Shelter Step One

Step #1: Assess the Situation

Section 1 will be useful if you have an existing pest control issue.  If you don’t have a current pest control problem at your location, you can read on, or skip to step three for information about processes you can implement to help prevent these kinds of problems in the future.

What Kind of Pest are You Dealing With?

A staff member or a resident has brought an insect to your attention.  It’s a bed bug, or at least it looks like a bed bug, and you need to decide what to do next.  Unfortunately, professional bed bug eradication services can be costly, especially for a nonprofit that already has to stretch limited resources.  The truth is that if it looks like a bed bug and was found on a mattress, it is probably a bed bug.  However, it can be prudent to do some further investigation before calling in professionals.  For now, isolate the insect(s). A plastic cup with saran wrap over the lid and a rubber band to hold the saran wrap in place.  It’s useful to have one or more examples of the insect, alive if possible, to show the technician if you do have to call your pest control company.  However, before we make that call, let’s discuss a few common causes of false alarm.  

Awareness of bed bugs is much greater than it was a few years ago, which means it’s less likely that an infestation will develop unnoticed.  It also means that there are more false alarms.  There are some insects that are similar to bed bugs that you should be aware of.  We will start with a few insects that are definitely not bed bugs but do pose some risk.  Fleas, ticks, and German cockroaches (seen in the images to the left) are not bed bugs.  Fleas and German cockroaches can create their own pest infestation issues, and they should be addressed.  We will discuss this further in future chapters.

There are also insects that look a great deal like bed bugs but aren’t bed bugs, principally bat bugs, and to a lesser extent, bird bugs.1 Bat bugs are closely related to bed bugs, and they may feed on humans in certain circumstances.  Even professionals may struggle to differentiate between bat bugs and bed bugs without a magnifying lens.  These rarely infest mattresses and furniture, but you are likely to run across them if you run a facility that serves people who may have been sleeping in proximity to birds and bats.

There are also circumstances that many people consider to be signs of a bed bug infestation that may or may not be related to bed bugs.  Rashes, bites, and other dermatological reactions are common causes of false alarm.  While bed bugs do bite and many people may have an allergic reaction, there are various other insects that bite, as well as many causes of allergic reactions.

Additionally, there are psychological conditions such as delusional parasitosis that can lead people to the false conclusion that they or their belongings are infested with insects.  If your organization deals with psychological and substance use disorders, you may be more likely to come across a person with this condition.

The good news is that while there are various insects that may create issues in your facility, many of the control measures we will cover in this guide will work to control these pests as well.

How Severe is The Infestation?

This is an important question.  In this section we will discuss  the difference between a pest “introduction” 2 and an “infestation”.  There is no objective measure of “infestation”, but quantifying the degree of the problem is almost as important as correctly identifying the pest.  There are often repeated anecdotes that go something like “when you see one, you know there are more.”  Sometimes this is true, but finding a single bed bug should not be cause for panic. Coming across one or more bed bugs in a clients’ belongings does not mean that the entire facility requires professional treatment.  Similarly, finding a single bed bug, especially a dead bed bug, should also not be cause for panic even if it’s unclear how long the pest may have been there.  However,  we would recommend saving the insect and informing your pest controller about the location on their next scheduled visit.

Pest introduction is likely to be a routine occurrence in many facilities. Depending on the location of your facility and the population and number of people you serve, this could be a daily occurrence.  Professional pest control services can be expensive.  Sometimes these services can cost more than several thousand dollars; this is probably not a sustainable recurring expense for most nonprofit organizations, especially when a new client could reintroduce bed bugs to the facility at any time.  For this reason, it’s good to have a clear understanding and internal policy about what staff and residents can do to address these issues themselves, what can be done to prevent pest introduction, and when it is appropriate to call in outside help.  So, in this guide, we will define “introduction” and “infestation” as follows:

Introduction: One to several insects found in a client’s belongings or found in a localized area.  For instance, several bed bugs found in a clients’ bag, or perhaps one or several bed bugs found in a small area.

Infestation:  Several bed bugs found in multiple locations throughout the facility.  Perhaps you are able to locate bed bugs on numerous mattresses, in locations in adjoining rooms, etc.

This definition does leave some room for interpretation.  Finding a dozen bed bugs on a single bed does not necessarily rise to the level of infestation.  Similarly, finding two bed bugs in two different parts of your facility does not necessarily indicate two different introductions.  However, if you feel you can locate and isolate the problem,  this will drastically increase your chances of succeeding with your treatment.  Given the likelihood that clients will reintroduce bed bugs and other pests in the near future, many of our customers decide to initiate treatments themselves.  However, if you are finding a great deal of pests throughout the facility, the problem seems unmanageable or you feel you are working under a deadline you may need to bring in a professional pest management company.  

Can You Address This Problem Yourself?

Yes, as long as you are willing to enlist the help of your staff and cooperation from residents, it’s likely that you can handle most routine pest introductions yourself.  If you want to pursue this course of action, please skip to SECTION 2B.  If you intend to contact your pest management company this time but want to handle future problems yourself, SECTION 2A will provide further instruction.

Bed bug heater room

Resources

2 Dr. Dini Miller defines an infestation as a presence that has the ability to “self-perpetuate”.  It can be difficult for laypeople to determine the sex of a bed bug and detect the presence of eggs.  For this reason we will use a less perfect, but more easily trainable definition in this guide: https://www.epa.gov/managing-pests-schools/bed-bugs-schools-webinar-report