When bed bugs invade a home, its not just the people who live there that are affected.
Thanks to the ability of bed bugs to live months without food, the creatures are resilient enough to travel from place to place on shoes, clothing or furniture.
For community service agencies, like hospitals and nursing homes, admitting patients without admitting the bugs gets complicated. Bed bugs can travel on ambulances with patients, or sometimes hop on the clothing of the EMS personnel.
At Winchester-Fire EMS, Maj. Sam Byrd said that, in emergency situations, EMTs don’t have time to inspect for bed bugs, or to decontaminate patients. Instead, the decontamination process begins after the patient has been transported to the hospital.
“Bed bugs can get in shoes, hems of pants, medical bags and equipment,” Byrd said.
If bed bugs are discovered, or even as few as one bug, the formal decontamination process must be employed. The emergency workers that dealt with the patient or entered the home must shower and put on a clean uniform. The old uniforms are washed and run through a dryer. Although the bugs are hardy creatures, they cannot survive the heat.
The ambulance must be taken out of commission, as well, for a thorough cleaning. Ambulances are not bed bug-friendly because most surfaces are plastic, and all seams are sealed to keep out any hazardous materials. However, as a precautionary measure, the ambulances are taken out of service for decontamination. A professional exterminator will do a thorough inspection of the vehicle, and spray with a pesticide if bugs are found.
Once an ambulance is sprayed, Byrd said it must sit for two hours so the pesticide can dry. After it dries, the ambulance must be cleaned to make sure all traces of the chemical are gone. The whole process takes approximately three hours, Byrd said.
If emergency personnel are aware of a bed bug infestation, there are a few measures short of a formal decontamination that can help minimize the problem. Patients can be wrapped in sheets or bedding to help contain the bed bugs to their person. However, when the sheets or bedding are removed at the hospital, there is still the potential for an infestation at that facility.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the the people where the infestation is and property owners,” Byrd said.
Unless people rid their homes of the bugs, their is no way to prevent them from entering ambulances or hospitals.
“We are aware that bed bugs are present in the surrounding community, and our staff members take every precaution to protect our patients, visitors and facility from any insect, including bed bugs. We have extensive procedures in place to prepare for treatment of an infected patient, should one arrive at our facility,” Kathy Love, CEO, of Clark Regional Medical Center, said in a prepared statement. “The presence of these insects presents a significant challenge to all emergency service providers and requires coordination and significant resources to address an unexpected infiltration.”
Sometimes bed bugs are not detected until a patient’s clothing is removed at the hospital. At that point, the hospital staff will contact the ambulance service so that the decontamination process can begin. If the ambulance has been to other homes, those patients must be contacted and notified that they may have come into contact with bed bugs, Byrd said.
At the hospital, four rooms must be decontaminated when bed bugs are discovered. That includes the room where the bug was spotted, the rooms to the left and right, and directly overhead. The process takes four days, making all four rooms unavailable during that time, Byrd said.
Because of bed bugs’ resiliency, Byrd said that any homeowners who suspect an infestation should call an exterminator rather than trying to control the problem themselves. One female can lay as many as a dozen eggs in one day, so it doesn’t take long for a home to become infested.
The bugs are about the size of a tick, and their bites leave small, itchy, red bumps, although they do not carry disease.
The best way to help prevent an infestation is to regularly wash and dry bed linens, and keep up with basic household cleaning tasks.
For more information on bed bugs, and what to do about a suspected infestation, call the Clark County Health Department at 744-4482.
Contact Rachel Parsons at email@example.com.