Ditching bed bugs

Getting rid of bed bugs requires cleaning, room modification, and insecticidal treatment. Guidelines include:

Carefully inspecting the bed frame, mattress, and other furniture for signs of bed bugs and their eggs. Signs include adult bugs, dead bugs in the mattress seams, tiny black stains from blood or bed bug droppings on the mattress, sheets or pillow cases.

Reducing clutter such as clothing and books to limit hiding places for bed bugs.

Scrubbing infested surfaces with a stiff brush to loosen bed bug eggs. Using a new vacuum cleaner bag, vacuum bed bugs from cracks and crevices, then seal the vacuum bag in a plastic bag, and dispose of it in the garbage outside.

Dismantling bed frames to expose additional bug hiding sites.

Caulking and sealing all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor.

Filling cracks around baseboards and moldings to further reduce breeding areas.

Encasing mattresses and box springs in mattress bags, available at some moving companies. Any bugs trapped in the sealed bags will die.

Dry-cleaning or washing bed linens and drapes. Use cleaning detergent and bleach in hot water.

Washing and drying linens and clothing in a hot dryer or in the sun.

Laundering clothing and sealing other travel items if you have traveled to an area where a bed bug infestation was observed or suspected.

Source: Boulder County Public Health

It was the dark red spots of blood on Noel Newnam's sheets that first got his attention. Over the next few days, he noticed a few more, and then bite marks on his arms and neck.

"I searched my bed to see what was going on," said Newnam, 57, who lived in a Boulder apartment. "One day I did discover a dead bug."

He jumped on the Internet to search for the insect he found and landed on some information about bed bugs.

"I was like, 'Oh yeah, that's it,'" he said. "Apparently they had been living in the wall in my room."

Bed bugs have seen a resurgence in the United States of late, and businesses and residents in Boulder report the pests have become a real problem over the past few years. The blood-sucking insects have changed the way some companies budget and train employees. They've added extra chores for travelers and home-owners.

Some businesses have seen a boon thanks to the rising infestations.

"I would say our business is multiplying 10-fold right now," said Reed Swenson, sales manager for Envirozone, a Westminster-based pest control service that battles bugs in the Denver metro area, including Boulder and Broomfield counties. "It's pandemic at this point."

The increasing travel habits of Americans, paired with a lack of education about what to look for, is partly to blame for the exponential spread of beg bugs in recent years, Swenson said.

"Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers," he said. "It's very very easy to pick them up and bring them home."

Or bring them to hotels, buses, movie theaters, restaurants -- pretty much anywhere, Swenson said.

"An easier question to answer is where they're not," he said. "They don't care about how much money you make. They only care about their next blood meal."

Taking preventative steps

Housekeeping employees at Boulder's Outlook Hotel and Suites now have to watch a new "bed bug" video when being trained for their jobs. Supervisors undergo a more lengthy training on how to scour a room for the tiny parasitic insects, said Nick Martin, assistant general manager for the hotel at 800 28th St.

In an effort to be proactive against the tiny parasitic insects, the cleaning staff is given two extra minutes in each room to check for evidence that the bugs have been there, Martin said.

Envirozone employee Jon Alcon moves a mattress while working to exterminate bed bugs at a home on Alpine Avenue in Boulder last week. Bed bugs have seen a
Envirozone employee Jon Alcon moves a mattress while working to exterminate bed bugs at a home on Alpine Avenue in Boulder last week. Bed bugs have seen a resurgence in the United States of late, and businesses and residents in Boulder report the pests have become a real problem over the past few years. ( Jeremy Papasso )

"You can eye ball the sheets," he said. "They leave signs. Little brown specs -- blood spots."

The staff also looks behind the headboards on beds and under mattresses with flashlights.

"We haven't had anything in a year or so," Martin said. "But when they do come in -- they come in on someone's bag."

Two to three times in the past, guests have reported bed bugs to the Outlook staff, and employees found the evidence. As soon as that started happening, Martin said, the hotel established its new training and search policies.

"It's a concern, absolutely," he said. "They can't be stopped."

Managers with the Regional Transportation District, which provides bus and light rail service to the Denver metro area, said they too have taken new steps to keep riders from dropping or picking up bed bugs on their buses.

"We understand here at RTD that this has become an issue in the metro area, and we have and will continue to address the issue as needed," said Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for RTD.

Cleaners disinfect, vacuum and steam clean the bus seats frequently, Serna said.

"We do take preventative measures on a regular basis because there are a lot of people who ride our vehicles," she said.

District officials have received calls recently asking what they do to prevent bed bugs, and Serna said one Longmont city official called to report that someone claimed to have gotten bed bugs on a bus.

"We are prepared to address anything that comes up immediately," she said.

Budgeting the bugs

At the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, bed bugs not only have taken time from the staff's other duties, but they've taken money from the shelter's annual budget, said Executive Director Greg Harms.

"It's an expense we didn't really have two years ago, and it looks like it's going to be ongoing," Harms said. "It's not something you do once and forget about. You can eradicate a room today, but tomorrow someone might bring some more in."

Shelter staff have developed a process for managing the problem, Harms said. Every day, cleaners strip the beds and put sheets through the dryer so the heat will kill any clinging bugs. Employees also steam beds on a regular basis and try to eliminate hiding places by caulking over cracks, Harms said.

In the case that a guest sees a bug or notices a bite in the morning, which was last reported earlier this month, the shelter has contractors come in to either spray for the bugs or kill them with heat.

The budgeting of time and money at Boulder Housing Partners, the city's affordable housing and public housing partner, also has changed to accommodate bed bugs, said Terry Johnson, maintenance director for the organization.

"We now have a budget line item for them," Johnson said. "We have a part-time administrative person -- all they do is focus on the administration of bed bug prevention. We also have a part-time janitorial person -- they go through and do preventative maintenance."

Preventative bed bug maintenance involves vacuuming and steaming along the baseboards in the Housing Partners' 1,000 units. Johnson's staff picks one site for preventative cleaning every other week.

"The majority of the time, we will inspect and not find anything," he said. "If we find one, we jump on it and hit it hard."

Bed bugs first showed up in the Housing Partners units three to four years ago, Johnson said, and the organization made the news in July 2008 when about 100 residents reported an infestation of bed bugs.

"We got educated early in the process," he said. "We are not the experts, but now we know how to get a handle on them."

Boulder Housing Partners uses both chemicals and heat treatments to zap the traveling insects, when they're discovered. But the prevention has kept that to a minimum, Johnson said.

"You end up spending a little bit of money up front on preventative measures, but in the end you save a lot of money not having to treat them," he said.

For the times between the cleaning staff's visits, Johnson said, the organization holds informational meeting for their tenants.

"We want to educate them on what to do," he said. "Don't buy furniture at garage sales. Don't pick up furniture on the curb."

'You have to be really proactive'

Once bed bugs have invaded a person's home or business, one of the best ways to get rid of them is to overheat them, said Scott Harvey, who owns Envirozone. His technicians will saturate a room with 135-degree heat for six to eight hours, he said.

Proof of how busy his business is these days: Harvey said his staff is booked solid through Nov. 7.

"The Boulder-Denver area is about sixth-busiest in the United States with bed bug calls," he said. "In the last five years, it has gone skyrocketing."

The advice he gives clients when they ask how to avoid getting bed bugs again involves careful shopping and careful sleeping.

"When I buy clothes, I put them in the dryer," he said, adding that when traveling, people should "inspect the room and beds before doing anything."

Pack a trash bag, he said, and put the suitcase in the bag while you inspect the room.

"You have to be really proactive," he said.