What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
Bed Bugs and Household Mites: How to ID and control them
This week I have been inundated with questions about pests and insects that infest our homes. As you know, there are many pests, some are worse than others. In this article, I need to discuss a growing pest-control issue raised by homeowners in Central Florida. These concerns are Bed Bugs and Mites. Both pests can be a punishing both physically and mentally for those of us who have to deal with them. I will try to be both direct and to the point on the steps you should take if you have these problems and my suggestions of which control methods work best. Let’s get started.
We have all heard the horror stories of how bed bugs have been spreading across the globe. Many people think as long as they keep their homes clean, or if they spray for cockroaches regularly, they will never get bed bugs in their homes. Wrong! The bed bug phenomenon has spread from their places such as apartments, condominiums, hotels, and motels to our homes, movie theaters, cars, and workplaces. Because more people travel and stay in hotels and motels, bed bugs have hitched a ride into our homes. Just sitting on a seat on a local bus, cab, or your doctors waiting room can give you more than you thought you were paying for. The problem is the hitchhiker you picked up today may not be noticed for quite a while.
In fact, it may take a number of months before you notice the telltale signs of an infestation. Bed bugs can survive many months without feeding. During this time, they can lay one to five eggs a day. Once the bugs find you, they will feed on you between two and four in the morning while you are deeply asleep. Bed bugs like to feed during this time because the host only moves slightly, lessening the likelihood of rolling over on them and killing them. Signs of an active infestation can include blood spots found on your mattress covers and sheets to red blotchy spots found on the exposed parts of the body. Some people can have an allergic reaction to the bites, while others may not. I have been told the bites are itchy to some but others say they are not. One key characteristic we can tell you about the bites is that they are generally found to be in a straight line which distinguishes bed bugs from other parasites. Once you have identified bed bugs as the problem you need to act fast.
Call your pest-control company to identify what you have or take a sample to the local County Extension Office for identification. If they are positively identified as bed bugs, then you will have several choices to consider. You can try to take care of the infestation yourself. I do not recommend this course of action because you do not have the proper training, and you could spread the problem. Some people may call in a fumigator to kill them. Yes, this will work but there is no residual after the tent is taken down off the home, and re-infestation can occur immediately. Fumigation for bed bugs is also very expensive. Average costs are two to three times that of having your home fumigated for termites. Some companies offer heat or cold treatments, which are also effective but again, the home is susceptible to re-infestation just like the fumigation. The other option is to find a pest-control company to apply a residual pest-control product that will keep killing bed bugs for weeks or months following application. Some people have had individual rooms treated for bed bugs and have claimed success; I recommend the entire home be treated.
Costs to treat most homes with a residual product for bed bugs are generally in the one dollar per square foot range. The choice for control is based on your financial condition, the severity of the infestation, and the reputation of the company you hire. Remember, there is no one hundred percent guarantee you will eliminate your infestation forever. Bed bugs can be re-introduced into the home by anyone.
Living with bed bugs can also be emotionally nerve-wracking. You can’t sleep. You worry about your children being bitten. You know you have a problem and the fact you could be spreading these pests to your workplace, your school, your car, and your friend’s homes is always on your mind. Fortunately, if you have the means to pay for control measures, then you can get some relief. Unfortunately, not all people have the money to pay for professional services, and they have to manage the infestation with over the counter products such as Bedlam, Delta Dust, and Mattress encasements. The best way to prevent these pests from entering your home is to be aware they are everywhere. Be careful of accepting used furniture for the home. Every piece of new furniture that shares the delivery truck with old furniture could be infested.
If you are ordering a new mattress and the company is delivering them in the same truck, then make sure your new mattress is opened outside of the delivery vehicle, and that it was wrapped in plastic from the manufacturer. When you take a vacation, make sure you know how to spot bed bugs. The County extension office has brochures with photographs detailing how to identify them. When you check into a hotel, place your luggage in the bathtub while you inspect the room. Pull back the bed sheets and inspect the mattress seams for stains or spots. Remove the headboard from the wall and check behind it for any activity. Remember, one out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or has a friend who has found bed bugs in their home or hotel! Ask yourself, who slept here last night, last week, last month, etc. If bed bugs are found, do not let them place you in an adjoining room or above or below the room in question as bed bugs use the wall voids to travel. Another problem we find is mites.
Mites are microscopic insects closely related to spiders, which can infest homes throughout central Florida. Birds, rodents, and insects carry mites with them as they nest in our attics and eaves. Over a period of time, populations can grow very large. Homeowners notice the mites soon after the bird or rodent population is removed from the home. With their primary food source gone, mites seek out new sources of nourishment. Mites look to new sources of food using wall voids as pathways into the home. Once an entryway into the home is found, the entire population may follow.
My company had one such case recently after a bird problem was eliminated from the home. In about two weeks, masses of mites found their way out of a receptacle outlet on the kitchen counter which just happened to be a contrasting color to the mite. This allowed the homeowner to see them and call our office to control them. Most homeowners will never see the mite. Only the bite alerts them of a problem.
Mite bites can be very painful and can cause severe skin irritation or dermatitis and remain swollen for many days. Scratching of the irritation can cause secondary infections. All bites should be treated with an anti-septic. It is notable that unlike the bed bug, some mites feed entirely on the clothed areas only. Proper identification of what type of mite you have is very important in controlling this pest. Unfortunately, because of their size, this may be a problem.
The best way to combat a mite problem is first to remove the bird, rodent, or insect population. Next you will need to apply area sprays on the outside of the home to prevent them from entering the structure. Indoor space sprays will need to be made in the home and attic. Wall voids should be treated with a product called Delta Dust. These applications will need to be repeated in three weeks.
Finding yourself at the mercy of one of these pests can be a nightmare. Anytime you find an insect you do not recognize, take it in and have it identified quickly. Waiting only increases the chances of the problem growing. Have your choices explained to you and ask questions of your service provider. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here.