Maybe you’ve been feeling a little itchy lately, or you’ve found a few bites. Perhaps you’ve spotted a few apple seed-like insects around your desk. Or maybe your supervisor has emailed the team to let you all know, for sure, that your office has bedbugs.
No matter why you’re researching these itchy invaders, you probably have one question: if bedbugs start biting at work, how can you keep them there? (And after that, you’d probably like to know how to cope in the meantime, while exterminators do their work.)
Bedbugs are not only notoriously difficult to get rid of, they’re often easily transferred from place to place. So here’s how to deal when your office is the place of a bedbug infestation.
Where the Bedbugs Bite
While some cities in the U.S. consistently rank high in bedbug treatments each year, these insects aren’t particular. In their latest report published January 2019, pest-treatment company Orkin puts Baltimore, Washington DC and Chicago in the top three cities.
“The number of bedbug infestations in the United States is still rising,” said Dr. Tim Husen, an Orkin entomologist. “They continue to invade our homes and businesses on a regular basis because they are not seasonal pests, and only need blood to survive.”
And despite their name, bedbugs don’t just live in mattresses. They tend to be wherever people are and need just one thing to thrive: blood.
The Orkin experts noted that these insects “travel from place to place with ease, including luggage, clothing and other belongings. In addition to single family homes, bedbugs can be found in apartments, hotels, hospitals and public places like daycare centers, public transit, schools and offices.”
How to ID BedBugs
There are several ways you can identify the insect invaders. You might spot the bugs themselves, get some bites on your body or see evidence that they’ve been eating in the area.
- About the size of an apple seed
- Brownish red in color as adults (or white/yellow in younger stages)
- About 5-7mm in size as adults (but the eggs are super tiny — about the size of a pinhead)
- Are usually found in rows or clumps as the bug moves during a “blood meal” on a person’s body
- Can appear as red welts and can itch a lot
- Don’t typically transmit any diseases
Check out these bedbug bite photos from the American Family Physician blog.
- Can appear in the bugs’ favorite spots like crevices along mattresses, but can also include any number of small spaces, small appliances, behind picture frames, or in furniture drawer joints
- Look often like dark spots from the bugs’ poop after a blood meal, they will be about the size of a period (.)
- Often appear near sleeping areas, but bugs can travel anywhere up to 20 feet away to feed, according to the EPA
Have the Heebie-Jeebies Yet?
In reading this, you’re probably feeling a little uneasy, or even a little itchy. But even if you have some itchy bites, you can’t jump to conclusions.
“Don’t assume your bites are bedbugs,” notes WebMD. “Bites can be hard to identify, even for doctors. Rule out mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and biting gnats by conducting a visual inspection. It’s best to collect and identify bedbugs to confirm bites. Look for the bugs themselves or their bloodstains, especially along the seams of mattresses. Further, look for dark spots of insect waste where bedbugs might crawl into hiding places on furniture, walls, and floors.”
Bedbugs will travel, and if you work someplace that has frequent business trips, or even just employees coming back from vacation, you could theoretically wind up with them at your office. But before you jump at every dark, small dot you might see, take a deep breath and do some inspecting.
Places You Might Not Expect Bedbugs (Like Work)
There are lots of areas that bedbugs find convenient to hide, like in bedrooms in hotels, on cruise ships, or in apartment buildings. These are places where people commonly come and go from, and when they leave, they might take some hitchhikers with them on their luggage, bags or even clothes.
If you suspect that you might have a bedbug infestation in any sort of room, you can do a thorough (and I mean, thorough) inspection of furniture with bedbug-friendly seams, dark corners or even just tight spots under loose wallpaper or wall molding. Carry a flashlight and gloves with you to do checks to be safe and capture an insect you find so you can have it inspected and confirmed as a bedbug.
- The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a detailed piece on bedbugs and identifying them.
- The American Academy of Dermatology has an informative video walking you through inspecting a hotel room before you unpack your belongings.
- Here’s a quick video showing an inspection for bedbugs on an armchair, to give you an idea how to look for them in non-bedroom spaces.
- You can also download and carry a quick ID card for inspecting a hotel room for bedbugs. It might make you panic less if you find, say, a real apple seed vs. an actual bug on the floor.
True Stories of Workplace Bedbugs
Infestations aren’t just for hotels or apartments, they can happen just about anywhere. In April 2019, the Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City was shut down to treat for bedbugs. Neither employees nor shoppers were warned for several weeks after the infestation was discovered.
In another case, a call center worker wrote to the Ask a Manager website to ask Alison Green what to do about her workplace’s bedbug problem. Her biggest beef was, again, that the management knew about the infestation on a Wednesday, but had no plans to fumigate until the weekend.
How to Avoid an Infestation Anywhere
So by now you’re definitely anti-bedbug infestation, right? I know I am. There are some tips for avoiding having them come home with you and set up shop where you live. No matter if it’s work or home, these tips are universal. The EPA has some tips on avoiding bug problems anywhere.
- Avoid clutter. Stacks of papers or just lots of “stuff” give bugs lots of cozy crevices to hide in. Even the folds in the walls of a corrugated box can be a bug-friendly zone.
- Check “resting” areas. Whether it’s a couch, bed, or the break room, you can do some regular inspections in areas where someone might sit long enough for bedbugs to feed (only about three minutes).
- Clean regularly. Vacuuming daily can cut down on bedbug chances, by sucking up bugs as well as eggs.
- Have a plan in place. If a bug is found, alert those in charge and provide the bug for inspection. Don’t freak out. Hire a professional extermination company that has experience eradicating bedbugs to treat the area.
Basically, staying vigilant (not paranoid), in your spaces can help you head off a bug attack in the beginning. If you’re a manager, don’t try to hide a problem, but instead be upfront and clear about measures you’re taking to address the situation. These tips from the National Pest Management Association could be helpful when developing office infestation protocols.
Further Bedbug Treatments
After an exterminator, many people have tried remedies (good and bad) to rid themselves of bedbugs, which are notoriously hard to kill. The bugs usually feed once a week, but they can go more than a year between feedings if they have to. Here are some ways to deal with your stuff, if you have bedbugs, or you just want to avoid bringing them along for the ride.
- Keep your stuff separated. If you need to stow things at work, consider using a plastic bin or sealable plastic bag (like a giant Ziploc) to put your belongings. When you come home, you can put your bag in a bin or even change out of your work clothes and keep them separate from your home clothing.
- Use your dryer. The highest heat setting is enough to fry your delicates, but also enough to kill off bugs and eggs.
- Skip the home chemical treatments. There are more and more consumer products claiming to rid a space of bedbugs — but these problems are best handled by professionals who know how to handle dangerous chemicals.
- Hire a dog! Yes, dogs are amazing. There are specially trained dogs that are able to sniff out bedbugs in a space. You could even hire one of these dogs to come to your home or business and do a thorough sniff if you’re worried about an infestation. The nose knows, after all!
No matter what you choose to do, careful, thoughtful actions can save you from not only spreading bedbugs, but bringing them along with you.
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