Insect control articles and pest control news

06 December 2018

Become a bed bug specialist

Pest control | PPC93 December 2018

Chris Cagienard, our go-to ‘Back to Basics’ feature writer, returns to give us an insight into adding bed bug services to your portfolio. But, as Chris describes, offering bed bug services isn’t as simple as it used to be.

Better than basics bed bug control

In our working as pest management professionals there are a number of pests we deal with day in and day out, such as rats, mice, black ants, wasps, hide beetles and larder beetles. We can quickly become proficient in mastering the biology and behaviour of these pests as we experience them so often that it quickly becomes ingrained in us as to how they behave, what methods of control are the most effective and what we can do to increase the success of any treatment or prevention strategy.

On the other hand, there are pests such as bed bugs, cockroaches and pharaoh’s ants for example that we are likely to experience far less frequently. For many Level 2 qualified technicians, depending on the location that you operate within and your specific role within the company that you work for, it is possible that your exposure to dealing with these insect pests may be limited.

The management of these pests can often be considered a ‘specialist’ service that requires a technician to learn new skills to be able to master. Learning these skills can help you to develop and advance your skills as a technician and may even lead to additional career opportunities for you within your current company or elsewhere.

Initiative is not something you can teach

Let’s look at the specialist service of effective bed bug eradication. There are already many specialist service providers that have carved out the niche in offering bed bug specific services as it is a fast-growing area of concern with reported infestations increasing, sometimes of epidemic proportions. In my opinion, increasing your knowledge and understanding in the effective control of bed bugs is an extremely valuable addition to your skillset, and I will share with you why I think this. 

When I was first trained to carry out bed bug treatments the method was focused on ‘do it this way because I told you so’. This really did not help me to understand what I was doing and why, what effect it would have and what the underlying principles were. This was not very helpful and didn’t give me the confidence of having a true understanding of the treatment process.

It was in taking my own initiative to learn about bed bugs that my skills developed. My understanding of the principles of the biology and behaviour of the pest developed and as a result the number of times I would get a call back for an unresolved bed bug infestation fell to almost none. So by using bed bugs as an example, developing a specialist service will allow you to extend your initiative, and with it your knowledge and supporting skills.

A bed bug-Graham Snodgrass

The history of bed bugs in the UK

Bed bugs in the UK were a common household pest up until the mid to late 1970s into the early 80s with almost a third of homes in some urban environments being infested. In extreme cases in low-income areas, almost all residences were infested.

From the 1950s onwards, the introduction of harsh chemical control with products such as DDT reduced the instance of bed bug infestation down to very low levels giving the impression that the days of the bed bug were gone. Treatments with chemicals such as DDT have since been outlawed as exposure to the chemical was found to lead to increased risk of cancer, increased infertility in men and a higher risk of miscarriage in women. In addition, research suggested expectant mothers with increased levels of DDT (due to exposure) were more likely to have a child who developed Autism. For the younger pest management professionals, this is a great example that the modern standards and the adherence to COSHH regulations are vital.

Intensive nationwide treatments stopped, and all was well... for a while

When I started in the pest industry in 1998 in Scotland, bed bug infestations were rare, and it was not uncommon to only be involved in one or two treatments in an entire year. Fast forward to 2018 and we regularly get five or more enquiries for bed bug treatments every day in Glasgow. And we are just one small company.

Reports of infestations are increasing exponentially due to the transmission and spread of infestations via increased travel, and due to the lack of understanding about the pest by the younger generation. I’m sure I am not alone in having experienced many young adults saying, “I thought bed bugs were a fairy tale”.

As an industry we are swinging in to action to tackle this epidemic rise in bed bug infestations, but we must be smarter and more innovative than our predecessors as we are dealing with increased capacity for infestations to be spread, a lack of awareness among the population and an absolute necessity to ensure that your treatment methods are safe. We need to become educators and experts in the specialist treatment of bed bugs if we are going to turn the tide.

We must understand every part of the biology and behaviour of the pest. We must understand what methods are available and what makes for an effective treatment to make sure that we succeed and that the public can see clearly that they need pest management professionals to get the job done.

Learn the biology of the bed bug

I am not going to attempt to cover it all in this article, but, if you want to become an expert in the control of bed bugs the only place to start is on a full immersion in the biology of the pest. You will need to know:

  • What aspects of human activity attract the insect?
  • What times is the pest active during the night?
  • What are the effects of hot and cold temperatures?
  • What is the reproductive process [and how it affects behaviour]?
  • What is the growth cycle?
  • What is the method of feeding?
  • How often do they feed?
  • How are the egg cases impacted by insecticides?
  • What chemicals can excite the adult insect?

