How Do Bed Bugs Spread Between Apartments

Can bed bugs travel from apartment to apartment?

As you probably know, bed bugs are expert travellers. They can hide in luggage, clothing, and other belongings to find new homes across the street, across town, or even across the country. With that in mind, it should come to know surprise that they absolutely can travel from one infested apartment to other neighboring units.

Bed bugs can enter the walls of an infested room via light switches, electrical outlets, and pretty much any cracks or voids present. Remember, they can squeeze into any space thick enough for a credit card to fit. Once in the walls, bed bugs can easily travel along electrical wires and plumbing pipes to reach other rooms, or even other apartments.

It’s this ease of spreading that makes apartments such vulnerable targets for bed bugs. It’s an uphill battle, but fortunately there are steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of an infestation coming from your neighbors:

  • Apply a residual powder, like diatomaceous earth or CimeXa, to your walls, baseboards, and door frames. This will act as a long-lasting defense against bed bugs that try to enter your apartment. Be sure to wear gloves and use a professional powder applicator.
  • Use bed bug proof mattress and box spring encasements, as well as ClimbUp Interceptors, to safeguard your bed against wandering bed bugs looking for a meal.
  • Use a portable bed bug heater, like a ZappBug or ThermalStrike, to heat-treat your belongings after travelling, or when you suspect that you have infested items. This is a great way to not only ensure that you don’t have to deal with an infestation, but to protect your neighbors from a potential pest problem as well.

Insects in the City

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Bed bugs and your apartment

Bed bug problems are becoming more common in apartment communities. More than ever, it’s important for tenants and landlords to understand these insects and what it takes to eliminate them from apartments.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny insects that live by feeding on human blood, usually at night. They are secretive, hiding in cracks and crevices during the day, and coming out at night to feed. The bite of the bed bug is painless and may or may not leave a red mark or itchiness.

How do I know whether I have bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small, and come out mostly at night.

Because of their small size and painless bite, bed bugs may initially go unnoticed. If you notice that you are waking up with itchy welts, see tiny red spots on bedding, or think you have seen the bugs, you may have a problem. Bed bugs do not have nests, but will congregate in choice hiding places. These areas may be marked by tiny dark spots and stains, and may have a sweetish odor.

Will bed bugs hurt me?

Fortunately bed bugs are not known to carry any diseases to humans, although some people may experience irritation or allergic reactions to bed bug bites. Mostly bed bugs are considered disgusting and can be a source of stress and concern for people living in infested apartments.

How do bed bugs get into my apartment?

Bed bug in textured ceiling with droppings (upper right, lower right and lower left) around harborage between popcorn texture.

Bed bugs are no longer an unusual pest in apartments. Since approximately 2000, bed bugs have reemerged as an important pest in the United States. Bed bugs are occasionally introduced into an apartment via luggage that has become infested from a hotel or hostel. In apartment complexes, it is probably more common for bed bugs to enter a home from a nearby infested apartment, during moving, or through picking up used or recycled furniture or mattresses. Once introduced into an apartment building, bed bugs can readily spread from one infested unit to another.

What should I do if I suspect bed bugs?

If you think you see a bed bug, capture it if possible. Place in a leak-proof container, preferably with a little rubbing alcohol, and show it to your apartment manager to confirm its identity. Even if you cannot capture one of the insects, you should inform your building manager if you suspect you have a bed bug problem.

If I have bed bugs should my neighbors be treated too?

When beg bugs are found in one apartment unit, it is considered standard practice in the pest control industry to inspect all apartments surrounding the infested apartment. If no bed bugs are found, surrounding apartments do not necessarily need to be treated. But if an adjacent apartment is found infested, it should be treated and all adjacent apartments should also be inspected (see next question).

How do you get rid of bed bugs?

If you live in an apartment or condominium, it’s best to alert the property manager right away (preferably by phone and in writing). In multi-family housing a manager-coordinated bed bug control effort using a pest control company is generally needed. Bed bugs readily move from apartment to apartment, with many people unaware that they have a problem, so chances are that you will not eliminate a bed bug problem by yourself. If one apartment is infested, adjoining units (left side, right side, above and below) should be assumed to be infested unless shown otherwise through inspection or monitoring.Simply asking tenants whether they have bed bugs is not enough. In one study only half of residents in a large apartment with bed bugs knew (or admitted) they had a bed bug problem.

