Hotel Bed Bugaboos

Bed bugs are booming in hotel beds, particularly in the wake of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. That makes business even better than usual for companies engaged in pest control and sanitation.

In addition to natural disasters like hurricanes, international travel and the growing popularity of natural products for the guestroom factor into the problem. So does the decrease in use of highly powerful pesticides like DDT, according to one company spokesman.

Bed bugs are not only irritating, they can have legal ramifications. The bugs — tan when hungry, brown when blood-engorged, oval, less than a quarter-inch in length — made the news two years ago when Helmsley Enterprises settled a suit brought by Mexican businessmen who claimed they'd been bitten during a stay at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York City.

Bed bug trouble has been on the rise for quite a while. In April, the Wall Street Journal quoted an industry publication saying that hotels accounted for the biggest proportion of reported bedbug infestations — 37 percent, up six points from the year before. Pest-control company Orkin confirmed to the Journal that reported bedbug calls were way up.

And the returns from this year aren't even in yet. They promise to be dramatic, and that's just for bedbugs; the size of the problem the increasingly populous Formosan termite presents, particularly in the wake of the hurricanes that swept the Gulf Coast and Florida this fall, remains to be measured.

Companies are addressing the situation. Ecolab, which offers the Innspect Bed Bug Service, has developed the “Hurricane Cleanup and Sanitation Guideline Manual” to help institutions revive after the hurricanes and subsequent flooding.

“Some businesses were totally destroyed,” says Colleen Dillon, vice president of health care and hospitality for Ecolab. “We've done our best to help people recover, and we did help some customers that we did not help before. It's nice to part of a really big company because you do have resources.”


“The big issue today with hotels and motels is bed bugs,” says Steve Goldrich, vice president of Sterifab manufacturer Noble Pine Products. “Many years back, when DDT was in use, bed bugs were very rare, but DDT has been taken off the market. It was such a strong insecticide that the bed bugs didn't have a chance.”

At the same time, international travel has contributed to the problem, he says.

“Bed bugs are a problem so ubiquitous and so difficult that everybody, from the Centers for Disease Control on down through every major player in the hotel industry, agrees there is no one answer.”

A combination insecticide-disinfectant, Sterifab “is one of the weapons people look to to control the problem,” Goldrich says. Trouble is, “there is no way to absolutely guarantee a solution,” because bed bugs are mobile. “They find bed bugs behind picture frames, which means they move from their food source in the bed.”

Housekeeping, too, can compound the issue. “When a maid cleans a room, bed bug migration is often affected by the fact that she goes from one room to another and an adult or adults move with her,” Goldrich says. Even more insidious: unlike adult insects, bed bug eggs “are impervious to all insecticides.”

Because of the recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, “business is beyond good,” Goldrich says. “Business is terrific in general, and it runs across all the different markets we're selling to. But the hurricanes have put this into another sphere. They've created opportunities that we never thought about, and we know from our distributors that a number of the biggest players, the pest control companies, are using Sterifab.”

That's because for now at least, the main problem in the flooded areas is mold; Sterifab is applied as a disinfectant. But termites are on the rise.

“The whole Golf Coast is so humid that termites are an ongoing issue,” Goldrich says. “They don't have a hibernation period in New Orleans, and it's not merely humid down there anymore. The houses that remain standing are going to be affected in a much more insidious way by termites than they would have been before.”


As senior technical specialist for agribusiness/pest management firm Syngenta, Dale Kaukeinen has been “on both sides of the job,” both advising and applying treatments. Syngenta products include Demand CS, an insecticide, and Archer, an insect growth regulator, a “green concept” that acts as form of insect birth control.

Kaukeinen is convinced that the increase in leisure and international travel, coupled with the spread of natural fabrics as opposed to synthetic ones, is making hospitality an ever more hospitable breeding ground for bed bugs. And check your luggage: the soft-sided variety allows the blood-feeding insects “to get in through a very small opening,” he says.

“Bed bugs are about as flat as your business card, so they don't need much of an opening. They' re about the size of an apple seed and very easy to overlook.”

Housekeeping is the “first line of defense,” Kaukeinen says. Staff need “to be able to recognize a blood smear from a bed bug and what the bugs look like in a room or on a guest's possessions,” he says. Bed bugs are nocturnal and don't carry disease; evidence of a bite is a pimple or spot, “with irritation,” that normally disappears within three days.

If training housekeeping in bed bug awareness is one key, another is professional pest management, according to Kaukeinen. “The facility needs to have a pest management professional on call to come in and find the infestation and treat it,” he says. “I would stress that the room not be torn down (by housekeeping) until that professional comes. It's like the TV show ‘CSI’: the PMP will have to do an investigation first. He needs all the clues available to find out where the problem exists and come up with a solution.”

Storms like Katrina and Rita are hard on humans but also on pests. “But their biology is such that they usually have a lot of wet wood and debris and food stuff to help with that rebuilding process,” Kaukeinen says. Termites will drown after a few days submerged, but “if they have something to float on, they could up wherever when the waters recede, so there's an opportunity for creation of new populations. That's true for ants, roaches, rodents, even things like snakes.”

And the hospitality environment is particularly challenging. “You have areas with all-hour activity, like lobbies, 24-hour cafes, casinos and restrooms, so cleanliness and sanitation are very important,” Kaukeinen says.

Hoteliers should have a plan. They should map out their properties, prioritize and assign responsibility, and staff must have a way to communicate their observations, he says. “If they see a pest, there should be somebody to contact, maybe a form to fill out so when the PMP comes, he has information to go on.”

For more information on pest control management, use the reader service card in the back of the magazine to contact these companies: Bird Barriers, circle 154; Ecolab, circle 155; Noble Pine Products, circle 156; Orkin Exterminating, circle 157; Terminix Commercial, circle 158.


Know the enemy

Learn how to identify the bed bug and evidence of bed bug activity. Housekeeping staff should be particularly well informed.

Have a plan

Identify the problem, quantify it, compile the information, and prepare a document for the pest management professional.

Get professional help

Pest management professionals, or PMPs, have the expertise and the chemicals to address the problem. Don't count on a permanent solution, however. Constant vigilance is required, too.

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