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by Wendy Stackhouse · March 30, 2012

Heat Better Than Chemicals for Bed Bugs in Hospitals

With Los Angeles living at the #5 spot in the Top 50 US cities for bed bugs, it would be a surprise if the pests never made an appearance in our hospitals. 

The Briefings on Hospital Safety Newsletter has given us permission to reprint their article on using heat to treat bedbugs in hospitals instead of chemicals.  Thanks!

Heat may replace chemicals in the fight against bedbugs

Traditional pesticides have shown to be toxic to humans, opening the door for safer and more effective treatments using heat.

Bedbugs are an issue that many hospitals encounter, but few want to talk about. Usually the tiny critters provoke thoughts of seedy motels or dirty mattresses,
but in truth, even the cleanest environment can have an infestation—and sometimes it’s not apparent until it spirals out of control. For that reason, hospitals encountering a problem with bedbugs need a quick and efficient way to detox patient rooms with minimal disruption.

In the past, hospitals have relied heavily on chemical treatment of bedbug infestations, but recent reports have shown that bedbugs may be building up resistance to these chemicals, and heat-based treatments may offer a more effective and safer solution.

Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has thrown its support behind the use of heat treatments in place of chemicals. The September 23,
2011, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicated that bedbug infestations are increasing in the United States and internationally. However, the bedbugs’ growing resistance to insecticides has led to a greater use of chemicals, which can have potentially harmful effects on humans. “Bedbug infestations often are treated with insecticides, but insecticide resistance is a problem, and excessive use of insecticides or use of insecticides contrary to label directions can raise the potential for human toxicity,” according to the report.

Research conducted by the CDC from 2003 to 2010 showed 111 cases of illnesses from insecticides in seven states. The most common contributing factors included:

➤➤ Excessive insecticide application
➤➤ Failure to wash or change pesticide-treated bedding
➤➤ Inadequate notification of pesticide application

The CDC recommends more judicious use of chemicals and calls for insecticide labels that are easier to read and understand in order to prevent overuse, which can lead to illnesses associated with bedbug control. The agency also recommends increasing hospital awareness of nonchemical interventions for dealing with bedbug infestations.

The use of heat is among the more effective nonchemical treatments that have proven useful in the healthcare environment, where chemicals present a greater degree of danger to immunosuppressed patients. “The CDC has been very positive about the use of heat instead of chemicals because the chemicals are injuring people,” says David Hedman, president and CEO of ThermaPureHeat in Ventura, CA. “Needless to say it’s a sensitive area where people are bedridden or sleeping, particularly in children whose faster metabolism may increase their propensity for chemical injury.”

The downside to pesticides As the CDC notes, bedbugs can develop a resistance to chemical treatments, forcing pest control companies to use stronger chemicals or multiple treatments. Pesticides usually don’t eradicate infestations in a single treatment, since they kill the adult bugs that come in contact with the chemical but do not affect the eggs; thus, another chemical treatment is required to completely eliminate the problem, says Larry Chase, vice president of ThermaPureHeat. “What we are seeing is pest control operators try and solve that problem by applying more chemicals, which makes it worse from a health standpoint,” Chase says.

More frequent use of stronger chemicals further increases bedbugs’ resistance to those chemicals, prompting pest control managers to employ even stronger pesticides that pose a greater risk to human health.

The process of heat treatment Heat-based treatments essentially pasteurize the entire treatment area, raising temperatures to 100°-130°F and sometimes as high as 170°. Heating an area to pasteurization levels allows the heat to penetrate walls and cavities, completely eradicating the infestation in the area. ThermaPureHeat also uses thermal imaging to ensure all areas of the affected space reach the appropriate heating levels. “If there is a cold spot, we could fail, so thermal imaging is a powerful tool for use to make sure that that entire area reaches the required temperature,” Hedman explains.

The treatment process typically takes from four to eight hours depending on the size and shape of the room. “It depends on the complexity of the space, how
easy it is to get the heat into the space, how many things need to be protected, how many things need to be removed, or if anything does need to be removed,” Chase notes. “So it will vary, but a very simple space can be done quite quickly.”

Heat also has the advantage of killing all life stages of bedbugs, even eggs, which are microscopic and difficult to identify.

Treating an outbreak quickly For healthcare facilities, speed is key to treating a bedbug problem. Infestations often occur in an entire unit, rather than an isolated area—and to make matters worse, indications of bedbugs, such as bites, usually don’t appear until the infestation is widespread. “It typically isn’t until
we have a major infestation that we begin getting visual sightings from staff and patients,” Hedman says.

Adult bedbugs can lay 500 eggs over their lifetime (typically one year), meaning it only takes a few months for a full-blown outbreak to develop. “One of the things we do is clearly identify the size and the spread of the infestation so you know you are treating the appropriate spaces,” Chase says. “A lot of times what happens is someone will make a determination that a bedbug is in a certain room and they will only try and treat that room without looking to see if the infestation is spread beyond that. So part of the control measure is determining the size of the problem.”

In some situations, dogs are used to determine the size and scope of an affected area, Hedman says. Bedbugs give off a specific scent or pheromone; canines
can be used to detect this scent and determine whether an infestation is limited to just a couple of rooms, or whether it’s manifested into a bigger problem. As soon as hospitals identify an infestation, they should isolate the area.

Great thanks to Briefings on Hospital Safety for allowing us to reprint this very informative article!

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Heat treatment is the best way to eradicate bed bugs from any structure, whether it be a home, apartment, office building or hospital or other healthcare facility.  The people living, staying or working among bed bugs deserve to be protected not only from the infestation itself but from the dangers of chemical pesticides, especially since they don’t work well or quickly.  ThermaPureHeat kills bed bugs at every stage of development in one treatment, without the danger of later reinfestation or reactions from chemicals. 

Healthcare facilities can never be too clean or too safe.  Using heat to kill bed bugs in hospitals makes the most sense for the professionals who work in them and the patients who deserve the very best care possible.  If you discover a bed bug infestation in your facility, your home, your apartment or your office anywhere in California, contact Alliance Environmental Group.  Our highly trained, professional teams can be there quickly and efficiently eradicate any bed bugs, giving you peace of mind about the bugs as well as the health of your family, employees and patients.

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for Alliance Environmental Group and AirTek Indoor Air Solutions.  We welcome your comments!  For more news and tips or to ask questions of our experts, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!  For updates on indoor air challenges, Like us at AirTek on Facebook!

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