24 Jul Bed bug precautions face same social dilemma as smoking in the 70s

We have learned in previous blogs that bed bugs are often carried on clothing and other possessions. In my apartment block we have found that individuals that have no contact with friends that have bed bugs get bed bugs once every 35 years on average. Persons that have social contact in infested settings get bed bugs once every year or even more often.

We are part of a group of inner city house churches and many of our guests have bed bugs in their homes. That means the host homes, including my home, could easily become infested on a yearly basis. Our entire leadership group has taken on the task of educating all parishioners on the importance of putting on clothes fresh from the dryer before entering uninfested homes. As you can imagine that task can be socially uncomfortable. But we have found that being open and up front with everyone has taken most of the discomfort out of the subject – it is now just a matter of the facts. A simple set of prevention protocols allows everyone to participate in the group without fear of rejection.

Yesterday I was asked to advise a family on heat sterilizing their house hold goods. They lived in an infested apartment and wished to move to their newly purchased home without bed bugs. Unfortunately this family had a severe case of bed bugs, had been self treating regularly, and had not taken appropriate precautions with clothing which pretty much guaranteed that they had infested all their friends’s homes when visiting. The client also admitted that many of his acquaintances were in fact addressing bed bugs. I informed the client that simply heat sterilizing the belongings would not be adequate to have a bed bug free home because their friends would now be repaying the favour and reinfesting the new home via their clothing. If his infested friends came to visit without taking precautions he might be wasting his money with heat sterilizing his belongings.

I suggested that all his friends be educated on the facts of bed bug transmission and take precautions similar to our house church. The client stated that their culture placed high value on relationships and hospitality and they could not make such suggestions. As such they chose to heat sterilize only the high risk items in their home such as couches and beds. The clothing would be laundered and other furniture would be discarded or steam cleaned. The remainder of the lower risk belongings would not be treated which does present some risk but this risk is probably lower than the risk posed by their friends. As such it made perfect sense to save money and not heat sterilize their low risk belongings – the risk posed by their friends was much greater than those belongings.

Back in the 1970s smoking was acceptable to most people and non smokers often had ashtrays in their homes in case their smoking friends came to visit. Over time as the facts on the hazzards of smoking became known the fashionability of smoking declined and the non smokers tossed their ash trays. And the smokers realized the harm they were causing to others and chose to smoke only outside. This change in behaviour occurred gradually with increasing knowledge and acceptance of the facts. Bed bug precautions are now like smoking was in the 1970s. The harm caused by bed bug transfer is not generally understood or appreciated. And when one insists that one’s friends take bed bug precautions it is like insisting that a smoker in 1970 could not smoke in your presence – kind of uncomfortable.

What we need is a concerted education plan for the general public. When the facts become more generally known some simple precautions will cause the bed bug epidemic to decline.