Bed Bugs Put the Bite on Hotel Business

Dr. Michael R. Linford and William Currie

Traditional chemical extermi­nators and pest control prod­ucts haven’t stopped a glob­al onslaught of bedbug infestations. A new non-toxic heat treatment could rescue businesses and repu­tations while eliminating odor, residue and costly furnishing re­placement.

Bloodsucking bedbugs are once again attacking hotel guests and homeowners worldwide, triggering costly remediation, litigation and damaged reputations.

Recently, two Swiss women sued a swanky Manhattan hotel, where, according to their lawyer, “they were eaten alive,” with bedbug bites over their torsos, arms, legs, cheeks and necks. A Las Vegas motel had to close for extermination and re­place all mattresses, curtains and carpeting because of a bedbug infestation. The National Pest Man­agement Association reported a 500 percent increase in U.S. bedbug incidents in the last few years, and infestations have risen tenfold since 1996 in parts of London. Universi­ties with international students have reported bedbug infestations in the student dorms. In addition, cruise ships, hotels, hospitals, nurs­ing homes, military bases and homeowners are now requesting pest control service for bedbugs at an alarming rate.

For over fifty years in the United States, bedbug infestations and re- quests for pest control service for this pest were extremely rare thanks to the now-banned DDT pesticide. However, we now live in a world­wide community with internation­al travel as the norm and bedbugs are expert hitchhikers. These insects may find a ride inside the cuff of a pant or clothing in general, or in a crease or seam of soft luggage. In addition, females may lay their eggs on, or inside your luggage if it is placed in an infested location. Hid­ing in mattresses, bedframes, head­boards, sheets, luggage, clothing, carpet, cracks, crevices, furniture and even picture frames and book­cases, bedbugs emerge at night and can quickly infest homes and hotels via travelers’ items. Bedbugs travel from room to room via wall voids such as, electrical outlets and wiring, pipes, water lines and the like. They most often migrate up­ward in buildings. Bedbugs are tough to eradicate. According to the University of Cal­ifornia Agriculture and Natural Re­sources “Pest Notes” September 2002, “Female bedbugs may lay from 200 to 500 eggs (in batches of 10 to 50)…Eggs are covered with a glue and hatch in about 10 days…There are five progressively larger nymphal stages, each requir­ing a single blood meal before molt­ing to the next stage. The entire life cycle from egg to adult requires any­where from 5 weeks to 4 months, depending on temperature…Bed-bugs can go without feeding for 80 to 140 days…Adults have survived without food for as long as 550 days. A bedbug can take six times its weight in blood, and feeding can take 3 to 10 minutes. Adults live about 10 months and there can be up to 3 to 4 generations of bedbugs per year.”

Bedbugs are equipped with pierc­ing, sucking mouthparts, but are not considered to be disease carri­ers. The piercing mouthparts con­sist of two stylets. One stylet allows the bedbug to ingest blood from the host; through the other, saliva is in­jected into the feeding location. It is the saliva that can cause the famil­iar swelling and irritation on the outer skin of the host. In addition to humans, bedbugs are also known to live on animals like mice, birds, rats, rabbits and chickens.

Aside from being extremely con­tagious with the ability to quickly spread and contaminate rooms and businesses, individual reactions to their bite can range from the an­noying to the extremely severe. Symptoms can include red spots, severe intense itching and sleepless nights. The bites can produce a hard, whitish swelling that can bleed and the resultant scratching can produce secondary infection. Severe infestations may result in over 100 bites per night. Blood loss in such cases can result in anemia in infants that suffer from severe exposure.

Though once controlled with broad-spectrum pesticides like DDT, the insects are tough to elim­inate with today’s targeted pesti­cides. Spraying and dusting with pesticidal chemicals into every crack and crevice has raised con­cerns of exposure.

Fortunately, a revolutionary pest eradication treatment called ThermaPureHeat® is proving to be a fast, non-chemical, non-toxic cure to bedbug infestations without residue, odor, or the need for re­placing costly furnishings. The process uses super-heated, dehu­midified air to eliminate insect in­festations as well as disinfect, de­contaminate and dry out buildings in much the same way heat is used to pasteurize milk and kill bacteria in wine. The process has been used in thousands of insect-eradication projects from Hawaii to California, from to Texas to Florida, from New York to Puerto Rico.

Entomologists at the University of California, Riverside; University of California, Berkeley; University of Hawaii; University of Florida and others have independently test­ed the process. Dr. Vernard Lewis of UC Berkeley conducted testing on behalf of the State of California for a 5-year period and found the process to be fully efficacious in the eradication of drywood termites in phase two, and the only non-chem­ical alternative to structural fumi­gation. The ThermaPureHeat® process is also effective in eradicat­ing all metamorphic stages of an in­sect, including egg, larva, pupa and adult.