Bed bug treatment consists of a thorough inspection followed by vacuuming and treatment of all detected bug hiding spots. Treatment is labor intensive and may take several hours per apartment. It will also probably require several visits and treatments to permanently get rid of a bed bug problem.

My landlord wants to treat the problem using in-house janitorial staff. Is this OK?

In Texas, multifamily housing, hotels, or any business providing lodging must be treated for pests by a licensed pesticide applicator. So unless the apartment employee who enters your home to control bed bugs is licensed by the Texas Pest Control Service, this would be illegal. Illegal activity by an unlicensed person includes the use of over-the-counter pesticides, heat treatment or any other non-chemical control methods–anything intended to control pests like bed bugs, cockroaches, mice, etc.

What’s my responsibility?

Apartment with clothing and personal items bagged and ready for pest control.

As a tenant, your first responsibility is to report any suspected bed bug problem immediately. Once an appointment is made for your treatment, it will be your duty to prepare your apartment. The following tips will help your pest control service and YOU to get rid of bed bugs quickly.

  • Don’t move any of your things to another apartment during or before the treatment. You might end up spreading bed bugs to the other apartment and may re-introduce bed bugs to your newly-treated apartment later, when you retrieve your belongings.
  • Pick up and double bag all loose items in bedrooms and other rooms to be treated. Clutter makes it difficult for maintenance crews to inspect all parts of your apartment, and gives bed bugs more places to hide. Before returning these items, follow your pest control company’s instructions for cleaning and inspecting to make sure you are not returning bed bugs to the treated room.
  • Clothing that may be infested should be double-bagged prior to treating the room, and dis-infested before returning to the room. Recent research shows that dry cleaning, washing in hot water, or tumble drying for 30 minutes on high will kill all stages of bed bugs.
  • Even though bed bug treatments are mostly focused on bedrooms and living rooms, it’s still a good idea to put away all food in the kitchen and dining areas, and cover tables, counters, etc. to protect from contamination. Although your pest control professional will be careful, and the chemicals used should pose minimal risks to people, this step will reduce your risk of unnecessary pesticide exposure and reduce costs for maintenance staff.
  • Unless you intend to get a new bed anyway, it’s not very effective (or economical) to discard your mattress, box spring or bed. Instead, buy a good quality, bug-proof mattress encasement. Encasements are special sacks that fit over a mattress or box spring–usually to reduce allergens. The zippers onbed bug-proof encasementsare designed to be tight enough to prevent even the smallest life stages of the bed bugs from escaping. Also, truly bed bug-proof encasements are strong enough to prevent bed bugs from biting you through the encasement. A good encasement will trap all bed bugs in the mattress and box spring inside, and will be smooth on the outside, providing few places for bed bugs to hide. Sears, Target, Walmart and other stores may sell bed bug-proof encasements, but they can also be purchased online. Look online for different brands and reviews of mattress encasements, using the search term “bed bug mattress protectors”.
  • Vacuum couches, chairs and recliners thoroughly before pest control service. Many bed bugs in apartments are found in couches and upholstered chairs. Double-bag and discard the vacuum bags in an outdoors dumpster immediately to avoid reintroducing or spreading any bed bugs caught in the vacuum.
  • Don’t forget to empty drawers in nightstands and dressers next to beds prior to treatment. This will make it easier for the pest control company to inspect and treat these furniture items. Bag and clean or inspect these items according to the directions of your pest control professional before returning the items to the treated furniture.

It’s essential to cooperate with management and with your pest control professionals to get complete bed bug control. Once established, bed bugs can be difficult to control, especially without the help of tenants like you.

For more information

For more information about bed bugs, including their biology and how to recognize them, see publication L-1742 Bed Bugs as well as the EPA website on bed bugs. If you live in a situation where professional pest control is not available or not being provided by management, see our publication on Do-it-yourself bed bug control (ENT-3012) for tips on controlling bed bugs. The fact sheet on How to Select a Bed Bug Control Provider (ENT-033) has special information to assist apartment managers in working with pest control contractors.

