Making Sure the Bedbugs Don’t Bite

By Pam Robinson

Jul 13, 2009 7:06am

  (Associated Press)
ABC News On Campus reporter Heather Riggs blogs: University of Florida researchers say they have a developed a solution to the creepy crawly, blood-sucking insects that live in beds and furniture everywhere. Phil Koehler, an urban entomologist and professor with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and his team say they have successfully designed a low-cost, low-tech heating method that will eliminate bedbugs. The tiny creatures make their way into homes through used furniture and by clinging to personal items people bring in through the front door. Because of concerns about chemical treatments, the number of bedbugs has increased significantly in recent years. “Bedbugs hide in the places you sleep, and the items you don’t want to spray with potentially harmful pesticides.” Koehler said. But bedbugs, he said, are very susceptible to heat. For much less than the cost of traditional fumigation techniques, Koehler’s team has developed a portable heating chamber that cooks the bugs to death. The method combines oil-filled electric space heaters and fans surrounded by walls of polystyrene insulation board, to create a chamber that works much like a convection oven.  The heaters slowly raise the temperature inside the chamber to a minimum of 113 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to eradicate the insects while keeping furniture intact. In nine of 11 trials conducted in dormitories and apartments, researchers were able to eliminate 100 percent of the bedbugs. In places where there were tile floors instead of carpet, 83 percent of bedbugs were eliminated. “Carpet acts as an insulator, helping the process of the heating chamber,” Roberto Pereira, an associate research scientist working on the project, said. With good containment and good circulation of heat, the method can take as little as two to four hours, Pereira said. The study, published in the latest issue of Journal of Economic Entomology, is currently being used to help teach the bedbug-killing technique to members of the pest control industry. “I use it very regularly and see it being adopted by a lot of folks,” Wayne Walker, the senior pest control technician for UF’s Department of Housing, said. Walker is one of the main reasons the research for the method began in 2006, when he approached Koehler with the problem of bedbugs in UF’s dormitories. “Prior to this, we had been using very labor-intensive processes on campus, where we would fumigate furniture for almost two days,” Walker said. “And it was expensive.” Pest-control workers are now able to quickly and efficiently eradicate infestations, he said, allowing them to control the insects more easily. “The key is early intervention,” Walker said. Bedbugs reproduce and spread rapidly, so it is important to isolate and exterminate them quickly. “In three to four months a person can go from having just a few bedbugs to literally hundreds, and sometimes even more,” Walker said. According to UF researchers, the heat treatment is one of the more promising techniques for getting rid of these insects, but homeowners should not attempt to build their own heating chambers, as it may lead to fires.

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