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Bed Bugs in Offices!

By Chris Williams on November 1, 2011.

Q. My sister said that they had a bed bug infestation in the office where she works. How is that possible? Don’t bed bugs live around beds and feed on people at night?

A. Normally, bed bugs do live around beds because that’s where they find sleeping victims to feed on. But beds aren’t required. Bed bugs in offices are indeed a growing problem. It’s not really too surprising if you think about it. There are plenty of bed bug-infested homes and most of those people work somewhere. Bed bugs are great hitchhikers, transferring to new locations on purses, briefcases, clothes, shoes, books, and other items. So bed bugs from infested homes simply hitchhike into offices on belongings. In some offices that have outside traffic, bed bugs may be brought in by visitors, customers, deliveries, or patients (in medical offices), rather than by office employees themselves.

Bed bug infestations in offices often go undetected for long periods. This is because in the early stages, office workers are only rarely bitten and bed bugs are rarely seen, since bed bugs are active primarily at night when no one is working. Visual inspections are difficult since there are no traditional sites, like beds, to check. Bed bugs wander throughout the office at night looking for hosts and so can end up hiding anywhere in that office during the day. Rather than clusters of bed bugs as in a home, there are typically single bed bugs or small groups spread throughout the area.

Bed bugs can also move around the office and to other floors within a building…or even to other buildings occupied by the same company…hitchhiking on files, boxes, as well as on personal items and employees’ clothes.

bed-bugUnfortunately, bed bugs are often reintroduced again and again by the same people. Control is complicated by the fact that the primary sources of breeding bed bugs are not in the office, but are off site in peoples’ homes, which neither the employer nor the pest control company have the right to treat without permission. Also, in an office, infested items such as computers, faxes, telephones, file cabinets, can be difficult and risky to treat.

As you can imagine, perhaps the biggest problem is that bed bugs in offices pose sensitive legal, ethical, and human relations issues. There are confidentiality concerns and legal implications of an employee blamed (rightly or wrongly) for the infestation.

The one bit of good news regarding bed bugs in offices, schools, retail stores, and other non-bed sites, is that these are rarely large, breeding populations of bed bugs. Because the situation is less than ideal, without beds and nighttime hosts, bed bugs in these sites usually do not establish, reproduce, and grow to large numbers as they can in sites with beds and sleeping people.

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