How To Tell If An Apartment Has Bed Bugs Before You Move In

Until 10 years ago, I thought bed bugs were nothing more than a childhood nursery rhyme. You know the one: "Sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite." But then I unknowingly moved into a bed bug-infested building, and what ensued was hands down the worst year of my life. If you want to avoid avoid the physical, emotional, and financial turmoil that accompanies a bed bug infestation, then you need to know how to tell if an apartment has bed bugs before you sign the lease.

While bed bugs are present in every city, Terminix recently release its annual report of the most bed bug infested cities in the U.S. Topping the list are Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. The report noted that 22% of people have had an experience with bed bugs, yet 48% don’t know what kind of precautions to take in order to prevent them. Fear not my friendlies: I am here to share with you what I wish I’d known before moving into a bed bug-infested apartment.

Fortunately, in 2019, landlords are prohibited from renting units with known infestations, and most states require property managers to provide tenants with information about bed bugs, according to the legal site Nolo. I received this information with my most recent lease. It included a clause that said the apartment was free of bed bugs as well as information about what to do if you suspect you have bed bugs in the future.

But before I get into how to make sure you’re not moving into a building with a bed bug problem, here’s the quick and dirty about bed bugs. It’s important to know that although they’re called bed bugs, they can be found on any surface, including in between floorboards, under carpets, and even inside of books. Bed bugs are nocturnal, meaning they come out at night to feast on the blood of humans. While they don’t transmit diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bites are itchier than anything I’ve ever experienced.

If you think you can’t get them because you practice a level of cleanliness that could rival Monica fromFriends, bed bugs only eat blood, so it doesn’t matter how clean your home is. As long as there is blood in your body, you’re a very attractive meal for a bed bug.

In addition, bed bugs are notoriously hard to get rid of since the ban on the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, according to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky. They’re also very hard to see until they become adults, and even then they are only about as big as an apple seed. This is why you want to do everything you can to avoid getting them in the first place.

What’s more, they can go up to 18 months without feeding. This means that even if you’re moving into an apartment that’s been vacant for a while, you should still check for bed bugs before signing the lease. Because bed bugs can travel on clothes and other items, a never-lived-in unit can also have bed bugs.

The first thing you can do before viewing a potential apartment is to read Yelp reviews of the building and/or property management company, and check the address against the Bed Bug Registry. This is a site where people report bed bugs at hotels and residential properties. Because this information is self-reported, there is no guarantee a unit is safe just because it’s not listed on the registry, but it’s a good first step. I have checked every apartment I have lived in during the last 10 years against the registry.

In addition, if any unit in the building you’re looking at has been listed in the past year, know that bed bugs can easily travel from one unit to another in an apartment building. If the building is listed as having had a problem several years ago, it might be worth considering if you ask a lot of questions and get information from the property manager about their bed bug protocol.

Another thing you can do is take a playing card and run it along cracks between the baseboards and the floor and in between floorboards to see if any brown fecal matter or molted skin is visible. If the apartment is carpeted, try to pull up a section of carpet next to the wall to check for fecal matter or run a card in the area where the carpet meets the wall. The site Sniff K9s suggests using a blow dryer and running it over the same areas to check for live bed bugs. You can also hire a bed bug-sniffing dog to come check out the apartment before you sign your lease.

Overall, the best way to ensure the apartment you’re moving into is bed bug free is to arm yourself with information. Look up the laws in your city and state to find out what your landlord is required to tell you and who is responsible for paying for extermination should an infestation occur. Physically check out the unit using the aforementioned methods, check the registry, and read reviews of the building.

If anything feels off, walk away. While bed bugs are easier to manage and eradicate than they were 10 years ago ⁠— because there is more information available now ⁠— this is one experience you definitely don’t want to have. It’s been 10 years since my bed bug nightmare, and I’m still not over it.

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How Fast Can Bed Bugs Spread?

