This post is sponsored by Terminix.
Paul Curtis, a board-certified entomologist, is the manager of technical and regulatory services at Terminix’s commercial unit. As a licensed pest control operator, he has worked in sales and management in 27 locations across the U.S. He’s responsible for training, solving complex customer issues, regulatory relations, quality standards and all technical issues.
Here he dispels some myths about bed bugs and offers best practices on how hotels can prevent and solve problems.
Question: There seems to be a lot of different information about how bed bugs are spread. How do people contract bed bugs and what can be done to prevent it?
Paul Curtis: Bed bugs travel by crawling, but are mostly spread by hitchhiking on people and their belongings. Nymphs (immature stages of bed bugs) are so small that they are easily missed on and in luggage, clothing, shoes and personal items. They glue their eggs to items and clothing, which can then be transferred from homes, shops, theaters, public transportation and workplaces without people transporting them to your facility even being aware they’re doing so. They may also enter structures through products, books, furniture and furnishings that have been in areas with bed bug activity. Once in a structure, they may migrate throughout the building. In the hospitality industry, they may also use laundry carts, housekeeping carts and vacuum cleaners as transportation from one area to another.
Q: When it comes to bed bugs, how can hotels be proactive in monitoring for them?
PC: All bed bugs need is a host and a place to hide to establish an infestation. Thus even the cleanest and most luxurious properties are still at risk, as they provide numerous hiding places and an abundance of warm-blooded hosts. That is why it is so important for all hotel staff members to recognize signs of an infestation and know what to do if an issue arises. Education is your single greatest preventative tool. This means that each team member must be trained to inspect guest rooms for bed bug activity, and learn how to address any possible infestation promptly and effectively. Proactive monitoring may also include the installation of insect monitoring devices and periodic canine inspections. Your Pest Management Professional (PMP) can assist with training and conduct regular inspections for bed bugs as well.
Q: If there is an infestation, how should hotels respond?
PC: Maintenance, management, housekeeping and guest services staff must remain vigilant and act immediately whenever bed bugs are believed to be onsite. Your facility should have a standard written protocol for dealing with suspected bed bug activity, including how to respond to concerns and reports from guests. Documentation of your responses can show that you acted in a timely and responsible manner.
You may choose to offer the guest another room while the room of concern is being inspected and addressed, and the guest should be informed that your PMP will be contacted immediately to investigate. Remember not to offer medical advice. The guest should be encouraged to contact his or her health care provider regarding medical treatment or other health concerns. If housekeeping or maintenance discovers evidence of an infestation, they should leave all items and equipment in the room and report the suspected activity to management. In either case, the room should be taken out of inventory until it can be inspected and cleared by your PMP.
Q: How do you recommend handling an outbreak and do you have any communication tips for speaking with guests?
PC: While all guests’ concerns may not turn out to be founded, team members should express care and concern to those who complain about bed bugs. A qualified PMP or entomologist should confirm whether a room is actually infested with bed bugs, but it is critical to have good communications protocols when dealing with guests’ concerns about bed bugs. Guests who escalate responses to suspected bed bug activity or bites often do so as a result of how their concerns were treated. They should be taken seriously and immediate management involvement is recommended. Allow your guests privacy to express their concerns where possible. This minimizes your guests’ worry of embarrassment and will help you avoid spreading false alarms.
Q: Do you have any general information on treatment methods?
PC: The bed bug’s ability to develop resistance to pesticides is legendary and the most efficacious treatments result from using a combination of methods. Large, national companies like Terminix have access to multiple approaches and tailor treatment methods to the hotel manager’s specific needs to kill bed bugs and keep them from returning. Treatment could include physical removal of the eggs and adult bed bugs using a special vacuum, non-toxic freezing or heat treatment or an array of pesticides. Judicious applications of dusts or other residual control methods may also be included to protect points of harborage, such as wall voids and crevices. In the worst cases, your PMP may recommend disposal of some infested items.