Bed Bug Infestations to Increase in Educational Settings

These two headlines among many others in worldwide media show just the proverbial tip of the iceberg:

February 16, 2011, The Queens Gazette, “Drastic Increase In Bedbug Cases In Schools, Gianaris Says,”

WKYC.com, Cleveland/Akron, February 15, 2011 11:12:54 PM, “East Cleveland: Bed bugs make way into area school.” 

School officials in the East Cleveland district are calling this an isolated incident but administrators in New York’s public schools are singing a different tune.  This excerpt from the article tells the story: Confirmed cases of bedbugs in New York City’s public schools have severely increased in the first five months of the current school year, according to recent statistics released by the Department of Education and reported by state Senator Michael Gianaris. The Astoria lawmaker said public schools have reported 1,700 confirmed cases from last September, when the school year began, through this past January, with 80 percent of the cases reported in November, December and January. Compared to the previous school yea’s reported 1,019 total cases, the schools now are on pace to triple the number of bedbug inflictions this academic year, Gianaris stated.

Bed Bug Infestations Can Be Severe

In the same way that a light shining in the distance indicates an approaching freight train, these headlines give us warning of an approaching bed bug pandemic in educational settings at all levels from Kindergartens to Universities. Because educational institutions are populated by large numbers of students coming from large numbers of homes they are perfectly suited to invasion by bed bugs from infested houses, apartments, dormitories and fraternities.  When students who live with bed bugs come to school they transport them to school in their possessions and on their clothing.  Once in the close quarters of the classroom they unknowingly share the bugs with their classmates who, in turn, take them home, where they multiply and are transported to other locations.  Those locations likely include the classrooms of their siblings or, as in the case of Universities, their dorm mates.  As time goes by, this scenario will play itself out in school after school and one community after another.  Simply treating the affected schools is not be enough to stem the tide since the insects can be spread directly from one student’s belongings to another’s without ever being exposed to control measures.  Educating school staff and faculty is only partially effective since they cannot inspect every backpack or possession and cannot inspect inside student’s clothing.  Informing parents and students is also only partially effective since not every student or parent will remain vigilant over the long haul.  It’s a simple fact that bed bugs will spread and given the current methods available we will by-and-large be unable to do anything but slow them down somewhat.  As depressing as it sounds, unless we change our approach the bugs will win the war. Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are parasitic, commensal organisms and adept hitch-hikers.  According to a friend of mine who is a well respected, licensed Pest Control Advisor in the state of California, there is evidence that they’ve been spreading this way and surviving as our companions the entire time we have walked the earth.  He says, “Bed bugs are a part of the natural and normal state of hominids.”  He also says that the reason we enjoyed a brief respite from them was because of the widespread use of DDT and other organophosphates, developed during World War II, as broad spectrum, long residual control for household pests.  Since the beginning of the environmental movement the pest control industry has moved away from such materials, most of which are now banned, and toward Integrated Pest Management involving more targeted baiting and other alternative methods, in their efforts to control pests.  Now that the potent, broad-spectrum, long-residual materials are virtually gone bed bugs have been able to once again become our companions.  It’ this author’s opinion that this is all a matter of choice.  The first choice is to regain control and keep our schools free of these unsavory pests by bringing back some of the older, more effective materials for the short term and diligently press ahead with research aimed at developing newer, safer materials with enduring protective qualities to safeguard us, long term, from the growing scourge.  The second choice is to stay the current course and return completely to our natural and normal (infested) state.