Silent Pests

Bed bugs have been in the news in recent years.After decades in which they seemed to have been almost eradicated, these pests are making a comeback. This is bad news for humans. According to the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky, bed bugs require a “blood meal” to survive, and they prefer the taste of human blood to that of other warm-blooded animals. These miniature vampires typically strike at night while people are sleeping, making a painless bite and sucking several drops of blood. Not known to carry infectious diseases, bed bugs nonetheless can cause allergic reactions to their saliva, and their bites leave itchy blotches similar to mosquito or flea bites. Hiding in inaccessible places, spreading out to all areas of a building and able to go months without feeding if necessary, they are difficult to find and control.

Once an infestation is underway, the property owner faces a tough eradication process that will require the services of a professional exterminator.This must be done sooner rather than later because they are hardy and they spread very quickly.

Reproduction

In the outdoors, bed bugs infest nests of birds, bats and other animals.These flightless insects, which measure 1/4 inch at maturity, enter a house, motel or apartment building by hiding in luggage, clothing or fabric. Once in place, the bugs set about reproducing, which they can do with impressive speed. Female bed bugs lay between one and five tiny eggs per day. Hatchlings are no bigger than a poppy seed.Once hatched, according to the School of Public Health at Harvard University, a baby bed bug or “nymph” requires only a single blood feast to molt and move into its next stage of development, which occurs five times before adulthood.

The nymphs reach maturity in a month or more, depending on conditions such as temperature (bed bugs like it warm) and the availability of blood. Assuming an average daily production of three viable eggs, simple math would indicate that at the end of one week, a single female would lay more than twenty eggs. Some weeks later, given a steady blood supply, these 20 bedbugs are adults. If half of them are females and each one lays twenty eggs in a week, this means a second generation of nymphs numbering approximately 200, all of which come from just one female bed bug. The production of three generations of bed bugs in a year is not uncommon.

Locational Spread

Bed bugs can spread from one room or apartment to another through door frames, windows, or holes or cracks in the walls, ceilings and floors. They can contaminate wood furniture by laying eggs in cracks and recesses, and when that furniture is moved, these eggs (which can stay viable for years) may hatch in a new location. Weeks or months without blood do not harm these tough insects.As a result, if bed bugs are found, one should consult an exterminator immediately.

Bed bugs have been in the news in recent years. After decades in which they seemed to have been almost eradicated, these pests are making a comeback. Not known to carry infectious diseases, bed bugs nonetheless can cause allergic reactions to their saliva, and their bites leave itchy blotches similar to mosquito or flea bites. These flightless insects, which measure 1/4 inch at maturity, enter a house, motel or apartment building by hiding in luggage, clothing or fabric. Some weeks later, given a steady blood supply, these 20 bedbugs are adults.

How bed bugs spread through apartment buildings

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The Journal of Economic Entomology has released a chilling case study of a massive bed bug infestation in a high-rise Indianapolis apartment building.

It’s a Ghost-of-Christmas-Future story for landlords, co-ops and condos interested in avoiding, say,a $250,000 bed bug clean-up bill.

You can download the study at the bottom of this post. Here’s a quick summary of the cautionary facts.

  • Nearly half of this 210-unit, 15-story low-income apartment building became infested within 41 months of the original problem, which likely started with a single resident who moved into a 12th floor apartment.
  • 50 percent of infested residents were completely unaware that they had bed bugs
  • Visual inspections alone failed to detect nearly half of the infestations.
  • The most reliable detection method was the placement of dish-like bed bug traps, aka “interceptors," under furniture legs.
  • Infested apartments tended to be right next door to each other (53%) or across the hall (45%).
  • Bed bugs frequently walked out of the front door of one apartment and into another on the same hallway.
  • Bugs were also spread through the building when infested furniture was discarded without wrapping it in plastic, by neighbors visiting infested apartments or infested common areas, and by an infested wheelchair used in common areas.

The study’s authors point out that financial constraints prevented these low-income residents—some of whom lived with infestations for two years—from taking some bed bug fighting measures like encasing mattresses, laundering clothes frequently, and replacing heavily infested furniture.

“Unfortunately, this population can pose additional challenges which are not indicative of all buildings,” notes BrickTank pest management expert Gil Bloom, who brought the article to our attention.

“However, the study certainly does underscore a need for a systematic approach to managing bed bugs,” says Bloom, the vice president of Standard Pest Management and a member of Mayor Bloomberg’s Bedbug Advisory Board.

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