Research determined that air must be heated and circulating and that temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 to 4 hours or more was required in order to heat the infested area to lethal temperatures for insects. While laboratory test­ing confirmed that insects cannot survive 120 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or less, experimentation re­vealed that higher temperatures were required to heat the building materials, furnishings, cracks and crevices, as well as wall voids to lethal levels.

“The ThermaPureHeat® process com­pletely rids the room not only of bedbugs, but also of any other in­festation, odors or moisture issues as well,” says Scott Birchell, owner of CenCal, an exterminator special­izing in non-toxic ThermaPureHeat® treatments.

This process, which injects super­heated air into the affected space, raises the temperature of a room or entire structure up to a sauna-like 140º F to 160º F for several hours. The heat effectively destroys the in­sects, which won’t develop a resist­ance to it as they do to chemicals.

“The room can be treated with everything in place and it will kill the bedbugs wherever they may be hiding — bedding, mattresses, car­pet, furniture, or even deep in cracks and crevices,” says Birchell.

Special difficulties that hotels, mo­tels and multiple units face with re­spect to bedbugs are significant. If a guest is exposed to pesticide residue and gets sick, the person may sue. If the inhabitant is bitten several times, the result may be the same, as was the case when a cou­ple on a cruise ship cabin received over 100 blood meal wounds and sued. If the facility has to close down in order to fumigate an en­tire structure, the loss of revenue can be substantial.

We already know that bedbugs can be found inside books, like phonebooks or in bookcases. Even by atomizing pesticides, it is un­likely to penetrate the pages of books in a drawer or tightly fitted on a bookshelf. A residual dust will not work in any visible area where a guest eats or sleeps. Even then, a desiccant dust is very slow acting over a period of two to three months. This would allow bedbugs to exist within a given habitation over a long a period of time. Even with low odor pesticides, persons with a sensitive sense of smell will detect the unmistakable bug-spray odor. If bedding is being changed from room to room, bedbugs may hitch a ride from one room to the next before the maid deposits the infested bedding into the laundry room. In fact, the bedbug may hitch a ride on the clothing of the maid.

The ThermaPureHeat® process is lethal to the bedbugs without hav­ing to use pesticides of any kind. Doctors have prescribed the process for asthma patients to purify and cleanse the structure wherein they reside. Additionally, the process can achieve lethal levels inside mat­tresses, pillows, wall voids, books and all contents within a given room. Because bedbugs typically migrate upward, rooms on several floors can be treated simultaneous­ly within 4 to 8 hours depending on the number of heaters and the size of the treatment area. What that means is that rooms can be rented out by 6:00 p.m. if treatment com­mences in the morning hours. The loss of revenue is minimized, or eliminated altogether. Electric heaters will not arouse the same concern from patrons as will pesti­cides and fumigants. Most importantly, the hotel or mo­tel owner does not have to com­pletely remove and replace all of the furnishings, drapes, carpets or mattresses — a significant savings to the business.

As a side benefit, this type of process can oxidize and eliminate odors. When negative air machines filter the heated treatment air, the particulates, odors and aldehydes are captured through filtration. Thus, the indoor air quality of the structure being treated has been pu­rified and improved.

Using this heating method to treat a structure generally takes less than eight hours. No multiple day move outs are required, thereby minimiz­ing business disruption and sec­ondary costs. It has been success­fully used against infestations such as bedbugs, termites, mold, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Additional benefits include improved indoor air quality by accelerating the off-gassing of odors and toxins.

According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), bedbugs are not only a problem in hotels, but residential and multi-familiy homes, apartment complexes, residence halls and even cruise ships.  Bedbugs are rusty brown in color, but are sometimes red after dining on one of their victims.  An unfed bedbug is 1/4 and 3/8 inches long, wich makes it easy for them to hid in places that can make elimination extremely difficult.  They are flat, broad oval-shaped bug with antennae.  Though they can hide just about anywhere, they live and feed in bed, hence their name.  The NPMA suggest vacuuming suitcases after traveling and checking bed sheets for small blood spots.  For more informatino on bedbugs and many other pests, please visit

Mr. William Currie is the director of the International Pest Management Institute and for­mer U.S. EPA training officer for the Office of Pesticide Programs.  For more information about ThermaPureHeat®, contact Dave Hedman at 866-665-3432 or visit

Reprinted From AAHOA Lodging Business, April 2006 © 2006 France Publications, Inc. Atlanta, GA (404) 832-8262.