In general, schools and childcare facilities are not likely to become infested with bed bugs. Bed bugs flourish in places where they can hide during the day and come out at night to feed on someone who is sleeping or staying quiet for an extended period of time. Because children and teachers remain active most of the day, bed bug infestations (sustainable populations of bed bugs that regularly feed and reproduce) are relatively rare in school settings. Bed bugs, however, are increasingly being introduced into schools by hiding in clothing or hitchhiking in backpacks from homes. Such bed bug introductions must be promptly and aggressively addressed to minimize concerns of parents and staff, and to reduce the risk of bed bug transfer among children. This action plan has been designed to assist with these two objectives.
Common bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are small (1/16 to 3/16 inch), flattened, reddish brown-colored insects. The principal host of the common bed bug is man; however, they may be found occasionally on livestock and poultry. Few other insects look like the common bed bug, except the closely related bat bug and swallow bug, which specialize on these mammal and bird hosts, and rarely bite people.
Habits: Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood. Common bed bugs are usually found around bedrooms, hotel rooms, recliners and couches, or anywhere people sit or lie for extended times. They prefer resting in cracks and crevices during the day and between blood meals, and emerging at night to feed; however if hosts are available only during daylight hours they will feed during the day. Like other blood-feeding arthropods (ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes), bed bugs are attracted to carbon dioxide emitted by their hosts.
Monitoring and Inspection
In the event that bed bugs (or what are presumed to be bed bugs) are reported in a school building or on other school property (e.g., school/activity bus), priorities should include:
- To confirm the identity of suspected bed bugs
- To address the problem as quickly as possible in order to limit potential spread and to cause minimal disruption
- To treat all affected parties with respect, including concerned parents, teachers and staff, students and the any children or staff who may have introduced the bed bugs.
Verify the problem. Misidentification of bed bugs can cause unnecessary concerns and cost money. Reports of “bites” or bite-like sensations or marks, should be taken seriously. When possible, capture suspected bed bugs on scotch tape or place in a tight-sealing container. Compare captured insects with images of bed bugs or seek positive identification from an entomologist or pest management professional. Unsubstantiated claims of “bites” (without a specimen) should not be considered sufficiently reliable to declare an actual a bed bug infestation in school.
Inspecting for bed bugs can be challenging because of their small size and habit of hiding during the day. It is helpful when inspecting to use a flashlight and concentrate on checking likely hot spots like lockers or cubbies, suspected backpacks, sofas in teachers’ lounges, etc.
Other methods of detecting bed bugs in classrooms and offices include canines and interceptor or pitfall traps. Dogs can be trained to sniff bed bugs; however, purchasers of canine services should be aware that the effectiveness of such inspections varies considerably based on the skill and alert-level of the dog and handler team on a given day. Canines can be effective but come with no guarantee of detecting all bed bugs. Also, research shows that “false positives” are relatively common with canines and suggests that all positive “finds” be verified by a human inspector.
Bed bug interceptor traps are inexpensive and effective tools for detecting low level infestations. Bed bug traps have a double advantage of both detecting and removing bed bugs from a classroom. Bed bug interceptor cups are (usually) plastic dishes similar to a pet food bowl. Bed bugs climb up the rough outside of the trap to a rim where they drop into the bowl and prevented from exiting by very smooth, vertical internal walls. The traps are designed to be placed under bed posts but can be placed anywhere in a classroom or office. Attractiveness of the interceptor can be increased with a bed bug lure or a source of CO2. Dry ice placed in a Styrofoam cup or loosely sealed thermos produces CO2 gas that stimulates bed bug searching in the vicinity of the trap. Such traps can be placed in a classroom over a weekend to effectively detect and capture bed bugs. One to three CO2 traps or 10-12 un-baited traps per classroom should be sufficient for monitoring. In most cases a classroom can be considered bed bug free when interceptor cups fail to detect bed bugs over two consecutive weekends.
Multi-level thresholds are frequently used by the pest control industry to estimate the cost of control for bed bugs in residences. In schools and childcare facilities, detection of any number of bed bugs visually or in traps should trigger monitoring, mechanical controls (such as vacuuming) and enhanced awareness programs (see below). Repeated detection of bed bugs over two weeks in traps or via visual inspection may warrant supplemental insecticide measures.
Non-chemical Control Measures
Sanitation and Physical/Mechanical Control Measures
- Bed bugs can be removed from surfaces and furniture using a vacuum cleaner. HEPA vacuums are the best choice. Areas with suspected bed bugs should be thoroughly vacuumed (Important: vacuum bags be discarded in outdoor dumpsters after use, and before vacuuming un-infested areas) *. District pest management staff or the district pest management contractor may need to be available to advise and direct cleaning efforts. Should bedding, couches or upholstered furniture be in an area of a suspected infestation, or be found to have signs of bed bugs, the furniture should either be removed from the facility for treatment or disposal, or else steam-treated in place by a trained professional.
