Researchers at Penn State recently found one of the most effective treatments for killing bedbugs that could be hiding in your room.
Senior Research Associate in the Department of Entomology Nina Jenkins conducted lab work on Beauveria, a naturally-occurring fungus that causes diseases in pests like bedbugs, and found that the bedbugs were extremely susceptible to the particular fungus.
Jenkins has been working with other researchers to develop biopesticides for various pests, like mosquitoes and houseflies, and was part of a team that developed Green Muscle TM, a product being used in Africa and Australia to remove locusts and grasshoppers. She used the same methods when beginning her research on bedbugs.
“As a target, the bedbugs were one of the most susceptible we have come across using this technology,” Jenkins said. “They die very quickly in comparison to many insects.”
Using this fungus as a treatment method can be much more effective than chemical sprays that kill an insect on the spot, Jenkins said, because this method allows the insect to take the fungus back to their harborage where all of the pests hide and infect them as well.
“[The fungus] is a really good way of targeting insects that hide,” Jenkins said.
Bedbugs are not just present in beds, as their name suggests. Bedbugs hide in any crack or crevice, Jenkins said, such as behind light switches, around the baseboard of the walls and in crevices of upholstery.
“They are very flat and tend to be very social,” Jenkins said. “They will gather in places and huddle together rather than here or there.”
Bedbugs survive off of blood meals so they often travel at night to find blood before returning to their harborage. Everett Jan Mason, Senior Manager of Housing at Penn State, said this is why bedbugs are often hard to find and in turn treat effectively.
“The challenge of [finding bedbugs] is that they are so cryptic,” Mason said. “They come out in the dead of night to feed and it doesn’t take them long to travel back and forth.”
Mason educates students and staff on bedbugs by giving various presentations on what they look like, their feeding habits and how they are treated.
Bedbugs bites usually appear on the body in rows of three or small clusters and are usually very red similar to other pest bites, Mason said. Oftentimes, mosquitoes or fleabites will be mistaken as bedbugs. That is why it is important to check a person’s room or belongings for what bedbugs leave behind after feeding, which are usually blood spots, Mason said.
Treatment begins with a phone call to Housing from a student who thinks their room is infected with bedbugs, and although there a lot more are false alarms than actual cases, Mason prefers it this way.
“We’d rather have someone call us and end up not having bedbugs than receive no call and wait for things to get worse,” Mason said.
A pest control company will come into the room and check the bed and linens for any indication of bedbugs, such as blood spots on the mattress pads. The next step is to quarantine the student to prevent exposure to anyone they know, which usually just entails a shower and fresh change of clothes before going anywhere. Students’ clothes can be put in a dryer for 30 minutes to effectively remove any trace of the pest.
For treatment of the whole room, the pest control company will use large heaters for hours to kill off the bedbugs. Heat is the most reliable and regular approach they are using as of right now to treat bedbugs, Mason said.
With this type of treatment, the student can usually be back inside their room and bedbug-free on the same day. The student is also recommended to visit University Health Services to inspect their bites and make sure they are in fact from bedbugs, and if so, they will disappear on their own.
The number of cases reported to Housing fluctuates each year, Mason said.
Conal Carr, director of Housing Operations at Penn State, wrote in an email that as of this fall semester, only one confirmed case was reported in September in McKean Hall. However, at this time last year, Mason said there were several more confirmed cases and by the end of the entire year, at least 15 cases of bedbugs were confirmed and treated.
Bedbugs are common where a lot of different people are sleeping or living, which is why traveling and staying in hotels is often the source of the problem that a person brings back.
“Bedbugs will travel in your luggage so if you go to a hotel and leave your suitcase, getting bitten by the bugs in the bed is not what you have to worry about. It’s what you’re taking away from that hotel and back to your home or room,” Jenkins said.
If you think you may have bedbugs, contact Housing if you live on campus or your apartment office as soon as possible. Mason said that bedbugs does not reflect poorly on the cleanliness of your room or living conditions so students should not be embarrassed.
“[Bedbugs] really is a community issue. Anyone can get them and it says very little about the individual,” Mason said.