Hotels & Rooms Too Hot for Bed Bugs

April 7, 2011

HOT HOTEL ROOMS and hot dorm rooms are part of the bedbug buzz at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meetings. There are even indications that hot air remedies can work well in combination with other bedbug control methods, including pesticides and dogs that sniff out bedbugs.

More companies are getting into commercial heat treatments for bed bugs. It seems a matter of practical application of the scientific data that heat can kill bedbugs, if you can figure out how to get the heat to where the bedbugs are hiding. Check out You Tube to see some companies in action using heat treatments against bedbugs, and read the comments (not everyone is convinced).

It is called integrated pest management (IPM) when you combine methods. KTLA News in Los Angeles has an amusing You Tube video combining dogs to sniff out bedbug pheromones with a propane heating device with a fan to cook cockroaches and bedbugs hiding out in rooms. Bed Bug Central TV (BBCTV) is also turning up the heat on bedbugs on You Tube. ThermaPureHeat has one of the best videos, with a Bakersfield heat fumigation job followed by a jazzy closing chorus of “don’t let the bed bugs bite ya.”

Roberto Pereira has been working on hot air fumigation treatments to kill bedbugs in University of Florida dorm rooms during the summer breaks between school years. Heat treatments have a long history of use in entomology (e.g. termites, stored product pests), but it takes some air circulation knowledge and skill.

Pereira and the University of Florida have come up with a short video of their heat chamber idea to disinfest furnishings: “Basically, we put all the furniture of the room at the center of the room, we create an oven around it by using insulation boards, and then inside the box, we put two heaters and fans so that the air is heated and it’s circulated within the box.”

Pereira also tested the combination of hot air fumigation plus “pest strips,” like what you find for sale in supermarkets and hardware stores, for use in EMPTY dorm rooms after all the students have gone home for the summer. You definitely do not want to breathe in the dichlorvos fumes from “DDVP Pest Strips,” particularly when the heat speeds up the chemical release. Though labeled for use at the rate of 1 strip per 900-1,200 cubic feet (25.5-34.0 m3) or no more than 2 strips per room, Pereira cautions that this treatment is for EMPTY rooms in which no one will be living for several weeks.

“DDVP is not something you should be breathing,” said Pereira, who noted that there is a 4-hour per day exposure limit. Indeed, buried in the pest strip label is the following warning: “HOUSEHOLD USES: Use only in Closets, Wardrobes, Cupboards and Storage Spaces. DO NOT USE IN AREAS OF A HOME WHERE PEOPLE WILL BE PRESENT FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME (e.g. Living Room, Family Room).”

Pereira’s work with the easily available pest strips was what is known in science as a “proof of concept” experiment. The idea being that if pest strips worked well with heat, a “softer” chemical, perhaps a botanical or herbal product, could be then be substituted. For scientific experiments, dorm rooms are ideal because they are identical modules. When you start getting into homes with furniture, where every room is slightly different, circulating hot air to kill bedbugs gets trickier.

Box fans placed behind space heaters were used in the Florida dorm room experiments. At 95-97 F (35-36 C), heat killed exposed bed bugs, but bed bugs in hiding (insulated vials) continued living and laying eggs. DDVP pest strips alone, with no heat, took 7 days to kill 100% of bed bugs. With fans circulating heat and pest strip poisons, bed bugs were killed in one day.

Thomas Jarzynka of Massey Services in Orlando, Florida, told the ESA that heat can penetrate walls to kill bedbugs missed by chemical treatments. Two 1,500-watt heaters were inadequate for a hotel room. Jarzynka recommends three 18,000-watt heaters. Besides being energy intensive, temperatures have to be monitored closely to avoid burning furnishings or surfaces. Heat treatments of hotel rooms are started at 7-8 a.m., and temperatures held at 120 F (49 C) for at least 4 hours (sometimes up to 8 hours). Wallboard probes are used to measure temperatures, as it is especially tough to circulate heat to kill bedbugs at carpet level in wall-floor junctions.

Heating a room to kill bedbugs is a bit of an art, combined with some knowledge of engineering and construction materials. Arrangement of room furnishings is critical to heat circulation by fans, said Jarzynka. Fans can be arranged to move hot air along an outer circle, direct heat to a central area, leave cool spots, etc. Rooms can be heated one section at a time, and furnishings can be moved or turned 360 degrees to avoid being burned by heaters.

Bedbugs are tough to get in their hiding places, even with chemicals. So heat treatments, if done right, make good sense. But you need to do your homework, if you want to make life too hot for bedbugs to bite.

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