How Do Bed Bugs Spread From One House to Another?

By David Mueller, BCE

Electronic tablets are becoming more and more popular in educating our students. In fact they are starting to replace books. These tablets and laptop computers go home and are returned to the school or office. In the summer they are stored and inspected by the school district. One unwanted guest that has appeared in the cushioned carrier bags is the bed bug (Cimex lectularius). This should not be a surprise to people because the bed bug has been found in increasing numbers throughout the United States and the world.

Entomologists speculate why this is occurring. One reason is that the electronic devices produce heat and provide harborage. Bed bugs are attracted to body temperatures (e.g.
98.6° F). They hide in dark places that have crevices like the edge of a bed or a cushioned tablet carrier. Some experts suggest the increased presence of bed bugs is because of global warming, resistance to modern pesticides, removal of effective pesticides like DDT, and the changing travel patterns of humans. It could be simply that the bed bugs have learned to adapt to our human environments much like the house mouse and grain insects that we live with.

Case Study
Recently a school district inspected its electronic tablets to make sure they were functional for the start of school. Their IT technicians found bed bugs in many of the cushioned bags. It is important to note that bed bugs don’t carry diseases but they do need a blood meal on humans to survive and breed. However, bed bug bites can cause skin irritation, rashes, loss of energy, and secondary infections.

The tablets and their cushioned bags were stacked in a truck trailer and sent to Fumigation Service & Supply’s fumigation warehouse. The fumigant used on this job was Vikane™ gas fumigant manufactured by Dow AgroSciences LLP. This is the same fumigant that is used to fumigate tented homes for termites. Fumigants are unlike fogs in that they penetrate the cushioned bags, the on-off switches, and recharging ports on electronic devices to kill all stages of the bed bugs including the eggs. Vikane has been shown, when used according to the label, not to affect the electronics in the devices being fumigated.

Fumigant gas readings were taken throughout the treatment. Temperatures need to be at least 80° F to keep the bug’s respiration accelerated. After 24 hours of aeration and careful inspection of the closed cushioned bags, the trailer was returned to the district to continue the process of preparing them for the upcoming school year.

Take Home Message
Pests live with humans in their homes, schools, and offices. The issue of transporting insects and other vermin back and forth will continue. Managing and understanding the biology of bed bugs will help reduce their impact. Inspecting for bed bugs in our own portable electronic devices can help track the spread of bed bugs in homes and offices. Fumigating them may be necessary until we can learn to create an environment that they cannot tolerate and then will leave or die.

Image

This truck trailer with 7000 electronic tablets and cushioned bags was recently fumigated for bed bugs.

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