This is not something to be taken lightly, as a bed bug infestation can bring about the following business challenges:
- Employees or guests introducing bed bugs to an establishment
- Customers, residents, patients and employees being bitten
- Potential litigation and associated costs
- Media exposure and negative publicity
- Infestation of furniture investments
- Infestation of inventory or stock
- Cost of treating bed bug infestations
- Establishing proactive programs
The rise of bed bugs in hospitals and healthcare facilities
Bed bugs can breed wherever they detect human presence, which could be anywhere in today’s society.
The presence of bed bugs in hospitals and healthcare facilities could indicate poor quality of hygiene and sanitation to the general public, as well as cause discomfort to patients.
Evidence from the pest management industry indicates that bed bug problems in the healthcare sector are on the rise.
In a 2015 survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky, professional pest management providers reported seeing increasing problems including hotels, cinemas, schools, dormitories, offices, public transportation systems, retail stores, and healthcare facilities.
The survey found that bed bug activity in healthcare facilities, in particular, jumped dramatically between 2013 and 2015, from:
- 46% to 58% in nursing homes
- 33% to 36% in hospitals
- 26% to 33% in doctors’ offices/outpatient services
The factors that are believed to contribute to the rise of bed bugs within the healthcare sector include high patient turnover as well as frequent visiting guests and vendors.
In other words, the more visitors that come to a healthcare facility, the more the risk increases.
Healthcare facilities most prone to bed bugs after hotels
Rentokil Steritech, one of the largest providers of commercial pest control services in North America, found that between fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2016, one commercial division of the company saw an overall 388% increase in the number of bed bug services conducted in healthcare facilities.
Moreover, from its aggregated call data between 2013 and 2016, the figures indicate:
- A dramatic increase in calls in the month of June
- Highest call activity in the month of December.
So, while hotels are usually seen to be blighted by bed bug infestations during the summer months, with healthcare facilities it’s a different story.
As the numbers above suggest, if exposure to increased numbers of people lead to an increased chance of bed bugs, this peak could be a reflection of healthcare facilities seeing higher numbers of patients in winter months due to seasonal illness.
All this makes it very important for operation managers within healthcare facilities to:
- Understand where high-risk areas may be
- Have a proactive program to address these areas
- Have a predetermined protocol for control in place
This is simply because, all too often, it’s not until a problem arises that facilities begin to think about bed bugs.
However, in the interests of health and safety – as well as curbing treatment costs – the time to develop a protocol is not in the midst of a problem, but well beforehand.
60% of the population show no reaction to bed bug bites
Individuals can experience different reactions to being bitten by bed bugs depending on the sensitivities that they may have.
Research suggests that as much as 60% of the population have no cutaneous reaction bed bug bites, i.e. their skin shows no evidence of being bitten!
Those who do experience reactions are likely to have red, often itchy, bite marks, bumps or welts. Some individuals who suffer prolonged exposure may experience changes in reaction over time, with reactions becoming more severe with additional bites.
However, there are other tell-tale signs which you could look out for if you suspect being bitten by bed bugs, such as:
- Faecal smears left by bed bugs crawling that resemble marker stains on mattresses, box springs, bedding, or other soft furniture.
- Dead bed bugs or cast skins found in the seams of mattresses and box springs.
- Bed bug eggs, which are hard to see with the naked eye, but are visible. These are white with a pearly sheen and are often found clustered together.
- Human hosts, bed bugs will most often be found where people are found. Typically, this is in sleeping or resting areas.
- In heavy infestations, they may be found in other high-traffic areas, e.g. break rooms, lounges, reception areas and lobbies with soft furniture – where it is easier for these pests to hide!
Employee education programme
Even if your healthcare facility hasn’t yet encountered bed bugs, it’s still worthwhile ensuring that relevant staff members and employees are educated on bed bugs, particularly on aspects such as:
- What a bed bug looks like
- The physical signs of a bed bug problem, including bites, faecal smears, and dead insects
- What to do if a bed bug infestation is suspected
- How to handle the issue without raising alarm among patients or family members
- Who to notify within the management structure and how to escalate an issue
- How to communicate with patients, families, or visitors that ask about bed bugs
Such employee education programmes on bed bug policies can, of course, be tailored to suit the size and structure of a healthcare facility.
How to educate staff around bed bug infestations
Our experts at Rentokil suggest that the following tactical approach is taken to help educate your staff to detect the common signs of bed bugs:
- Education via videos, handouts, presentations
- Posters and signage in employee areas
- Prepared scripts for employee reference in situations where communication is needed
- Bed bug plan inclusion in manuals or other reference documents for operations and crisis management
- Identifying key areas of risk, e.g. emergency exam room bays, waiting rooms and lobbies, patient rooms and maternity suites, employee lockers, patient intake areas
- Pest control policy clearly posted and explained in predetermined areas of risk
- Onboarding training and bed bug modules in employee learning management systems
- A designated contact/(s) in departments responsible for pest control