Are Bed Bugs Biting at your Cottage?

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Bed bugs are on the march, and could be marching into your cottage mattresses, sofas and carpets. Pest controllers in Toronto are reporting huge increases in call outs to infestations and the situation has now got to the point that Dr. David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health, attended a sell-out east end town hall meeting last night, on the bed bug plague. Since they travel in luggage, clothing and any beds and furniture brought into a home, this could become a big problem for vacation rental owners.

A Toronto Star report earlier this week quoted Reg Ayre, manager of healthy environments for Toronto Public Health, saying “There is no community that hasn't been affected. We're seeing bedbugs in regular family homes, condos, daycares, highrise apartments and rooming houses.”

A quick Google search of bed bugs in the news pulls up a disturbing trend. Across North America, reports of bed bugs in hotels, residential areas, and even hospitals, are appearing more frequently. A Business Week article attributes the rise in the problem to lack of all embracing pest control, “Although the bloodsucking parasites all but disappeared from the U.S. in the 1950s, thanks largely to the now-banned pesticide DDT, pest control companies say bedbug infestations have escalated dramatically over the past decade”.

I urge you to read this article; the litigation issues are particularly worrying. The New York Observer reports on a recent $100,000 settlement to 6 tourists who suffered bed bugs bites during a stay in the hotel. Will we be seeing rental guests suing vacation rental owners in this way? It's a concerning thought but it goes along with worrying that someone might sue if they trip over a rock in the yard, or upend the canoe. Perhaps this is a topic to bring up with your insurer.

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs can find their way into the cleanest house. They are efficient hitchhikers and are usually transported in on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture, etc. which is a good point to remember if you are planning on purchasing secondhand beds and couches for the cottage, or if you have bought a cottage that included furniture. Bed bugs are small and agile, escaping detection after crawling into suitcases, boxes, and belongings. The eggs are almost impossible to see.

Bed bugs

Their name gives their favourite location away. Although they can live in almost any crevice or protected location, the most common place to find them is the bed. Bed bugs often hide within seams, tufts, and crevices of the mattress, box spring, bed frame and headboard. They can also live a year without food so just because the cottage is not occupied regularly doesn’t mean they aren’t hiding away just waiting for the next meal to arrive.

Bed bugs are susceptible to heat and cold and cottages that have been unheated all winter may start the season free of them. However, once owners bring in yard sale furniture and mattresses, the risk of infestation looms large. Winterised cottages are much more likely to have a problem as the temperature will remain optimum for bed bug survival and breeding through the colder months.

Finding evidence of these pesky insects is not difficult. Areas of infestation are characteristically marked by dark spotting and staining, which is the dried excrement of the bugs. You might also notice eggs and eggshells, molted skins and the bugs themselves. Another likely sign of bed bugs is rusty or reddish spots of blood on bed sheets, mattresses, or walls.

To check if you have bed bugs at the cottage, dismantle the bed and stand the mattress and box spring on edge so that the upper and lower surfaces can be examined. Things to look for are the bugs themselves, and the light-brown, molted skins of the nymphs. Dark spots of dried bed bug excrement are often present along mattress seams or wherever the bugs have resided. Box springs afford many places for bed bugs to hide. Successful treatment of mattresses and box springs is difficult, however, and infested components may need to be discarded.

Bed bugs have an affinity for wood and fabric more so than metal or plastic, so examine all mattresses, box springs (especially underneath where the fabric is stapled to the wooden frame), and cracks and crevices of bed frames. Sofas and upholstered chairs can be major bed bug hotspots, especially when used for sleeping, so make sure you check your pull -out couches and sofabeds carefully, particularly seams, tufts, skirts, and crevices.

Nightstands and dressers should be emptied and examined inside and out, then tipped over to inspect the woodwork underneath. Oftentimes, the bugs will be hiding in cracks, corners, and recesses.

Other common places to find bed bugs include: along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting (especially behind beds and furniture); cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounts, picture frames, switch plates and outlets; under loose wallpaper; amongst clothing stored in closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.

Treating an infestation can be tricky as most housecleaning measures are of little benefit in bed bug management. Bed bugs (especially the eggs) can be difficult to dislodge. Optimum results will be achieved by moving and scraping the end of the suction wand along infested areas such as seams, tufts and edges of bedding, and the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpets. Afterward, dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed trash bag. Steam cleaning of carpets may be helpful for killing bugs and eggs that vacuuming may have missed.

Infested bedding and garments can be bagged and laundered (120°F minimum), or discarded since these items cannot be treated with insecticides. Items that cannot be laundered can sometimes be de-infested by heating for several minutes in a clothes dryer. Other items, such as mattresses can be wrapped in plastic and placed in a hot, sunny location for at least a few days (the 120°F minimum target temperature should be monitored in the centermost location with a thermometer).

Even the cleanest cottage can be infested with bed bugs, so keep a regular lookout through the rental season. Check the mattresses, sofas and other upholstered furniture. Buy new pillows and bedding at the beginning of each season and make sure there are mattress covers on each bed.

Not surprisingly, a few websites dedicated to bed bugs have sprung up recently. The Bed Bug Resource seems to the be most comprehensive, even having a very active forum which makes for interesting reading. Bed Bug Central has some great articles written by entomologist Richard Cooper if you want to identify you have a problem, and learn how to deal with it.