T H E  M E D I C I N E  C H E T

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite

You have heard the adage, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  While some people think these small, blood-sucking critters are fictional nighttime visitors, the fact is these nocturnal pests exist and are becoming a real problem in public places, homes, hotels, and even childcare settings.

With all the recent attention these pests have received from both the media and scientific community, it is no wonder many childcare providers are questioning their potential to harm children and damage program reputations. Now more than ever, it is imperative that management, staff, and volunteers of childcare settings know the facts about bed bugs and their implications to better prevent and manage them.

Bed Bug Anatomy and Behavior 101

To effectively prevent and manage bed bugs, you must first understand their habits.  These flat, oval-shaped pests are about the size of an apple seed. Bed bugs feed almost exclusively on human blood and are one of the few parasites to do so. Bed bugs will feed on any warm blood meal but prefer humans because of the limited hair they have. The pest does not reside on its host as it prefers cooler temperatures, especially those between 60-70°F.

Bed bugs typically hide during the daytime, so it is difficult to spot them. At night, when people are sleeping, bed bugs can detect an adult between five to six feet away by first following carbon dioxide, then body heat, and last, human odors.

While bed bugs are often discovered in the bed, they also can hide behind headboards, under seat cushions, in electrical outlets, behind pictures, or beneath carpet. Bed bugs like to feed at night so they are not inclined to search for a blood meal during times that children are usually sleeping or resting in day care environments. However, if bed bugs are hungry, they will feed at any time.

Since bed bugs can reproduce on a daily basis and live up to a year without food, it is crucial to identify and treat infestations early. If they go undetected, their populations can expand rapidly, creating a larger infestation. In just six months, 40 adult bed bugs can generate a population of nearly 6,000 bugs.

Prevent a “Bed Spread”

Child safety is crucial for childcare programs. Bed bug infestations, aside from potential health risks, can spark complaints about sanitary conditions and lead to long-term reputation damage.

Research indicates the cleanliness of the person or surroundings does not impact their feeding. However, cluttered environments make controlling bed bugs more challenging. Because prevention is key to avoiding bed bug problems, develop a proactive plan to keep them from entering your facility and train staff on regular monitoring activities.

If you work in a setting that offers sleeping accommodations, pay careful attention to signs of bed bug presence such as ink-colored stains on mattress edges, tags and seams, as well as on box springs when changing sheets and other bedding. Also, be aware that any location where children rest or are calm could be a potential location where bed bugs may reside.

An inexpensive synthetic covering on mattresses and box springs prevents bed bugs from reaching the fibrous interior or hiding along edges or under tags. For pests that have already found harborage, the encasement prevents their escape.

It also is important for parents to be on the lookout for bed bugs in their homes and implement measures to reduce bed bug risks so they do not bring bed bugs into childcare environments on their children’s belongings. Should a bed bug be sighted on a child’s belongings (e.g., clothing), those items should be heated to 121°F for at least 20 minutes. The parent should be informed and asked to check their home and other locations where the child spends time for bed bugs.

If a home or childcare is infested with bed bugs, all articles leaving that area could be infested with bed bugs. Rooms with metal bed frames and plastic mattresses are less conducive environments for bed bugs. But any area where personal belongings like backpacks and coats are stored has the potential to harbor these hitchhikers.

Unsuspecting employees, children, and visitors may carry bed bugs with them, infecting your facility, their own homes, and other destinations. Keep all personal belongings and other items off the floor and away from beds to reduce the likelihood of the insect crawling into these items and then traveling to their next home.

Since research indicates that few people react visibly to initial bed bug bites, the presence of noticeable bite reactions, or the lack thereof, may not be a reliable early indicator of bed bug presence. Without regular monitoring practices, bed bugs may go undetected for a longer period of time.

An Ounce of Cure: Treatment Tips

If bed bugs are detected in a childcare setting, the following steps can help:

  • Report. Alert staff immediately so that a pest management professional is contacted as soon as possible. Pest control professionals should be well trained and experienced in treating for bed bugs as they are difficult to control. Make sure that the professional takes appropriate precautions regarding use of chemicals in areas where children play or sleep.
  • Quarantine. Take the room or area where bed bugs are found out of service until it has been inspected and treated. Do not remove items from the infested room or location as this increases the potential for bed bugs to spread.  People usually do not transmit bed bugs on their body; these insects generally travel on belongings. When relocating to other rooms or buildings, consult local licensing and funding regulations concerning proper procedures.
  • Launder. Items that can be laundered should be washed in hot water with detergent and dry in a dryer. The heat from the dryer will kill bed bugs and remove any eggs.
  • Dispose. If furniture or other items harboring bed bugs can be disposed of, it increases the chances of successfully controlling an infestation.

Bed bug infestations can be difficult to remedy. However, treatments ranging from heating rooms by use of propane or electric heat, to non-residual and residual material applications, such as liquids and dusts, have been effective in treating bed bugs. Work with a pest management professional to establish a prevention and treatment strategy that will maintain the health of your children as well as your program’s reputation.

The partnership formed between your staff and a pest management provider will insure you are doing all you can to efficiently and effectively manage and prevent infestations. Although further research is needed to define the threat that bed bugs pose, it is known that the earlier you address problems and take preventive action, the better off your childcare program will be.

Ron Harrison, PhD, Director of Technical Services, Orkin, Inc.


Bed Bugs Fact Sheet, California Childcare Health Program, www.ucsfchildcarehealth.org/pdfs/factsheets/BedBugs_en_0709.pdf

Bed Bug Safety Tips When Using a Daycare Center, Bedbug.com, www.bedbug.com/Page-Bedbug-tips-when-using-a-daycare-center_193.aspx

Learn About Bed Bugs, Healthy Childcare Pennsylvania, www.ecels-healthychildcarepa.org/article.cfm?contentID=347

Reducing Risks of Bed Bugs in Schools & Day Care Centers, Clermont, California School
District, www.clermonthealthdistrict.org/BedBugSchoolDayCare.pdf

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