They are about the size of an apple seed. They like to stick together. They don’t jump or fly, but they run fast. They are bed bugs and the Delaware Valley is in the midst of a bed bug infestation.
Over the Labor Day weekend, a photo that appeared to show bed bugs on a SEPTA bus was shared over 10,000 times on social media and prompted the transit agency to address the urgent issue. Passenger Robert Roberts Jr. told CBS3 that after he alerted the bus driver and fellow passengers, “Everybody got off the bus and they ran.”
SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams said the organization took immediate action and removed the suspected buses from service. “We go through and wipe down the inside of the bus and then every month we fumigate our buses,” Williams said, adding, that the buses are cleaned daily, with full house cleaning service on a bi-weekly basis.
The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest — feeding on blood, causing itchy bites and generally irritating their human hosts. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Agriculture all consider bed bugs a public health pest. However, unlike most public health pests, bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease. They can, however, cause other public health issues, so it’s important to pay close attention to preventing and controlling bed bugs.
Like other major U.S. cities, Philadelphia is experiencing a resurgence of bed bugs. To deal with this dreaded insect, the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force was formed in 2014 and has held several organizational meetings with representatives from apartment associations, realtors, supportive housing, the Philadelphia Health Department, the Philadelphia Street Departments, pest control operators, landlords and residents. Philadelphia First District Councilman Mark Squilla helped to organize the task force after he reported finding bed bugs in his home.
According to Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management (PA IPM) Coordinator Michelle Niedermeier, there is clearly a need for outreach to the community and professionals with accurate bed bug information. “We decided that we need sub-committees to focus on different bed bug issues, including best management practices and existing policies, legislation and enforcement and education and outreach. We also discussed developing neighborhood teams to monitor for and treat bed bug infestations and share knowledge,” said Niedermeier.
Bed bugs can be hard to find and identify, given their small size and their habit of staying hidden. It helps to know what they look like, since the various life stages have different forms. It is also important to know their bite pattern.
“They will bite you all over your body, but they usually bite you in a linear pattern,” explained Spencer Corbett Jr., vice president of technical operations at Corbett Exterminating, which specializes in multi-family housing. “If your arm is resting on the couch, they kind of want to get next to you, bite you and keep it moving. They don’t want to take a chance of getting squished, so they just bite you from where they are at. Usually there are a cluster of bites close to each other.”
Bed bug support is widely available from a variety of sources, said Michael Sands, owner of Natural Pest Control Company. “By us talking about it, it helps to be able to let other people to know to be on the lookout for it,” he said. “That helps with prevention, especially in Philadelphia because we are a city of row homes. In Philadelphia, the walls of the homes are designed to keep people from going house to house, but it doesn’t stop the insects or the rodents. When a person has a bed bug situation at their home, they should [tell] their neighbor, but people are not doing this and are acting like this reflects on them and that’s the furthest from the truth.”
Getting good, solid information is the first step in both prevention and control of bed bugs. While there is no chemical quick fix, there are effective strategies to control bed bugs involving both non-chemical and chemical methods.
According to Corbett, one of the most effective ways to kill bed bugs is with a heat treatment administered by a professional. Bed bug nymphs and adults die at temperatures above 113 degrees and their eggs die above 122 degrees. “Heating an entire apartment to between 120 and 135 degrees kills bed bugs and eggs no matter where they are,” said Corbett.
Sands recommends targeted vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum to remove live bed bugs, their discarded egg capsules and skins. Visible insect activity can also be treated with bed bug traps placed under the legs of the bed, where possible, to prevent and catch bed bugs from migrating onto the bed. Also, low-toxic insecticide dusts and other insect desiccants can be used around electrical outlets, light switches and other sensitive areas to prevent bed bug migrations.
Corbett and Sands suggest seeking professional advice before attempting to tackle bed bugs on your own.
For more information about the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force and resources related to bed bugs, visit Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences at http://extension.psu.edu/pests/bedbugs.