This is not an exhaustive list but simply a few of the attributes of the bed bug that should be considered. Take the time to learn about the biology and it will help you in a number of ways.
Firstly, it will help you become far more authoritative and confident when speaking to clients about bed bugs. On numerous occasions just being more knowledgeable about a pest has closed a sale even when we may have been the more expensive option.

Secondly, it will help you to understand why a bed bug behaves the way that it does. This will help you with every aspect of the treatment from the survey process to the accompanying advice that you give to the customer during the treatment to ensure success.

Concentrating on bed bug behaviour

Once you have a grounding in the biology of bed bugs the behavioural traits will make more sense. You will see that the behaviour has a predictability to it. Where we can predict the behaviour of a pest, we can use this against it as part of the method of management or prevention.

Significantly, understanding the behaviour of the pest helps us to educate clients and what they need to do in order for the treatment to be a success.

If you give unclear instructions, it's unlikely that clients will take your advice, limiting the effectiveness of treatment. A good understanding of the behaviour of bed bugs will also help you assess how effective your treatment strategy has been.

The survey

The foundation of any good pest management treatment is always a good survey. This is no different with bed bugs. It’s vital to make sure that you fully assess the scope of any infestation and confirm that it is indeed bed bugs and not another biting insect such as fleas.

Is the infestation in a house or a flat, a hotel or a guesthouse? This should help you decide how to conduct your survey. In hotels and guest houses it is best practice to inspect the rooms all around any affected room. Active monitors can establish the presence of light activity, without needing the infestation to develop before it becomes detectable visually.

The best survey technique I have experienced remains the use of a trained bed bug detection dog and handler. I was sceptical at first, but the speed and accuracy of this was so decisively impressive when I saw it in action – highly recommended! Other techniques include a thoroughly detailed inspection or the use of active monitors, but a good survey will leave you with little question over the most appropriate treatment.

Heat treatment vs traditional treatments

When surveying and quoting for bed bug jobs it can often seem that there is a division forming between the companies who advocate heat treatments and others who champion traditional treatments.

The debate has become quite polarised with each side claiming that their approach works best and the other approach is not effective. My skillset is focused towards the ‘traditional treatment’ approach of a time-consuming and thorough inspection coupled with targeted use of residual insecticides and non-toxic powders such as diatomaceous earth. I normally recommend four treatment visits over a four-week period. My faith in the strategy is because this is how I was trained, and I’ve experienced a very high success rate using this method. But it is not the only method that gets results.

I think the debate should not be about whether heat treatments are more effective than traditional treatment strategies. Instead it should be about what does a good heat treatment strategy look like and what does a good traditional treatment strategy look like. I believe strongly that both can work very well in almost any situation, to tackle almost any infestation.

However, it is clear that there are poorly performed versions of each type being carried out and passed off as effective strategy. This gives us and our strategies a bad name.

Although I understand the principles, I am not an expert on heat treatments, and wouldn’t profess to know what actions lead to a successful treatment. But it seems quite clear at a glance that not all heat treatments are created equal. The differences can range from the heat source capacity, humidity, room temperatures, and I am sure there are a multitude of other variables. If you are interested in heat, there’s a good PestAware article on the BPCA website – “Everything you need to know about heat treatments for bed bugs”.

Currently I would not trust a partial heat treatment using a tent or pod as an effective method as I have not yet seen evidence that this is more effective than my experience of tried and tested traditional methods. However, I have seen real advantages to large-scale treatments where the entire room or building is heated up to a maintained temperature for an adequate period of time.

Remember, if you don’t have this service inhouse then BPCA's CSN is a great place to bring these specialist skills from trusted fellow members ( and select CSN)

It is also not uncommon for us to see poor versions of a traditional treatment strategy. Every day we talk to customers who have been promised something like one treatment for £80 will get rid of their infestation. This approach will never yield a successful outcome and undermines the professionalism of the industry.

Tips from Chris for non-heat bed bug treatment

Let’s cut to it: DIY bed bug treatments do not work

I have never heard of a DIY treatment against bed bugs being successful. It seems fairly obvious to me that this is because the person carrying out the treatment is not trained adequately in the biology and behaviour of the pest or effective treatment strategies.

I would not wish a bed bug infestation on my worst enemy and do not understand why anyone would try and tackle it themselves instead of calling in the professionals.

We need more bed bug specialists

Bed bugs are on the increase and at the minute the industry is straining to keep ahead of the problem. Your industry needs you to step up and learn more about bed bugs and help to fight the rise of this pest across the UK. Take the time to read some of the great materials online, go back and study your BPM manual, or even sign up for a specialist bed bug course. To win the battle against bed bugs we need to make sure we are prepared.

We need more bed bug specialists in our industry to help deliver this essential service and help to innovate new methods of control and prevention that are reliable, robust and safe. Take the first step today…

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