Every year, thousands of Americans are exposed to bed bugs during hotel stays or while on airplanes, trains, buses, or cruise ships. Many of them bring the bedbugs home after their trip, opening the door to infestation. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of travel as we know it, causing most travel to halt as quarantine orders spread around the world. Will this sudden change in how people move and interact be the end of bed bugs as we know them?
How Bed Bugs Spread
Contrary to popular belief, cleanliness of living conditions has nothing to do with the likelihood of a bed bug infestation. They are found daily anywhere from motels to mansions. Anywhere where people sleep and travel is fair game. Bed bugs are most often encountered for the first time in a place of public frequenting, like an airport, train, or hotel.
Another misconception about bed bugs is how they spread from person to person. People like to compare bed bugs to fleas or ticks, picturing them as jumping bugs that crawl all over an infested person, looking for a passerby to hop onto. The fact is that bed bugs can’t jump or fly, and aren’t really that nimble. They spread through more subtle, but equally effective, means of travel.
Bed bugs are most commonly transported via luggage, after climbing into them in a hotel or airport. Once they’ve tucked into a dark hiding place, all they have to do is sit back and relax as their unsuspecting chauffeur sweeps them off to their new feeding ground, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Mass consumer travel isn’t a bed bug’s only method of house-swapping. It’s also very common for them to spread between units of an infested apartment complex, usually through the walls via peeling wallpaper, electrical outlets, and other wall voids. While moving from person to person through contact isn’t a bed bug’s specialty, it’s not unheard of.
How COVID-19 Will Change Travel
While lockdown restrictions are lifting around the world, the lasting effects of COVID-19 response methods will likely be in place for a long time. Airlines may still require masks and reduce occupancy rates in an effort to prevent resurgence of the virus.
For starters, a long-term trend may emerge of travelers taking fewer flights. A recent survey found that of those that had changed their travel plans for this year, 22% had switched from flying to driving . Aviation industry group Airlines for America says US airlines have idled 3,000 aircraft, or half the nation’s fleet, due to the downturn, while the number of passengers passing through TSA checkpoints at airports is down 93% over last year.
Since airports, hotels, and the planes themselves are such common travel methods for bed bugs, this change may drastically reduce the rate of transmission for bed bug infestations. While wearing a mask does nothing to prevent getting bed bugs, the other efforts made after the COVID-19 outbreak may have residual effect on bed bug infestation rates.
Other Factors to Bed Bug Survival
Ultimately, bed bugs will still be a threat. No one knows exactly why bed bugs came back after being nearly wiped out in the 20th century. While many are quick to point the blame at the banning of DDT in 2001, experts doubt that DDT would have prevented this new epidemic. With their uncanny ability to rapidly build resistance to many pesticide chemicals, bed bugs found today are believed to be widely immune to DDT. To make matters worse, most pesticide sprays found at local grocery and hardware stores still use outdated ingredients that are no longer effective against today’s strains of bed bugs.
Scientists do agree on how bed bugs were able to thrive so successfully in modern homes. Thanks to the advent of electricity and home air conditioning, bed bugs are now able to comfortably survive indoors year-round. Since they have evolved to live in the same climates that their human hosts do, there is little we can do about that.
If we want to keep our collective sanity, we’ll need to educate the world on new and effective ways to deal with bed bug infestations as they become even more common in the coming years. Fortunately, bed bug treatments can be done effectively and affordably, whether by a professional or in a do-it-yourself fashion.
Holistic treatment methods are quickly gaining preference by pest control professionals and homeowners alike, especially as treatment options and priorities have changed during COVID-19. Recognizing that many techniques are not effective by themselves, but can be part of a very effective combined process, a number of common holistic procedures have started to make their way into the public spotlight. Bed Bug Supply’s own 4-step solution is built on a combination of chemical and non-chemical treatment methods, and includes defensive tools to help prevent future infestations.
Stay On Guard: How to Prevent Bed Bugs
Just as we took measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as avoid getting an outbreak in our own homes, so too must we take efforts to prevent getting a bed bug infestation:
First, you need to completely treat the bed, ensuring that no bed bugs are on it and that they can’t get back in/on it. Begin by stripping the bedding and washing them on high heat, then drying on high heat if the beddings’ tags allow for it. While the laundry cycles are running, use a vacuum cleaner to remove any bed bugs and eggs that might be along the seams of your mattress, box spring, pillows, and bed frame.
Follow up the vacuuming with a high pressure steamer to penetrate deep inside those same nooks and crannies to kill bed bugs and eggs on contact. Lastly, spray down the joints of the bed frame, headboard, and footboard with contact and residual bed bug sprays that are labeled for use on the bed, and encase the mattress and box spring with sealed bed bug encasements once the bed is dry. Be sure to leave those encasements on for at least 18 months to ensure that any bed bugs that managed to survive stay trapped inside until they starve.
Next, you’ll need to isolate the bed to make sure bed bugs elsewhere in the room can’t get onto the bed and feed. Move the bed away from the walls and any nightstands or other furniture. Tuck in or remove any hanging skirts or sheets, and remove any storage under the bed that is touching any part of the frame. The only thing your bed should be touching is the floor via its legs. If you don’t have a bed frame with legs, you should purchase one to sleep in, at least until you are bed bug free.
To complete the isolation, place ClimbUp Interceptors under each leg of the bed. These traps will prevent bed bugs from climbing up your bed legs, stopping them from reaching you in your bed. As bed bugs attempt to get to you, they will climb up the edge of the interceptor and fall into the perimeter pitfall where they can’t escape. With the ClimbUps in place, you can monitor the population of bed bugs in the room over the next several weeks (and even longer to avoid future infestations).
There is a lot of discussion about the “new normal” during — and after — COVID-19. Whether this means increased flexibility for working from home, reduced airline travel in favor of local trips, or more frequent use of masks and social distancing when in public, we can all expect to take new precautions in our day to day lives. Since bed bugs won’t be gone for good any time soon, we should also consider some “new normal” measures to avoid infestation from these pests as well.