SF Apartment : January 2018


Bedbug Blues

by Richard Estrada

Bedbugs have plagued humans for a long time—at least 3,000 years. DDT and other insecticides introduced in the wake of WWII knocked down their numbers to the point where these pests were largely ignored, forgotten for a couple decades. But now they are back, resistant to many of the tried-and-true methods people have relied on to rid their homes of pests. So, what do you need to know about bedbugs and treatment options?


To help keep buildings free of bedbugs, landlords and building managers should share preventative information with tenants. Not only is it good practice, but state and local law requires it. Existing and new tenants should be notified with the CAA Bedbugs disclosure form 36.1, which can be found on the CAA and SFAA website.

As for tenants, the best thing they can do is be aware of their surroundings while traveling and of what objects are coming and going from their home (second-hand items, luggage or other objects that may be brought in by houseguests).

Something travelers should never do when entering accommodations is place their suitcase on the bed. While bedbugs may hide in several areas in a room, they want to be close to their food source, and the bed is where humans spend the greatest amount of time in the room. Putting luggage directly on the bed provides bedbugs an opportunity to get aboard and come home or migrate to other accommodations on the way.

Another important, often overlooked place to inspect for bedbugs is a luggage rack or valet. If other travelers haven’t been careful, they may have planted a future infestation there. Using a flashlight if necessary, do a thorough inspection, concentrating on cracks and crevices.

The safer alternative is to put suitcases on a hard surface. Bedbugs might leave a harborage to cross those areas, but as there would be no protection for them, they would not linger. Hardwood flooring is one good option, as is the tile floor in the bathroom or inside the shower or tub. Another option is traveling with bags that can be hung in the closet or from an interior door.

One difficulty in performing the kind of inspection we suggest is that your target is elusive. Bedbugs are small insects. Adult bedbugs are flat, oval and reddish-brown—about the size of an apple seed. Juvenile bedbugs are even smaller and more difficult to see.

Prior to a trip, a client recently asked for our advice about avoiding taking home “uninvited guests” from her accommodations. At our suggestion, upon arrival, she not only checked her bed—pulling back the sheets to look at the mattress pad and box spring—but she completed a bigger inventory. With a small flashlight, she also searched behind the headboard, around and inside the night stands, including the lamps and shades, behind art work hung about the room, and even in books.

A small flashlight is a good thing to travel with, so you can better inspect out-of-the-way places the pests can hide.

Warning Signs

While mysterious bites are often the reason clients first contact a pest control professional (PCP), it is important to determine the source of these bites, and if they are in fact bedbugs. There is a wide spectrum of reaction to bedbug bites, and some people do not react at all. A couple sharing a bed might display different symptoms. In addition, you may see small blood spots on your sheets, or even see a bug itself.

There are Bedbugs—What Now?

A recent report from Purdue University concluded that bedbugs travel extensively throughout apartments in multi-unit buildings, that they have the ability to disperse from occupied and vacant apartments to neighboring apartments, and that they can survive as much as five months without a blood meal. Surrounding units, even those significantly removed from the initial site, should also be assumed to potentially harbor these insects and be inspected, including units above and below.

Contact a pest control professional immediately. Advise tenants not to take any drastic measures in moving their belongings or throwing things away until they have the direction of a PCP. Moving objects into the common areas within a multi-unit building could help the infestation spread. Any bug samples should be kept in a small container or plastic baggie for proper identification.

Quick action is a must. With many more homes open to the public thanks to the proliferation of Airbnb and other vacation rental sites, more homes could be vulnerable to these hitchhikers. If you find bedbugs, be sure to let the owner or manager know immediately.

Reducing Stigma and Increasing Knowledge

It is important that both tenants and property owners understand the stigma surrounding this pest. Bedbugs are opportunists and they’re hitchhikers, so if you’re in the right place at the wrong time, you could bring them home, no matter who you are or what your social status is. Bedbugs are not a sign of poor housekeeping.

With ease, bedbugs find their way to new homes from public places, including public transportation, rental properties, airplanes, used and new furniture, or even moving trucks. But such a stigma surrounds bedbugs that it has been difficult to gather real data. Bedbugs do not carry disease, nor are they an indication of poor personal health habits. Nevertheless, the psychological cost of infestation is considerable. The presence of bedbugs shouldn’t be a condemnation, but people remain sensitive and embarrassed by the revelation that their homes or businesses are infested.

The pushback against silence and embarrassment has been slowly gathering momentum. Education helps, of course. And in May 2014, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a measure intended to give the city a more accurate picture of where the pests lurk. As explained by the SFGate, “Exterminators will now be required to report to the Department of Public Health about the number of units that they treat for bedbugs each month. While they won’t have to include the address of the infested apartments or hotels, they will be required to identify each unit’s census tract to help chart the bugs’ distribution around the city.”

With a better-informed public and data at our disposal, identification and remediation can become more effective. That, of course, requires the right kind of remediation. Fear makes people do drastic things. Some have even sprayed toxic pesticides directly on their bodies!


Solutions include heat treatment of suspected items and steam vacuuming of floor coverings and upholstered furniture. Before taking drastic measures or throwing your belongings away, wait for direction from PCPs. The treatment may be combined with the most effective form of detection—the use of specially trained bedbug-sniffing dogs. These animals can detect microscopic particles in the air at the concentration of 550 parts per trillion. That is equivalent to finding one drop of water diluted into the combined water of 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Hire a PCP who specializes in bedbugs and is knowledgeable of how they operate. Residents of the units being treated would need to vacate for an average of 24 hours.

Who is responsible for paying for a bedbug treatment? In San Francisco, there is an ordinance that outlines what tenants and landlords are respectively responsible for. For more information please visit www.sfdph.org.

Richard Estrada is an EcoWise Certified Practitioner at ATCO Pest Control. He can be reached at 415-898-2282. Diamond Certified and EcoWise Certified, ATCO is a trusted, local integrated pest management team.