Why does Ohio continue to experience a bed bug crisis?
In 2011, an Ohio Department of Health Bed Bug Workgroup reported a number of problems in the way Ohio handled bed bugs including:
- Lack of accurate and concise information about prevention and misinformation and misuse of pesticides
- Little coordination between agencies and other entities
- Differences in regulations related to nuisance abatement by jurisdiction
- Considerable gaps where no guidance was available
- Ohio Landlord Tenant law unclear on responsibility for paying to treat infestations in multi-family housing
- High cost of treatment beyond reach for many low-income residents; few resources available to assist with bed bug control
What has been done to date to prevent the spread of bed bugs?
Since the report was issued, task forces or work groups have been formed in central Ohio, Cuyahoga and Stark Counties and southwestern Ohio to address bed bugs in a coordinated manner. Many health departments, code enforcement and other agencies, housing managers, social service agencies, hotels, etc. provide information, offer phone assistance, provide training for their staff and the public at large, and/or have adopted protocols for prevention and treatment. Some health departments will work with landlords and tenants to resolve infestations.
There remain, however, great differences in regulation and enforcement among jurisdictions, an overall lack of coordination and little bed bug assistance for those with low incomes. Bed bugs continue to be a gray area in Ohio’s Landlord Tenant law. As a result, infestations are addressed in the courts on a case-by-case basis.
The Bed Bug Workgroup recommendations included a mix of state and local activities including a state bed bug line and coordinator; developing standardized literature and making it widely available; a social marketing campaign; formation of local bed bug workgroups; and inspections for all units that share a common wall with the infested unit.
The Ohio Department of Health did not implement the Workgroup recommendations with the exception of requesting an emergency exemption from the EPA for the residential use of Propoxur, an agricultural pesticide, and submitting an EPA Environmental Justice grant for a two-year community stakeholder engagement project. EPA did not grant either request.
What steps can be taken to prevent bed bugs?
Education is widely considered the most effective method of prevention. Bed bugs are not unavoidable; they can be stopped from entering your homes, agencies, businesses and institutions. Common recommendations from health departments and task forces/work groups include:
- Get to know what bed bugs look like in all their life stages so you can distinguish them from other types of bugs. Collect specimens and show them to your local health department. Good places to view photos of bed bugs as well as other information are The Ohio State University’s Bed Bug website and the University of Kentucky, Entomology, bed bug site. See also Bed Bug Identification, Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force.
- Learn about bed bug habits like where they hide, when and how they feed on humans, where they infest mattresses, box springs, beds, upholstered furniture and many other common household belongings, “hitchhike” on people and belongings, reproduce, and move from one part of a building to another. See Bed Bug Biology/Behavior and Research Update, a presentation by Dr. Susan Jones, OSU, 2014 conference, Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force (COBBTF).
- Don’t bring discarded furniture, mattresses, beds and other items into your home. They may be infested. Inspect any items purchased at a resale store, yard sale, antique store, etc. for bed bugs before bringing them home. Reduce clutter in your home and seal cracks and crevices where bed bugs could hide. See Tips for Shopping at Thrift Stores and Garage Sales, Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force.
- If you regularly travel or your job requires you to visit homes, apartment buildings, schools or other places where there may be bed bugs, recommendations are available for protecting yourself and belongings. See the following articles from the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force: Bed Bug Tips for Travelers and Guidelines for Reducing the Risk of Transporting Bugs.
- If you are a tenant, notify your landlord immediately if you think you see bed bugs. Treating bed bugs quickly can prevent the spread of bugs to other rooms in your apartment and other apartments in the building. See Do’s and Don’ts from the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force.
- Before using pesticides of any kind, talk to your local health department and/or a pest control professional. Pesticides can be dangerous to your health if they are misused or overused. Some pesticides, such as bug bombs, are ineffective on bed bugs and can actually cause the infestation to spread. The US EPA’s Bed Bug site has many resources on pesticides.
What are best practices for preventing bed bugs in multi-family housing?
- A regular monitoring and surveillance plan has been found to be cost effective because it’s possible to prevent small infestations from becoming larger ones. Engaging tenants, employees and other affected groups in this process can make the job easier. Available tools include bed bug detectors and specially trained canines. For a list of firms that offer canine bed bug detection services in central Ohio see Recommendations to Realtors at the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force.
- Bed bug management policies are an important prevention tool in settings like apartment buildings where both management and tenants must cooperate to keep bed bugs out. See “What’s Working for Bed Bug Control in Multifamily Housing” by the National Center for Healthy Housing through support from the EPA and the National Apartment’s Association’ and Orkin’s “Evicting Unwanted Residents: Responsibility, Prevention and Treatment of Bed Bugs in the Multifamily Industry”.
- Provide training for management and maintenance staff on bed bugs. See a training manual for apartment staff in central Ohio called “Looking for Bed Bugs” by Dr. Susan Jones at OSU. If you are located in central Ohio, you can request training through the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force (Dr. Jones is a member of the Steering Committee for the Task Force). Check with your local health department, association of pest management professionals and local colleges and universities to locate speakers.
Where can I find educational materials in languages other than English?
- The Ohio State University Bed Bug website
- Columbus Public Health (see Bed Bug Relief Guide and Somali language video)
- The University of Minnesota, Let’s Beat the Bed Bug