpful videos and podcasts. There's also the Bed Bug Registry, where people track outbreaks in hotels and residences, and, which covers an assortment of bed bug news.

Where in the area does your company do inspections?

As far as general pests like cockroaches go, Connor's Pest Protection inspects in most of the D.C. metro area. For bed bugs, they'll go further, like Ocean City and Raleigh, North Carolina. k-9 Pest Detectors are limited only by where planes fly. They take the dogs out around the country to do inspections.

How common is using dogs for pest inspection?

Not all that common, it's still a growing field. Dogs really aren't for every company. They are time-intensive to train and maintain.

Your company uses dogs to find bed bugs, why?

We wanted to get into the latest technology for bed bugs. We've worked with Dr. Dini Miller out at Virginia Tech, and read the literature that's come out about bed bugs. Then, three years ago we got into using the dogs for inspections. The hardest thing about bed bugs is finding them, especially in low level infestations, and that's where the dogs are best. Anywhere you can fit the thickness of a business card, a bed bug can possibly hide.

Where do they typically hide?

I've seen them in clock radios, next to the bed, in couches, in ceilings. I've seen bed bugs hiding in just about anything in a home. But they prefer to be near their food source, which is us. They tend to be in the box spring. They don't like to be disturbed, and when you move around in your bed, it bothers them. So they like to be in the box spring, bed frame, headboard.

How do you train the dogs?

We don't train the dogs, Connor's Pest Protection purchases them from J & K Canine Academy in Florida and they're already trained. I went down for a week's worth of training handling the dog. Then I was certified through NESDCA. All the dog handlers go through NESDCA certification. Dogs must be able to alert the owners of the presence of live bed bugs and viable eggs. The dogs have to be able to differentiate between live bed bugs and dead bugs, cockroaches, carpet beetles. The dogs learn to search for the odor of the bugs, similar to drug sniffing and bomb sniffing dogs. They're not using their eyes.

Are some breeds better than others?

They primarily train Beagles. I work with a Jack Russell terrier mix. Another trainer's dog is a Hairless Chinese Crested.

Are the dogs at risk of catching the bed bugs in their fur and spreading them?

Bed bugs primarily want to hide. When they're not coming up to take a blood meal, they want to hide. So the big risk that a dog or a human will pick up a bed bug is in a high-level infestation. And we don't need the dogs in high infestations. The dogs are needed in low infestations, when we're trying to find bed bugs.

How can someone prevent getting bed bugs?

The best thing to do is to educate yourself about bed bug biology. And if you're staying at a friend's place or staying at a hotel, the best thing to do is search the room. When I stay at a hotel, before I bring my luggage in, I remove the headboard. I'm looking for fecal spotting, the insects themselves, and any eggs. I wouldn't keep your bag next to the bed. The best thing to do is to put your suitcase on the luggage rack, after you inspect it of course. The farther you get your luggage from the bed, the better you are.

How easy is it to get bed bugs from public places?

What you're seeing a lot in New York, you're seeing more media attention. You have so many people living in a small area, and lot of multi-housing, people living on top of each other. The D.C. metro area isn't at the level of New York City.

How do you know if you have bed bugs?

Really, the first indication for a lot of people are the bites. There are four different reaction profiles: some people don't react, some have a mosquito-like bite (itches for a few days and goes away), then there's the, what I call, mosquito bite on steroids (a pronounced welt, persists for longer), or you have a delayed reaction (people don't react to the bites for a week or two after they've been bitten). When bed bugs come out to feed, they bite one to three times, that's where you get the three bites in a row -- what some people call the "breakfast, lunch and dinner bites."

What is the life-cycle of bed bugs?

Bed bugs have an incomplete metamorphosis. They go from the egg stage to the nymph stage and finally the adult stage. When they grow, they shed their skin, and have to take a complete blood meal to go to the next life stage.

What is the gestation period for eggs?

It takes about seven to fourteen days for the eggs to hatch, depending on humidity and temperature.

How do you treat a home with bed bugs?

We have two primary ways to treat. There's the conventional treatment, where we use pesticides to eliminate the insects, treating every crack and crevice of the affected area. And there's thermal remediation, or more commonly referred to as heat treatment. For this, electric heaters are brought in to elevate the temperature to over 113 degrees.

Is treating for the bugs different or the same for the eggs?

The heat treatment will kill all life stages, and it's a one-day treatment. The conventional treatment takes multiple treatments, because it doesn't work well on the eggs, and you can't apply it everywhere.

What else should we know?

Really, the best thing to do is if you think you have bed bugs is to have a professional do an inspection. Bug bombs/foggers, cans of Raid, or throwing out your bed and mattress isn't good enough, and can make things worse. With bug bombs, you're throwing up a mist and it has to come in contact with the bed bugs to kill them. If you have bed bugs hiding and you don't kill them with the bug bomb, you'll drive them deeper into spaces and spread to other rooms. This is particularly bad in an apartment or condo. The issue with throwing out the mattress and box spring is someone may come back and pick it up and carry it into their house, or back into your apartment complex. And now in the development you have multiple units infested.

How often are you treating for bed bugs?

We've been very busy. We've been at capacity, doing heat treatments every day for the past 60 days. We're actually in the process of expanding and getting more equipment and people.

How many dogs do you currently have on staff?

We have three canines and three canine handlers, and all they do are bed bug inspections. We are one of the few companies in the area that has a dedicated bed bug division.

Sourced By: Elisabeth Grant
By: Bradkey Skierkowski