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Exterminators, scientists see strides in finding, killing bed bugs

Bed bugs are small but are they still dangerous?

As bed bugs increase their presence, exterminators and pesticide researchers are escalating efforts to hunt down and kill the wingless red insect.

State entomologist Dr. Jeffrey Brown says although the bugs are hitting Mississippi hard, especially its lodging sector, he sees the nation as a whole making strides in search-and-destroy efforts.

His assessment is joined by pest control managers in Mississippi and the general manager of a California company who says the company’s product kills bed bugs instantly for up to a year with a single application.

On the detection side, man’s best friend — the dog — can be trained to be an outstanding hunter of bed bugs in a hotel room or house, according to Brown and extermination experts.

“They bring in dogs that sniff for bed bugs twice a year,” Brown, director of the Mississippi Department of Health’s Environmental Services Bureau, said of some hotels. Other hotels say hiring a dog is too expensive, he added.

A beagle in New Orleans has gained a wide reputation for finding the reclusive bugs that like to stay hidden until their human hosts are deep into sleep. The cost for the beagle: $300 an hour, according to Mark Armola, manager of the Jackson branch of Redd Pest Control.

But such a dog is going to be with a trained handler “and is pretty darn accurate at being able to find bed bug infestations,” said David Mayley, manager for Orkin’s Long Beach branch.

When Redd Pest Control confirms the presence of bed bugs, it employs an eradication strategy of applying chemical pesticides in the infested unit, and the rooms on either side and above and below the unit. “Then we see how that goes and do a follow-up treatment in three or four weeks,” Armola said. “After that, it is pretty well hit and miss if you don’t get them” in the initial or follow-up visits.

In the meantime, new travelers are bringing new infestations into the rooms via their luggage.

Orkin is compiling a national database on where an exterminator is most likely to find bed bugs in a hotel room, Mayley said.

As for eradication, Mayley said the latest heat treatments are showing promise, as is the use of steam.

Orkin usually does not bring the heat unless the infestation is deemed severe. In most instances it uses “conventional chemical treatments,” Mayley said.

Orkin typically advises hoteliers to take an infected room out of service for at least three to five days after treatment, according to Mayley, who said the company also advises treatment of the rooms adjacent and above and below.

Meanwhile, a new soybean-based pesticide developed by California research company Applied Science Labs is showing great effectiveness and allowing rooms to be returned to service soon after treatment, said Brown, the state entomologist.

“Now, you can break the room down, spray it and you’re back to renting,” Brown said of the use of Applied Science’s VaXinate88.

“At first I didn’t believe it would work,” he said, but noted he is a believer after testing he performed showed the chemical “dissolves the waxy layer on the insects and they dehydrate real quickly.”

In one test, he put seven bed bugs in a container that had been sprayed with VaXinate88. “They were dead in seconds.”

The non-toxic chemical, which is applied as an odorless mist spray, has been shown to remain in place and effective for at least a year. And while no pesticide is known to kill the eggs of bed bugs, newly hatched bed bugs that venture where the VaXinate88 has been applied die right away, Brown said.

Though as a public official he can’t endorse a product, Brown said the pesticide is the only product he uses at home.

The capacity for one application to kill for a year or longer is seen as VaXinate88’s greatest redeeming value, said Roger Williams, general manager of Applied Science Labs in Rancho Cordova.

The chemical has barrel-shaped molecules whose jagged edges cause it to attach to surfaces to which it is applied, Williams said. “Once it dries you basically have a mine field out there.”

Tests show the chemical remains throughout cleanings and vacuuming of carpets, drapes, beds and other room fixtures, he added.

The residual makes VaXinate88 a preventive. “It is cheaper to do prevention than to wait for an infestation,” he said.

VaXinate88 binds to the bug and begins a process that leads to the insect’s total evaporation, according to Williams.

The evaporation begins when the pesticide reacts with the bug’s waxy exoskeleton, Williams said. “It reaches into their skin. In 20 to 25 seconds they die of dehydration.”

German and American cockroaches have those waxy outer lawyers and die on contact with VaXinate88, too, Williams said, though he noted humans share the planet with 45 other kinds of cockroaches and it is unclear the pesticide will work on those.

Hotels are among the largest customers for the Applied Science Labs’ bed bug killer, according to Williams, who said the company recently won a contract to provide the pesticide to U.S. Navy Lodge hotels in Japan and to dormitories at Purdue University.

“I would say that more than 60 percent of our sales are repeat,” he said.

The company’s web site puts the cost of treating an average size room at $40.

Williams said he expects sales to extermination companies will increase as customers of the companies begin insisting on the use of VaXinate88.

Such a development could cause exterminators to lose out on money gained from more frequent follow-up treatments but could increase their overall accounts.

“I think in time” it will happen, he said.


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