Tis the season for spending entirely too much on books, cramming for exams, and buying new bed sheets. College is right around the corner, and while returning students know the ins and outs of getting ready for the year, freshmen might be more overwhelmed by the process. We aren’t here to give you hints on how to avoid the freshman fifteen, or what professors to avoid; we are here to help you avoid an infestation from one of the peskiest pests we know, the bed bug. You might be leaving the nest, but you’ll never forget good old advice from mom and dad; “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” now has an entirely different meaning. College does not make you invincible to pests, if anything it can increase the chance of rapid spread to your peers and back to your residential home. According to the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, 47 percent of pest management companies responded to reports of infestation in college dorms and 21 percent responded to infestations on public ground transportation. Infestations are spread by you. Let’s say you hop on a bed bug ridden bus driving around campus, go straight to your friend’s apartment, and take a trip back home the following weekend. You do the math.
The first step in preventing a rude awakening in your college bed is knowing what to look for. Depending on where the bed bug is within its life cycle (Image 1), it can be relatively easy or near impossible to identify them with your own eyes. Adult bed bugs are wingless, 3/8 inches long, and have a deep red or brown color. Immature bed bugs are a lustrous pale yellow color and slightly smaller than the adults. The first instar nymph stage of the bed bug life cycle is when you run into problems. They are only somewhat visible if they were just eating because they turn blood red in color. In fact, in any life cycle, feeding can change the color and shape of the bed bug. Eggs take on the shape of a grain of rice and are pale white.
If you don’t notice any living bed begs, you can try to look for their molted skin. Check your belongings, baseboards, mattress seams, behind bed boards, and ceilings.
The least pleasant way to identify an infestation is to look for fecal waste. Since their diet consists of blood, and more blood, their waste is a semi-liquid blood that is black in color and smooth to the touch. Their feces are usually found in the same locations as molted skin, in addition to tags on your mattress, outlets, and curtain rods and seams.
Now that you know what to look for, we can focus on controlling an infestation or preventing one altogether. Before packing to go to and from school, inspect your suitcase. Make sure to examine the hot spots for bed bugs, skin, and feces before unpacking. Simple enough, right? Let us move on to how to take care of your dorm or apartment. If you are a messy student, you might have to clean up your act. Reducing clutter could reduce your chances of an infestation. Bed bugs need places to hide, and you are providing them with more places to do so if your room is unkempt. If you have the wallet of a typical college student, you are probably going to pick up some second hand furniture from the sidewalk down the street. There shouldn’t be a problem with that as long as you inspect the furniture for signs of bed bugs before transporting it anywhere. You can also go one of the safest routes and get a certified mattress encasement (Image 2). This will help prevent an infestation of your mattress and make it easy to find trapped bed bugs if they attempt to infiltrate.
Pest Services and Treatment
Once you have discovered an infestation that you weren’t able to identify and control in time, a professional will need to apply pesticides to your home, dorm, or apartment. Your job will be to do some intense vacuuming, and taking care of clothes and other washable items. Bed bugs can’t survive in water above 120 degrees F, so you should wash everything on high heat, followed by placing them in the dryer. Freezing items has the same fatal result. Placing clothes in the freezer is another way to ensure home treatment.
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Good luck at school, and inform your parents about bed bug identification and control so they can’t blame you for bringing home unwanted visitors!
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Miller, Dini M., Ph.D. “How to Identify a Bed Bug Infestation.” Diss. Virginia Tech, n.d. Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Web. 01 Aug. 2013. <http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pesticides/pdffiles/bb-identify1.pdf>.
Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Bedbugs, Treatment and Drugs.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bedbugs/DS00663/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs>.