Bed Bugs Headed for the Workplace Now

Movie theaters and stores have joined hotels and private residences in experiencing persistent bed bug infestations. The next stop? The workplace. Pest control experts at Orkin identified that bed bugs are making the move among commercial properties. New analysis of its commercial bed bug treatments over the past 10 years reveals that bed bugs, initially confined to the hospitality industry, have steadily increased their presence in multi-family and, more recently, commercial real estate properties.

With the hospitality and multi-family industries on the front lines of the bed bug resurgence, the potential for business travelers and apartment-dwelling employees to pick up bed bugs and bring them into the office has greatly increased. This exposure created a perfect storm for commercial real estate. Orkin conducted a survey with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International in early 2010 and found that one in 10 respondents reported bed bug incidents in a commercial property.

"Ten percent may not sound significant at first," notes Ron Harrison, PhD, Orkin's director of technical services. "But it is a concerning statistic when you consider that these properties don't represent the typical bed bug habitat a place where people sleep."

Harrison spoke at the BOMA International annual conference in June to address the impending threat to commercial property managers and building owners, noting that Orkin's bed bug treatments in commercial properties more than tripled from 2008 to 2009.

Bed bugs are reddish-brown blood-feeders roughly the size and shape of apple seeds. The nocturnal pests surfaced from nearly a half-century of inactivity in the early part of this decade, predominantly in hotels. Increased international travel and a more targeted approach to pest control contributed to bed bugs reestablishing a presence in the U.S. Nationally, Orkin saw bed bug treatments double from 2008 to 2009, a trend it expects will continue this year. While New York City has been in the news recently for its efforts to curb bed bugs, the top five hot spots for bed bug activity, according to Orkin treatment data, are Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, followed by Chicago, Denver and Detroit.

Orkin's treatments in commercial real estate are still limited when compared with the hospitality and multi-family industries. In Orkin's Midwest Commercial Region, which services four of the company's top five bed bug cities, office building treatments range from 10 to 15 per month. Harrison hopes that the educational measures Orkin has initiated will keep it that way, even as high-profile incidents like retail store infestations in the Northeast garner nationwide media exposure.

"Commercial real estate is facing what multifamily dwellings faced a few years ago," said Harrison, who remembers the number of bed bug incidents in multifamily housing significantly increasing in 2008.

Unlike sparsely furnished hotel rooms, apartments and condos contain personal belongings and more furniture, providing ample shelter for bed bugs. Orkin experts also observe that apartment dwellers often recycle furniture from prior residents, which can perpetuate an existing infestation. By the close of the decade and for the first time since bed bugs resurfaced, Orkin treatments in multifamily properties exceeded those in hospitality, in some regions by three or four times the volume.

Harrison collaborated with the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) earlier this year on a bed bug white paper and a series of webinars for property management professionals, and participated in the National Apartment Association's annual conference.

"In addition to learning identification and remediation techniques, apartment management professionals were eager to discuss how to communicate with residents about bed bug prevention," said Maureen Lambe, CAE, executive vice president of the NAA Education Institute. "Our members recognize that good communication and resident cooperation are critical to successful remediation."

But what about healthcare settings? Orkin and the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES) present a white paper, "Pulling Back the Sheets on the Bed Bug Constroversy: Research, Prevention and Management in Hospitals & Long-Term Care Facilities," that addresses implications for the healthcare institution. According to the paper, "The Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the National Pest Management Association, hosted a National Bed Bug Summit in April 2009 in Arlington, Va. At the conference, professionals discussed the ongoing issues surrounding bed bugs, one of which was Goddards and deShazos conclusions published in the JAMA article two weeks prior to the Summit. The consensus of the Summit was that evidence regarding the serious health risks of bed bugs is inconclusive. If existing research indicated that bed bugs facilitate pathogen transmission, it would likely gain the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and make the pests a priority research topic. As it stands, bed bugs have only recently been subjected to study for the first time since the middle of the last century, and the observed health implications are mild to moderate. Some researchers believe that bed bugs have potential allergen and respiratory effects, much like cockroaches. Others point to the sleep disturbance caused by the night-feeding pests, resulting in fatigue and mental health complications. For some, as noted, the bites cause mild to serious skin reactions that result in soreness or itching. Those who experience bites may also feel paranoia about the pests during the day and especially at night. Delusionary parasitosis, in which the person believes he or she is being actively bitten by the insects throughout the day, may be incited by concern about bed bug activity, according to some researchers. Beyond the potential health implications, bed bugs should be a business concern for healthcare and long-term care facilities. As an unwanted pest, the very presence of bed bugs is a disturbance to patients and residents. Infestations are common and becoming more so in these health care settings, and when they occur, they evoke right or wrong the impression that infested facilities are unsanitary and of low quality. With peace of mind and reputations at stake, pest management professionals believe that attention should be given to developing prevention and treatment strategies"

To read more from the Orkin white paper, CLICK HERE.

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