Experts say that in the past two to three years, bedbug infestations have increased around the world. In an effort to educate its 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental members about the threat of bedbugs, especially during the holiday travel season, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is distributing information aimed at reducing the threat of bedbugs at work and at home.

“Experts are saying that bedbug infestations are occurring almost weekly, not only in some hotels, retail stores and homes, but in college residential facilities as well,” ASSE President-Elect and Chair of the ASSE Public Relations Committee Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, of Long Beach, CA, said today. “To help our members address this issue at work and at home, ASSE is sharing tips on what bedbugs are and how to address the problem.”

According to the University of Florida Entomology Department, bedbug infestation is increasing in the U.S. and worldwide. In the past, pesticides were used to eliminate the problem, but as pest control practices have changed, the bedbug problem has grown. Experts note that most bedbugs are home grown, hard to prevent, and are being spread in belongings taken from one place to another.

Bedbugs are small insects that feed on blood and were previously found mainly in residential buildings with cramped living quarters and unsanitary conditions, such as jails or homeless shelters. In recent years, however, they have become a common problem in multi-family housing, hotels, apartments and other environments such as offices, waiting rooms, retail stores and movie theaters.

Bedbugs live near people and infest bedrooms or other sites where people sit or rest for long periods. Since bedbugs cannot fly, they either crawl or are carried from place to place by people, often in suitcases, backpacks, purses and other items travelers carry. The most obvious sign of bedbug infestation is the presence of small black spots (feces) that are visible on light colored bed sheets in or near a bedbug hiding place. Bedbug bites are usually painless and not felt by most victims, but some people can develop a hard bump with a whitish center which itches for many days. The bites often appear as two or more bites in a row, and may be visible on exposed areas of the skin such as face, neck, arms and shoulders.

Entomologysts say that bedbugs can be killed by high temperatures -- over 120 degrees Fahrenheit -- and advise people to wash infested clothing or linens in hot water, then place them in the dryer on the highest heat setting.

From a business perspective, bedbug outbreaks in apartments and other multi-family living environments can create a financial and liability impact for owners and managers of apartment properties. Officials recommend hiring a pest control specialist skilled in integrated pest management (IPM).

For large areas and businesses, costs can run between $20,000 and $50,000 for severe outbreaks. Infestations can also pose a significant risk from a legal perspective and can result in health department complaints, claims and litigation. Experienced pest control companies who are familiar with bedbugs can charge anywhere from $100 to $750 for initial service of a single unit such as an apartment and $75 to $300 for follow-ups. Once one unit is infested with bedbugs, the infestations tend to move to other units. It is suggested that all adjacent units be inspected and treated as well.

To help to inspect for bedbugs:
  • Use a bright LED flashlight to enhance vision during an inspection;
  • Examine any abandoned furniture closely for signs of bedbugs;
  • Look for blood stains from crushed bugs, fecal spots, eggshells and skin;
  • Look for rusty spots of excrement on walls;
  • Examine all wall-paper or molding;
  • Examine headboards in hotels and nursing homes;
  • Examine cracks or crevices around the unit including the edges of carpet
If a business is infested, from the worker’s compensation perspective, workers who were bitten by bedbugs could have a compensable injury if they were bitten while working within the course and scope of their employment. Such a claim would most likely be handled like other injuries involving animals or insects, such as work-related dog bites or bee stings. For more information on bedbugs please go to University of Florida Entymology Dept. or contact UF Professor of Entomology Dr. Phil Koehler at pgk@ufl.edu or 352-392-2484. One can also go to ASSE’s Risk Management/Insurance Practice Specialty web page at www.asse.org/practicespecialties/riskmanagement/ for more information.

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its members lead, manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor, health care and education. ASSE will be celebrating its centennial in 2011 and will be host to its annual Professional Development Conference for the first time in Chicago at McCormick Place Convention Center June 12-15, 2011. Other centennial events are also planned. Please go to www.asse.orgwww.asse.org for more information.