- Extra-tacky lint rollers may be more effective than vacuums in removing bed bug eggs from furniture fabrics and other surfaces. Vinyl or other non-fabric items such as floor mats, desks, and chairs in classrooms can be wiped down with alcohol or a similar product. Make sure that seams, stitching, etc. are inspected and cleaned. Allow surfaces to dry thoroughly before stacking items or allowing students/staff to use them.
- Heat can be used to disinfest certain items, especially during the hot summer months. Placing items in clear plastic bags (superior to black plastic) and leaving out in direct sunlight for 4-8 hours can heat enclosed items to a lethal temperature (122 deg F) for bed bugs. Place a thermometer probe inside the bags to verify that lethal temperature is achieved for one hour. Clothing and fabrics suspected of harboring bed bugs or eggs can be dried at high temperature in a drier for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat treatment of entire classrooms or offices is expensive and should only be done by a well-experienced company familiar with the process of recognizing heat-sensitive items and working with local fire departments regarding disabling sprinkler (fire protection) systems. Heat treatment of schools/childcare facilities is not generally recommended because of the cost relative to the relatively low risk of infestation.
- If it is determined that there is an ongoing risk of any student bringing bed bugs to school, the affected student(s) should deposit their backpack or coat in a safe place when arriving at school. A safe place might include the nurse’s office or in a bed bug-tight container in a locker or classroom. Lidded plastic tubs (e.g., Rubbermaid® or Tupperware® type containers) with smooth vertical sides, or plastic garbage bags secured with a tie are effective at retaining bed bugs. Such containers should be available in the nurse’s office or other secure site for use by teachers as needed.
Note: When necessary to avoid stigmatizing one or a few children, tubs and/or plastic bags may be made available to all students in the affected classroom.
- All school nurses and pest management staff should receive yearly training in how to identify bed bugs, basic bed bug biology, and the protocols outlined here.
- As soon as a campus receives a credible report that bed bugs are found on a student or a student’s belongings, the school nurse should notify the district’s pest control or IPM office and verify that an actual classroom introduction or infestation has occurred. Appropriate campus team members should be notified as necessary.
- Children found with bed bugs should be provided with a note to parent(s) alerting them that bed bugs have been found on the child’s clothing or belongings. The notice should include literature on bed bugs and their control, along with an offer for the parents to visit with nurse or school IPM staff over the phone to discuss the pest problem.
- School faculty and staff should be aware of financial challenges posed by bed bugs to many of their school families. In most housing situations it is the responsibility of the homeowner to take care of bed bug problems, although some apartment complexes may assist residents with discounted or free bed bug treatments. Bed bug treatments can be expensive. There are currently few city, state or federal government programs offering free or discounted bed bug treatments. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offers extensive information on bed bug management at https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/bed-bugs/
- The school nurse in concert with campus administration should decide on an appropriate action to address student hygiene and the risk of bed bugs being transported from home. Options include:
- Doing nothing beyond isolating student belongings if there is no further evidence of bed bugs on the child’s person, or other signs of poor hygiene at home or school.
- When children come to school with infested clothing, providing fresh, bed-bug-free clothing for the student, sealing the infested clothing in a plastic bag for temporary storage, or heating clothes in a drier on high temperature setting for at least 20 minutes. Note: bed bugs do not normally live in clothing, but they may crawl on clothes left on the floor or bed overnight in an infested home. Children should be taught at home to keep backpacks and clothes away from beds and sofas where bed bugs are most likely to hide.
- Contacting Child Protective Services if there is evidence of willful neglect or abuse. Failure to maintain a safe, pest-free home environment can be a symptom of abuse.
Chemical Control Measures
- In most cases in schools, vacuuming and trapping over seven consecutive nights or two consecutive weekends of monitoring should be the only treatment necessary. Insecticide sprays are generally unnecessary in school classrooms and should be avoided.
- Should isolated points of infestation be detected, silica aerogel dust (e.g., Tri-Die®, CimeXa™) may be applied to cracks or voids where bed bugs hide. A light dusting of silica aerogel (applied with duster or soft-bristled brush) may also be applied to baseboards, the insides of lockers or around coat racks. Such applications should be barely detectable to a casual inspector and should not leave obvious dust deposits. Note that pyrethroid insecticide dusts (e.g., Tempo® D, DeltaDust®) SHOULD NOT be used in classrooms or any exposed areas where children or staff may contact them.
- In-house pest control services should be used only IF the employees have adequate training and knowledge of bed bug control. Otherwise, the school should contract the services of a licensed pest control company.
Given the life cycle and behavior of bed bugs, post-treatment evaluation of your program’s success is essential. The isolation-containment procedures need to continue until you are certain that the bed bug infestation has been eliminated. For that reason, repeated weekly (minimum) inspections and monitoring are important. We recommend that you monitor the sites in question for at least two months following treatment.
Author: Mike Merchant, Urban Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, reviewed by Kimberly Engler, BCE