Residence Services says bed bug cases are common and hard to avoid, but generally low at Kent State

Illustration+by+LaQuann+Dawson

Illustration by LaQuann Dawson

Melissa Puppo

Three residence halls on Kent State’s campus have found cases of bed bugs since January. Most recently, Fletcher, Verder and Wright halls have had confirmed cases by Residence Services. A student’s room in Beall-McDowell was also confirmed in December.

“It’s very common [to have bed bugs on campus],” Assistant Director of Residence Services Chris Tankersley said. “You have to figure you have 6,000 students living here. Really, having three or four cases a semester is kind of low. It could be more if you consider how many students live here and how close proximity with each other.”

While multiple FlashTracks, a self-service work order system from University Facilities Management and Residence Services are placed from students each semester, Tankersley said roughly half of the bed bug concerns are false alarms.

He said many students think they have bed bugs, when they might just be another type of pest, like beetles or spiders. In other cases, Tankersley said students think they have bed bugs, but simple things like switching laundry detergent can cause an allergic reaction.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs are small, flat parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. The reddish-brown bugs are tiny — only about 1mm to 7mm in length, roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on penny.

Most commonly found in hotels and resorts, bed bugs are also found on college campuses because of students’ close sleeping proximity. Bed bugs are dormant during the day, hiding in seams of mattresses, bed frames and headboards and inside tiny cracks or behind cluttered objects.

Tankersley said bed bugs can be seen around the corners of a bed frame, along the edge of a mattress if it has and edge to it or along the comforter. Sometimes they’re around the floor; it just depends on how bad the case might be.

“The cases we had here have not been real huge,” Tankersley said. “Just minor cases because the students have called so we can treat them quickly.”

Tankersley also said usually students won’t see the bugs first — they’ll only see that they’ve been bitten.

The bumps resemble mosquito bites, but are usually not as raised. They are smaller red dots found along the arms or around the ankles.

Once students suspect there might be an infestation, FlashTracks are normally filed.

Tankersley said once work orders are placed, he or housekeeping supervisors or managers will go to the room and do an initial inspection to see if there are signs of bugs in the bed frames or on the bed.

If either confirms a case, they have Ehrlich-Rentokil, a pest and termite control company, go to the room and do their own inspection. The pest control company comes to campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays, regardless if there is an issue or not.

Once confirmed by Ehrlich-Rentokil, there’s a three-step process.

“They’ll do an initial treatment of the room, which really is designed to kill anything that’s living,” Tankersley said. “The next two treatments follow in the next two weeks following each other.

Tankersley said students who have rooms that have been affected have the option of whether or not to stay in the room after the initial treatment is done. Four hours are typically needed after each treatment before a student can safely re-enter the room.

“If there is a period of time when [students] need to be out, [they have the option] to go to what we call a “safe room,” which is a room that’s not assigned and used for emergency situations like this or any other emergency,” Residence Services Director Jill Church said. “I don’t know if I would call [bed bugs] an emergency but a situation where we need to have them relocated from a room. So we have a couple rooms set aside where we’ll assign them and of course we would treat that space as well once they relocate back to their room.”

Church said the safe rooms are hidden from the rest of campus and from the student body. This is due to the situations students in those rooms have dealt with, such as domestic violence or in this case, bed bugs.

TREATING ROOMS

Green chemicals — ones that don’t leave a residual smell or odor of any sort of residual greasiness are used. The chemical is designed to kill the bed bugs or anything else that might be in the room.

Housekeeping staffs will have students bag up their clothes and anything that’s fabric from their room — clothing, towel shoes etc. They will then wash all of the materials gathered using extreme hot temperatures to kill anything that’s living and return it to the student.

 Shoes are put in a bag with a chemical disk inserted to kill anything that might be in those.

Mattresses are treated with no residual cleaners, too. Rooms are cleaned around the perimeter of the rooms — windows and baseboards.

“The second and third treatments are precautionary because really, after the first treatment everything in the room is dead,” Tankersley said.

The chemicals used after initial treatment differ slightly because the chemical is used to kill eggs and larvae.

DOG PEST CONTROL

Aside from the weekly visits from the pest control company on campus, Kent State will also do a couple larger pest control treatments before the opening of the school year and at the end of summer.

In May, once students leave for summer vacation, the university will do treatments around the perimeter of buildings and windows. Its main purpose is to prevent bees, mosquitos — things that might enter the building. A second treatment is done again right before opening in the second and third week of August right before students come back. Dogs are brought in and are trained to sniff out any other types of pest as well as rodents that might be around.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT OF BED BUGS

According to Tankersley, the first step if a students suspects there might be bed bugs is to submit a FlashTrack so the initial inspection can take place.

“We try and begin initial treatment same day if that works with the student, Tankersly said.

If pest control finds something, they’ll treat the bugs. If something reoccurs, then the treatment process will start over again.

HEALTH RISKS

According to a joint statement on bed bug control in the United States from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, bed bugs are not known to transmit disease.

The bed bugs feed on human blood — leaving red bumps over the body that might be itchy. Some people might have a mild to severe allergic reaction if bit.

If there are no signs of infection or serious reaction, bed bugs bites can be treated with natural remedies. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing the bites with soap and water to help reduce itchiness. If itchiness persists, a corticosteroid cream usually is the fix. The bites will usually go away by itself within a week or two.

PREVENTION

Bed bugs invading living spaces might be unpreventable on a college campus, but there are ways to minimize them from staying for long.

According the Cuyahoga Valley Bed Bug Task Force, there are several ways to minimize having bed bugs:

• Reduce and eliminate clutter. Do not keep piles of clothes, boxes, toys, shoes, etc. on the floor, under the bed, or in closets. They are prime hiding places for bed bugs

• Place any recently purchased clothes, whether new or second hand, into the dryer at a hot setting for at least 30 minutes

• When traveling, inspect the bed, headboard and furniture upon arrival. Keep suitcases off the floor and bed and inspect them before leaving.

• Caulk and seal any cracks and crevices throughout the home, especially in rooms where people sleep.

Contact Melissa Puppo at [email protected]