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Bed Bug media hype has spurned considerable action in the travel industry, hospitals, prisons, homes and (of course) fire stations. These pesky little critters have developed resistance to many pesticides (which may account for the recent increase in infestations), are particularly good a hiding, but remain visible to the naked eye. That's right; you can see them! What you might not see so clearly are the unscrupulous profiteers hoping to drain your wallet with ridiculously expensive equipment and supplies. They're out there, and some fire departments have already been bitten.

Noted Fire Service and EMS infection control expert Katherine West points out that a comprehensive bed bug control program involves minimal cost. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have outlined a simple yet comprehensive strategy of prevention and control.

Preventitive efforts include:
- remove clutter in sleeping areas
- seal cracks and crevices
- wash linen after each use in hot (> 120 degrees F) water and dry in a hot dryer
- vacuum beds and quarters frequently and discard vacuum bag after each use
- use mattress covers
- roll linen off beds (instead of pulling)

Control measures during an infestation include:
- spray surfaces with 91% isopropyl alcohol (kills on contact)
- ventilate areas after spraying
- allow surfaces to dry before placing clean linens/sleeping
- steam cleaning surfaces may be effective (done every 5-10 days until resolved)

Kathy West points out that 91% isopropyl alcohol is available at most drug stores for less than $2 per bottle. Departments may wish to spray surfaces prophylactically (as a preventative measure). For infestations, departments may wish to consider contracting with a pest control company. There is absolutely no reason to purchase expensive cleaning equipment, solutions, or supplies. There is also no reason under the sun to burn or discard linens and bedding items. Prevention is a responsibility we all share.

These same measures are equally effective for EMS cots, stretchers, equipment, and bags brought into homes and businesses. Changing linens after each use, vacuuming and spraying surfaces of equipment and bags with 91% isopropyl alcohol are wise prevention strategies. Like fire gear, EMS linens, bags, and equipment should never be carried into crew quarters.

Bed bugs infestations are increasing in every area of the world. Like any other health concern, an informed and common sense approach will protect your members, their families, and your community. There is no reason to waste money, time, or energy on expensive and unproven solutions when practical, inexpensive prevention and control stragies are readily available.

Reference: Joint Statement on Bed Bug Control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

Mike McEvoy
EMS Editor
Fire Engineering

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Comment by milli cater on March 4, 2019 at 4:03am

Bed bugs aren't a problem nowadays because companies have invented better products for killing them efficiently. But an unclean house will always be in danger of a pest infestation. While some companies resort to commercial carpet cleaning Indianapolis services, maybe homeowners should do the same. Their carpets will be better washed by professional services.

Comment by Frank Ricci on April 20, 2011 at 10:21pm
Thanks for the info. I got the call today that one of our stations may have them.
Comment by Nat Nichols on November 23, 2010 at 2:40pm
the Isopropyl is a little bit more expensive (for 90% isopropyl) and doesn't go a long way. the $11.00 bag of Food Grade diatomaceous Earth, will last for months and spreads itself over 4 to 5 rooms for months.

I used both. I doused my couches in alcohol. I found a webite that sells it by the gallon. For a combined total of about $50 beats a $1,000 exterminator any day. I also invested in encasements . Bed bugs are a piece of work.
Comment by Mike McEvoy on November 23, 2010 at 8:52am
$1.50 for a bottle of isopropyl alcohol beats an $11 bag of diatomaceous earth. You can spray alcohol yourself as well. When it dries, you don't have to lay down in a bed of dirt.
Comment by Mike McEvoy on November 22, 2010 at 6:53pm
Great question! Bed bugs inject an anesthetic and anticoagulant when they bite, so most people don't know they've been bitten until the bites show up which may take several days to two weeks to appear. They look much like mosquito bites and are essentially a localized allergic reaction. They bites are red, swollen, itchy and irritating. Some people may have more severe allergic responses, depending on the individual. The bugs are not infectious and people don't become "carriers" per se, but people can carry them in their linens, travel bags, clothes, or underwear to other places.

When you read about or see an increase in infestations in your community, it's time to pay attention at the firehouse.

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on November 22, 2010 at 1:02pm
I get the creeps just reading about it.
I have heard that bed bugs are little blood suckers.
If so; what are the signs of symptoms of contact?
And if you have been exposed, are you a "carrier"?
Trust me; I will be using alcohol.

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