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DON’T PANIC IF A BED BUG IS FOUND IN SCHOOL

By Chris Williams on November 30, 2017.

Some parents have found themselves to be the recipient of a “Bed Bug Letter” from their child’s school. This letter is a routine procedure and usually means that a single bed bug was spotted in a classroom. Nevertheless, parents panic, picturing their child covered with blood-sucking parasites while he tries to learn math.

As much as we wish it weren’t true, bed bugs will occasionally end up in schools just like they occasionally end up in office buildings, retail stores, and other sites. Bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers so all it takes is one child, one staff member, or one visitor who happens to have a bed bug infestation at home and unknowingly carries a bed bug to school. The person that delivered the bed bug may not even know that he or she has a bed bug problem at home.

SCHOOLS DON’T FEEL LIKE “HOME” TO BED BUGS

Unlike head lice, bed bugs do not remain on the person that they feed on (see Don’t Confuse Head Lice and Bed Bugs). Bed bugs feed at night, then return to hiding in crevices and other places until it’s time to feed again. Populations can build up for some time, unseen. When a home or other site has a heavy bed bug infestation, a thorough inspection and insecticide treatment, often more than one treatment, is necessary. The good news, though, is that day schools never have a heavy bed bug infestation and almost never need to be treated for bed bugs at all.

It makes sense if you think about it. Bed bugs feed at night on a sleeping person, not a situation that you find in a school, or an office building, or a retail store. When bed bugs show up in these sites, they were accidentally introduced and are present in small numbers. We call bed bugs in schools and similar non-bed sites “introductions,” rather than “infestations.” Not to say that a child couldn’t be bitten in a school by a desperate bed bug, but schools don’t offer an environment that would allow bed bugs to feed at will, mate, reproduce and develop into a breeding population.

SCHOOLS HAVE AN ACTION PLAN FOR BED BUGS

When bed bugs are found in a school, the situation is almost always limited and temporary. Most school systems have gotten over the early hysteria about bed bugs. Unlike 10 years ago, schools today have an IPM action plan in place that details how to deal with bed bug sightings; pesticides are rarely involved. When there are repeat sightings and schools can track the introduction of bed bugs to a particular individual, there is usually a system for contact and followup with that individual.

The primary concern when bed bugs show up in schools is not that the school will be infested but that the school could serve as a transfer point to move bed bugs home with students and staff, where a true infestation could develop.

There are things schools can do to help prevent bed bugs and to make life tougher for any that do find their way into the classroom. These include reducing clutter where bed bugs can hide, inspecting and maybe isolating backpacks, lunchboxes, and other items that travel from home to school, special covers on any mattresses or sleeping mats, and thorough vacuuming, especially of cracks and crevices.

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