As bed bug insecticide resistance grows, exterminators turn to new treatment tactics

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Metro pest control companies say they’ve seen a surge in bed bug infestations during the pandemic.

After a 2017 study found bed bugs in the United States developed resistance to neonicotinoids, the most widely used insecticide in the world, discussions on how to fight these blood-sucking pests’ growing immunity flung open worldwide.

Jay Everitt, technical director at Rottler Pest Solutions in Kansas City, said the company will use any means necessary to battle the bugs, including heaters, silica gel, HEPA vacuums, compressed sprayers, dusters, mattress covers, a product called “Climbups,” and even dogs.

Climbups are round bowls one can place underneath a bed post to prevent bed bugs from migrating to the mattress. It forces them to crawl into the bowl before they ever reach the leg of the bed, trapping them in the process.

“You’re making an island out of your bed,” he said. “Some people, in multi-housing units, use these for control, too. They’ll just randomly put them out, all around the perimeter of the building, and that’s one way to catch bugs and harvest them.”

Everitt said these are especially helpful in places, like long term healthcare facilities, because caregivers can check them on a daily basis to monitor where the bed bugs are aggregating. 

Mike Rottler, president at the pest control company, said they have also turned to bed bug sniffing dogs that help identify locations in the home where they might be present.

“He’s able to find the scent of bed bugs and where bed bugs are far, far quicker and far more often than humans,” he said.

Heat is also an effective method of bed bug removal, Everitt said, because exterminators can use fans to direct the bugs from migrating to higher ground, and fleeing from the heat.

“The natural habit of a bed bug is, in turbulent air, they just kind of bunker down and hold on,” he said.

He said this helps keep the bugs concentrated to one area, making heat treatment even more effective than if the fans were not being used. 

Maria Kellogg, Kansas City resident, said she and her friend found bed bugs in their Vrbo during a trip to Marco Island in Florida.

“My friend, she went to bed in her room, and I go to my room and I pull down the comforter and I see two bugs on my pillow,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘You know, it’s Florida, maybe there’s just bugs. It’s Florida. It’s humid,’ whatever.”

Kellogg said she didn’t wake her friend immediately because she was unsure if the bugs she found were actually bed bugs or not.

“I mean, I can see them crawling,” she said. “I’m looking around, but still, I don’t want to wake up my friend. I don’t want to be too dramatic about it, in case it really isn’t.”

It wasn’t until she did some research that her curiosity turned to panic.

“I woke her [friend] up and there were some in her bed, not as many as mine,” Kellogg said. “In the living room, we found just a couple and then, we were sitting in the dining room and I got up and there was one on the chair, where I had just been sitting.”

Kellogg said her friend and her left the Vrbo to find a hotel, but quickly realized they couldn’t bring their belongings into the building.

“I can’t go to a hotel and take all my clothes that have been on the bed,” she said. “I can’t go to a hotel unless I wash the clothes.”

Ultimately, she said she decided to pitch the entire suitcase with everything in it.

“I just couldn’t take the chance,” she said. “I knew if I came home and I had one little itch or one little anything, then I’d be worried for six months until I knew for sure.”

“They were on the covers, themselves, which was why it was so gross, to see it on the pillow, the first thing I saw. Thankfully, I was paying attention, cause if you’re not, you know, you’re really tired and you jump into bed, a person might not have noticed that.”

Everitt said exterminators can use HEPA vacuums to remove bed bugs in large, concentrated groups, because they are strong and can remove the eggs, as well as adults. 

“If we went into a unit and they were thick on the bed, we would take those [vacuums] and remove 80 to 85% of those bugs with this HEPA vac,” he said.

Of all the tips and tricks, Everitt said Rottler’s favorite one is to use a silica gel dust product because bed bugs do not have the ability to grow resistant to it.

“It’s a desiccant, which actually knix the exoskeleton, which helps them dehydrate and dry out,” Everitt said. 

Bed bugs’ exoskeletons protect and keep them hydrated. Silica dust destroys the waxy layer of the bed bug’s exoskeleton, causing the bugs to dry out and die from dehydration.

Silica dust is especially effective because, unlike some insecticides that must be ingested by the insects for it to work, desiccants are safe, low in toxicity, and penetrate the crevices where bed bugs hide.

Everitt said exterminators can provide mattress encasements to customers who fear getting bit at night.

“The insect cannot get through it,” he said. “You cannot be bit through it, so that’s how you preserve your $2,000 mattress, as far as that goes.”

From now on, Kellogg said she will be taking more precautions while traveling.

“I will put my suitcase at the door, as I come into the place, or whatever,” she said. “It sounds extreme but do that and do a thorough check before I unpack anything.”

Despite bed bugs’ growing immunities, Everitt said exterminators have a large arsenal to tackle infestations.

“It’s just a bunch of tools in a toolbox, is what we’re using to go after these bugs,” Everitt said.

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