What’s Up with all of These Bed Bugs?

Provided by Natalie Raben for CFDA “From the Experts”


Are bed bugs really just restricted to living in just beds? What do their bites look like? And why do they seem to be wreaking havoc on certain NYC retailers?


Until recently, thoughts of bed bugs probably only came to mind when paired with sweet dreams. But since these pests started making multiple headlines with their recent closure of the Soho Epic Hollister – during the 4th of July holiday weekend no less – and subsequently Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Buy Buy Baby, people have begun to take their presence more seriously. The problem is not necessarily the actual bed bugs themselves, but it’s all of the baggage that they inevitably come with. Who is financially responsible to pay for an extermination? How does someone get rid of bed bugs? And how did they actually get here in the first place?


Tim Wong, technical director at NYC pest control firm M&M Environmental, has years of experience working with a broad range of clients, including many in retail, and has this advice to offer:




Are bed bugs new for the retail industry?


No, this is a trend we’ve actually been noticing over the past three years. We’ve always worked with commercial and residential clients, but it was three years ago that we began to identify this as a problem. Most of the retail clients that we’ve worked with in the past however, happen to be stores of much smaller size where the infestations were easier to contain and remediate quickly.


How did bed bugs actually get inside the stores?


There are a few different ways for bed bugs to gain entry inside stores. First, they could be entering on employees who may have them in their homes. Since not everyone reacts to bed bug bites, it’s quite possible for people to have them in their homes without even realizing it. Bed bugs also travel easily on the electrical piping and wiring inside of walls and in between floors of a building. Therefore, if an apartment above a store has an infestation, it’s quite likely that they could be traveling through the walls. Next, it’s possible for customers that are returning merchandise to be living with bed bugs in their homes. Since the articles of clothing have already been exposed, they may be acting as carriers for bed bugs. Lastly, the trucks that are being used to transport inventory must be checked constantly for bed bugs. In the case that there is an infestation in one of these trucks, it would clearly have the largest affect on multiple retailers’ inventories.


What are some of the signs that a store might have bed bugs?


The first clear sign of bed bugs would be identifying bites on employees’ bodies.  The appearance of bed bug bites can vary drastically from one person to another, but typically speaking, they tend to surface in clusters of red, itchy welts on the appendages. If this becomes a noticeable trend amongst employees, it could be from bed bugs. Also, if you begin to see slight imperfections on clothing, like tiny red or rust colored dots, this could be because of bed bugs. And of course if you identify any peculiar non-flying insects crawling around the store – most likely in the darker, cooler spots – then these could be bed bugs.


How would a store confirm that it has bed bugs?


Looking for bed bugs can be an arduous process because they are very small and are active mainly at night. Therefore, using certified canines to detect for the scent of live bed bugs is the most efficient and effective way to find them. These canines are trained to seek out only the scent of live bed bugs and viable eggs. Canines are also helpful in determining the precise location of an actual problem, and will be able to indicate how widespread or isolated the problem actually is.


If people do not sleep in the stores, why would bed bugs be found there?


Contrary to their common name, bed bugs are not restricted to living in beds. They can live in almost any habitat – especially places that are dark and near a food source. Bed bugs can enter stores on people who do not realize that they are carrying them. They are extremely resilient and can survive for a long period of time without having a meal. If they are not near an immediate food source, they will continue to seek out food – either by hitchhiking on people or by crawling through cracks and crevices inside the walls of buildings.


How do you get rid of bed bugs?


There are a number of different treatment methods used to get rid of bed bugs, and each situation will call for a unique approach. For retailers, the most difficult part to treat is the actual clothing. This can be completed by washing and then drying the clothing on a high heat for 10 minutes – not ideal for un-purchased items – or by taking the items offsite to be fumigated in an airtight chamber with gas. Since bed bugs can live inside the walls or on furniture, treating the actual store is an entirely separate process, something that people do not often realize. Methods for treating the store can include using an EPA-approved pesticide, Cryonite instant freeze, heat treatments or steaming.


What do shoppers need to be more aware of now that bed bugs are such a hot topic?


Shoppers need to know that bed bugs can realistically exist anywhere. When taking home purchased items, the smartest thing to do first is to put items into a dryer on high heat for 20 minutes. The attention that bed bugs are now receiving should lead to both shoppers and retailers shaping their decisions in appropriately preventative ways, with more and more retailers instituting prevention programs in their stores.


What measures can stores take to ensure that their customers and employees will be able to continue to shop safely?


Stores should begin to incorporate regular monitoring for bed bugs as part of their routine pest control programs. Stores that offer locker rooms or separate personal areas for their employees should also consider implementing a set of rules or guidelines for bed bug prevention to be followed by employees.


For more information please visit www.mandmpestcontrol.com or contact Natalie Raben at n.raben@mmenviro.net, (212) 219-8218.