Mattress Bugs Threaten Accommodations within the Time of COVID-19

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By Joseph Latino

Pest control was viewed as an essential service by Homeland Security and the vast majority of states during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, concerns about social distancing and possible exposure to the coronavirus have significantly slowed or stopped treatments for structural pests related to public health, including bed bugs. This is particularly worrying as recent data suggests that bed bugs can lead to asthma and respiratory complications, leading to even more severe cases of COVID-19 among the 25 million asthmatics in the United States

Hotels across the country are becoming centers for COVID-19 patients and frontline health workers. We welcome these efforts. Unfortunately, the unforeseen consequence of this temporary change of use makes these properties even more susceptible to bed bug infestation. With every influx of new residents, the number of bed bug introductions will increase.

Prior to COVID-19, hotels benefited from daily inspections by housekeeping staff, warnings from guests, and quick action from contracted pest control professionals (PMPs) to handle bed bug incidents. Early detection is now less likely and timely treatment by PMPs may not be available. If left untreated, the infestation can grow exponentially and spread across the plots. For example, a pregnant woman can cause more than 30,000 bed bugs in 70 days.

Delaying treatment and failure to follow prevention programs simply aggravate the inevitable. Bed bugs will spread throughout the facility, causing undue damage and stress to inmates and staff, resulting in significant remediation costs. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that bed-ridden COVID-19 patients are a prime, immobile source of food for bed bugs, whose bites if repeatedly scratched can lead to further infections. Bed bug prevention can mean the difference between treating a few rooms and providing expensive, building-wide treatment.

If your inmates go COVID-19 related, your bed bugs won’t. It is important to note that due to a decreased census, even non-reused hotels may experience bed bug problems that spread through their properties as existing bed bugs are forced to roam the property to find blood meals in occupied rooms.

What can hoteliers do?
The archaic approach to reactive treatments simply isn’t an effective long-term strategy for controlling bed bug infestations.

If left unaddressed, bed bugs can spread over a period of months and infest entire hotels. This leads to difficult, extensive, and costly treatments; significant facility-wide disruption; and unnecessarily long interactions with pest controllers, which is particularly problematic during today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing a prevention strategy can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in unwanted bed bug treatment costs. Proven COVID-19 hygiene guidelines allow pest control professionals to implement tried and tested prevention programs that significantly reduce bed bug incidents. These proactive measures will ensure the well-being of residents, lower operating costs, protect the facility from expensive renovation costs, and reduce property liability from bed bug-related legal activities.

Another option for hoteliers is for COVID-19 restrictions to be relaxed and hotels to be redeveloped before they return to normal guest service. At this point, they should seriously consider a hotel-wide assessment, including detecting bed bugs, treating them if necessary, and implementing best prevention strategies. These measures are much easier to implement, less disruptive and less expensive as long as the hotel is not occupied.

Find the right balance
In attempting to control the delicate balance between the short-term needs of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring public safety through responsible pest control, it is important to recognize the unintended dangers of postponing bed bug treatment. Even in the short and medium term, the contact time between inmates, employees and pest control is shortened through the implementation of tried and tested preventive treatments. Financially, the early introduction of bed bug prevention saves hoteliers unnecessary costs for pest control. Guest compensation; Staff time; Legal costs; and reduced census and lost room income due to negative social media.

We need to adhere to best practice guidelines from the CDC and other regulators while ensuring hotels are not exposed to bed bugs that run amok. While there is a health risk if pest control does not practice adequate social distancing and hygiene, hotels can also suffer the consequences of diminishing the performance of integrated pest control that focuses on pest control. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we use solid and careful judgment in managing pest control during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current crisis recalls the wise words of Ben Franklin: “… an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Joseph Latino is President of Allergy Technologies, which makes products and programs that address critical issues in both pest control and healthcare.

This is a contribution to Hotel Business written by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.