As bed bug infestations have spread to more locations, emergency medical professionals face increased risks of bringing these pests into their vehicles, headquarters and even their homes.
The more buildings you enter, the greater the odds that you’ll encounter one—or more—infested with bed bugs. Bed bugs are great hitchhikers. They:
- Crawl into medical equipment bags or other items brought into homes
- Climb onto EMS personnel and hide in their uniforms
- Ride on patients/victims and their items brought into vehicles.
Once in a vehicle, bed bugs can become an issue for anyone who rides in it for days and even months later, and can move into EMS headquarters and medical facilities. Once present, bugs feed, multiply and travel home with anyone in these facilities.
Prevention is the best weapon against bed bugs. While there are individual steps that all people can take, such as placing clothes in the dryer when returning from suspect places, there are also proactive measures EMS personnel can use for prevention. When responding to emergencies, be aware that bed bugs can crawl into bags and equipment. Use garbage bags to seal up items when having to transport people's personal belongings. Recognize that when one bed bug is spotted, there are likely more.
EMS departments are recommended to follow these best practices:
Education: EMS personnel need to know the basics about bed bugs and how to identify these insects and their signs.
Develop protocols: EMS chiefs should have precautionary and proactive measures to prevent the introduction and spread of bed bugs. It should include what actions are to be taken when bed bugs are suspected and signs are found.
Canine inspections: Schedule canine inspections on a regular basis, and use them to investigate suspected bed bug infestations. Trained bed bug detection canines are the most accurate tool available for detecting these well-concealed insects. These insects are notoriously hard to find because they can hide in tiny cracks and can live a long time between feedings.
Choose safe and thorough treatments that don’t shut down vehicles: Choose experienced pest control companies that offer non-toxic physical treatments such as carbon dioxide freezing. Bed bug solutions need to be thorough and treat every crack and crevice, but should not damage medical and electronic equipment and force vehicles out of service. Pesticides should never be the primary tool used against bed bugs—the bugs are resistant if not immune to them, and chemicals can affect human health. Other solutions like alcohol are insufficient as they do not kill bed bug eggs.
Glenn Waldorf is a director at Bell Environmental Services and can be reached at 973/575-7800, ext. 340. Bell Environmental, based in Fairfield, NJ, is one of the leading bed bug detection and control companies in the greater New York metro area.