Bed Bugs at Work: Even Swanky Offices Are Getting Swarmed
Bed bugs are making a comeback, and while beds are at home, the bed bugs aren't particular and can also be found in the office.
They've been reported in offices throughout New York, including Google's Ninth Avenue offices in Manhattan. Infestations have also been found in a Denver library, a publisher's office, and the district attorney's office in Manhattan. The latest New York bed bug infestation is reported to be in the Food Network magazine's editorial office, although a Hearst spokesman wouldn't confirm or deny the report.
The bugs are easy to pick up and don't mean you're a dirty person or live in a filthy work environment if you get some. Like other bugs, bed bugs can hitch a ride on a person's belongings, such as a purse, coat or backpack, and can drop off anywhere. Beds and couches are popular places where bed bugs congregate because they prefer fabrics and wood, but they're drawn to warmth and can end up almost anywhere in an office -- chairs, carpeting, cubicle walls, bookshelves -- according to a Forbes story.
You'll know you have bed bugs in the office easily enough -- a few workers will be itching and notice bites on their legs or arms.
Bite symptoms vary, from nothing at all to itchy red welts and swelling. And while bedbugs are not known to transmit diseases, they do carry a high emotional base note.
"People call me in tears almost every day when they find what they think is a bed bug," says Richard Pollack, co-founder of bed bug and lice testing lab IdentifyUS in Newton, Mass., in the Forbes story. "They think something is wrong with their hygiene. I've never had someone call about a mosquito flying in their home."
Deanna Kloostra works in a six-story low income housing building in Grand Rapids, MI., and told AOL Jobs in an e-mail that the building has bed bugs on every floor. They learned that raising the temperature to 120 degrees will kill the bugs, as does alcohol. Kloostra said she puts rubbing alcohol in spray bottles and sprays furniture and other items in the building. "If I get an itch at work, I spray my entire body. (Just make sure no one is smoking around you.)," she wrote. "When I get home I spray my entire body and any items taken home from work. On Friday I spray my entire bed, shoes, floors, couch etc... as added protection."
Steven Free, who owns The Bug Stops Here pest control in Long Island, N.Y., said the key to getting rid of bed bugs in an office is to track them to the person who brought them in.
"They weren't born in the office," Free said in a telephone interview of bed bugs. "Somebody brought them in. And unless you find them, it's going to be a cycle."
They're hard to pinpoint because they're nocturnal and people may think the bed bugs may only be in their homes. "It's very rare they're going to bite you at work," Free said. "They like to do it while you're sleeping."
Bed bugs in an office can create paranoia and confrontations among co-workers who blame each other for poor hygiene or housekeeping habits, when neither of those are a big factor, said Dick Horton, sales and operations manager at Bed Bug Finders in Connecticut.
"They're not self-generating, they're 'hitchhikers' that have no class distinction among rich or poor or how well someone cleans their house," Horton said in a telephone interview.
Pest management firms have had a 57 percent increase in bedbug-related calls in the last five years, and an 81 percent increase since 2000, according to a USA Today story. Nearly all the firms polled -- 95 percent -- said they've had to tackle a bedbug case in the last year. Four out of every 10 treatments were in commercial buildings.
To find bedbugs in an office before the itching begins, bed bug sniffing dogs can be hired and have been found to be extremely accurate. To stay ahead of infestations, some businesses such as hotels, bring the dogs in quarterly to check for bedbugs.
Getting rid of them can be costly. An exterminator can charge $750 for a few rooms in an office building to $70,000 for a large apartment complex to apply pesticides. It could cost 40 percent more to put everything in an office in a heat chamber, since bedbugs die at 120 degrees. Businesses would need to close or move for a few days for the exterminators to do their jobs.
Since most businesses understandably don't want to publicize that they have bed bugs and are getting rid of them, some websites such as the Bed Bug Registry and BedBugReports.com can help with a list of user-submitted bed bug reports.
But try not to let your emotions get carried away if bed bugs are found in your office and you're looking for someone to blame.
"Bed bugs don't care if you're clean or dirty, rich or poor," said Nathan Heider of Adam's Pest Control in Minneapolis, in a story in the Star-Tribune. "Their only food is our blood and they'll go wherever we are."
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Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.