Unless you have been on a different planet for the last few years you have probably experienced the nightmare of bed bugs.
If you have avoided it, congratulations. But don't get too complacent — your time will come.
It doesn't matter how many stars you have , it doesn't matter how clean your business is, the little buggers are driving businesses and customers nuts on a worldwide basis.
The incidence of bed bugs has increased by an estimated 5000 per cent in the last decade and the trend shows no sign of declining.
Adult bed bugs are oval in shape, 5-6 mm long fully grown, and are fast on their feet. They are rust brown in colour and change to a deeper red brown following a feed. The juvenile stages, or nymphs, are lighter in colour and from 1-4 mm in length. Bed bugs are flat, and being thin means that they can hide in extremely narrow cracks and crevices. This makes finding them a real challenge. There are two main species that bite humans the common bedbug, and the tropical bed bug, the results are the same, pain for the customer and your customer service rep.
Each time a bedbug grows to the next stage they need a blood feast. They will bite for 5-10 minutes and them roll off the host and meander back to their hidey hole. Just because they are called bedbugs does not mean that this is where they live. They can be living in picture frames, book bindings, in drawers or gaps in the skirting board the list is endless.
The total life cycle from egg to adult can take as little as 6 weeks. They commonly live for at least six months and up to a year in that time can lay up to 500 eggs in their lifetime. If you are interested in the maths this means that one bedbug can turn into a nightmare faster than you can say infestation.
Over the last year these little travellers have shut down retail stores, Nike , Just did it. movie theatre's, office buildings, and even in the Empire State Building locker rooms. It is estimated that these blood suckers cost the Australian tourism industry alone $75 m per annum.
They have been found on planes, trains and have become a scourge from New York to London.
This month British Airways have had to take two planes out of service due to complaints about bites from passengers.
Some American hotels now request guests to take showers before entering a room; they're given track suits and slippers to wear while their clothes are cleaned, one Las Vegas hotel replaces guests' luggage with new suitcases. This may sound extreme, but even one customer who claims to be the victim of bed bugs can cost significant money in lawsuits and loss of business.
So what solutions are there to this growing worldwide epidemic?
Firstly we need to be sure that we have bed bugs and not some other infestation. It is not unusual for businesses to assume bed bugs when in fact a flea infestation may be the issue.
The best source for information in my view is www.bedbug.org.au, this Australian website is run by The Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital is a joint facility of the University of Sydney and the Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research (ICPMR). The Department is part of the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Laboratory Services (CIDMLS) and is the only Hospital/Academic Department of Medical Entomology anywhere in Australia. Steven Doggett has become Mr Bed Bug and has recently updated the Code Of Practice to its 3rd Edition.
The website is home to the Bed Bug Code of Practice which is essential reading for anyone in the industry. I cannot recommend it enough.
So you've read the Code of Practice, yet you have bed bugs. What now?
Do not nip down to the hardware store and buy a case of insect spray. It won't kill them.
What it will do is get them excited and potentially spread them into adjoining rooms, this is not a good idea.
You have the option of calling in the professional pest controllers, they generally charge between $300 and $450 per room, and cannot always offer a guarantee. Some pest controllers are very knowledgeable about the issue and some even have access to Bed bug sniffer dogs to make discovery of the bed bug nests quicker and more complete. Unfortunately not all pest controllers are interested in this pest and many will decline the job.
Given the current economic times, a lot of facilities won't or cannot afford to get the professionals and will opt for a more in-house strategy.
The most common remediation that such businesses opt for is vapour steam equipment.
Bed bugs and all other pests can be killed by heat, a sudden burst above 45C will kill bed bug adults but 60C-plus is needed to assure complete kill of the eggs.
Commercial steam units that offer continual refill are necessary. Smaller domestic type steam units do not have the boiler capacity to raise the temperature high enough and cannot sustain steam long enough to be of benefit.
The beauty about steam is that anyone can use the equipment, it will kill all stages of the life cycle from eggs to adults and will also kill dust mites, fleas or any other organism that the steam touches.
The other useful thing with the commercial steam units is that they have a vacuum system built in as well. This means that one unit can vacuum first and then steam any surfaces.
Vapour steam is considerably different to "normal" steam. Vapour steam is formed at temperatures above 150 C and at these temperatures steam becomes extremely dry, less than 5 per cent moisture, as well as extremely safe. At these temperatures 1 litre of water converts into 1500 litres of steam.
As a consequence a true commercial unit only uses 2-3 litres of water per hour. This means that rooms will be dry very quickly and there is no chemical smell which can be very off putting for guests. One disadvantage is that steam has no residual effect so pest control chemicals should be used after steam treatment to allow some residual effect on any bugs that may have been missed.
Commercial Steam units capable of such work are very cost effective and a suitable unit is in the $2000 -$3000 range. With financing these can be working for you for as little as $20 per week.
The beauty of the equipment is that it offers a myriad of other uses and benefits and is not purely limited to pest control.
These units are commonly used for housekeeping duties, from cleaning tiles, grout, glass, window and door tracks, patios and patio furniture. They are excellent at spot cleaning carpets as well as cleaning bathrooms and tiles etc.
So an investment in a quality vapour steam machine has many payoffs above and beyond bed bug control.
So in conclusion, there are no simple quick fixes for the bed bug plague that is now upon us.
The issue is not just local but has become an International nuisance. The pest control industry is actively seeking better systems and poisons, but given the fact that we are talking about bedrooms and mattresses the choices are limited. Who would want to sleep in a room that smells of chemicals?
The sooner you can educate your staff to the problem the more likely any infestation can be found immediately and acted on. Time really is of the essence and a few short weeks can cause a minor problem to turn into a major expensive nightmare. I have seen 4 star resorts loosing half of their accommodation for weeks to get control of an infestation.
Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite.