Protect your business from a bed bug infestation

Bed bug

There are few things that make the skin crawl like the thought of bed bugs. And there are few things worse for the reputation of a hospitality provider than a bed bug infestation. With reports suggesting that bed bugs are on the up in the UK, with climate change creating more favourable conditions, what can hospitality businesses do to protect themselves from the threat of these most unwelcome parasites?

How to ensure a bed bug infestation is not damaging to your business’ reputation.

What are bed bugs?

Small, parasitic insects, bed bugs live on human or animal blood. They are about the size and shape of an apple pip, and red-brown in colour. Although they usually reside in soft furnishings, they can also live in walls, skirting board cracks, and clothes. And while they don’t present a direct health hazard, bed bugs can be very unpleasant to live with. Biting the skin, producing sore and itchy welts, leaving noticeable excrement on surfaces, and often creating a sweet, musty odour.   

Bed bugs rarely deliberately migrate outdoors, instead being transferred from person to person, often in luggage. Making them a particular problem for the hospitality industry.

How is bed bug behaviour changing in the UK?

Since the large-scale outbreak in 2018, the number of reported incidences of bed bugs has increased in the UK. And the origins of the infestations have changed. While previously, the majority of bed bug infestations had been linked to overseas travel. Throughout the pandemic, bed bug spread became linked to public transport. With the bugs living in the seats of trains and buses, commuters were picking them up and carrying them to their homes and their places of work. While new evidence suggests that bed bugs can live longer than previously thought, surviving in dormancy for months in locked-down hotels. 

Some bed bugs have also shown a resistance to the chemicals traditionally used to eradicate them. 

How do you know if you’ve got bed bugs in your business?

In some businesses, it will be team members or customers who first raise the alarm about a bed bug problem, with itchy bites being a common indicator. But because bed bugs are fairly secretive creatures, and very good at hiding, you’re unlikely to simply spot them during regular housekeeping duties. Instead, a bed bug inspection is called for. If you look carefully, there are some giveaway signs for you to detect. 

  • Blood spots. When they have finished feeding, bed bugs often leave blood spots behind. Many other biting insects do the same, but if you regularly spot this on your furnishings, it can be a good idea to call for support from a professional pest control provider. 
  • Excrement. Bed bugs produce tiny dark streaks of faecal matter. This is particularly obvious on light-coloured furnishings. 
  • Eggs. Female bed bugs produce around 500 eggs in a lifetime. They can be found singularly, or in clusters of four or five. And they’re small and whitish in colour.  
  • Exoskeletons. Bed bugs shed their skins as they grow. If you find small, translucent, yellowish, shells on or around your soft furnishings, they probably belong to bed bugs. 
  • Odour. In smaller, enclosed spaces, you may also detect a musty, sweetish odour when you have a bed bug infestation. It’s this that allows specialist pest control experts to use dogs to detect infestations

What can you do if you think your business has a bed bug infestation?

The traditional method of tackling a bed bug infestation was the use of contact sprays. Powerful insecticides would be sprayed on all surfaces where the bugs may hide. It was disruptive, terrible for the environment, and not always effective. Today, there are more nuanced, environmentally-friendly methods available. 

Using heat and steam treatments, you can avoid the application of harsh chemicals. By applying heat (50°C or more) to the insects and their environment you can most effectively destroy the bed bugs and their eggs. The use of dogs to detect the insects allows for the exact pinpointing of the problem, so you know whether you can treat a single room, a single piece of furniture, or your entire establishment. 

Odour and residue-free, this treatment method provides a safe, non-invasive solution to an age-old problem. Subtly protecting your business from the damaging reputation that a bed bug infestation can bring. 

Awareness is key

Bed bugs aren’t fussy creatures. They can live happily in the cleanest and the dirtiest of environments. They won’t distinguish between a five-star boutique hotel and a two-star B&B. You can’t protect yourself against bed bugs coming into your establishment. But you can be aware of the signs. And you can take immediate action if you think that you might have a problem. 

Adam Juson, founder and CEO of Merlin Environmental