When it comes to bed bugs, the University of Colorado at Boulder was one of the first campuses around the country to invest in a high-tech system for eliminating the pests — and, in typical Boulder style, the system does not involve any harmful chemicals or pesticides.
Actually, it cooks them. As it turns out, the $50,000 Thermal Remediation system from TEMP-AIR that CU purchased in August 2009 is paying off, since the system is now in fairly high demand. Officials say they typically use it twice a week to address a rising number of reports of bed bugs on campus.
During the first nine months that CU had the heating system — which kills bed bugs by heating rooms to more than 120 degrees — the campus performed 31 treatments. In the past five months alone, the system has been used 36 times, which CU officials attribute primarily to students’ return to campus housing in August.
That’s because travel is most often cited as the aggravating factor in bed bugs arriving in Boulder County. They hitch rides from other areas of the country that have been especially hard-hit, like New York City and Chicago.
CU officials urge students who suspect they have bed bugs — tell-tale signs include red bite marks on the skin or tiny blood spots on the sheets — to report it immediately, to nip the problem in the bud and avoid an infestation. There is nothing to be ashamed of, they say, since bed bugs are not a sign that you are unclean or live in an unsanitary environment.
“There’s a reluctance sometimes for people to report, because of emotions or a stigma or something like that,” says Craig Schuck, manager of maintenance and grounds operations for CU’s housing and dining services. “But there are four and five-star hotels that experience the problem.”
Ed von Bleichert, CU’s integrated pest management coordinator, agrees.
“This is not an indication of poor sanitary conditions,” he says. “It’s not like cockroaches or ants.
There is still that stigma, but I think people are starting to get over that.”
Prior to acquiring the TEMP-AIR system, Schuck says, CU would eliminate bed bugs with steam or vacuums equipped with fine HEPA filters that catch the bugs’ eggs.
But in the summer of 2009, von Bleichert and his staff saw the handwriting on the wall. They were reading industry newsletter reports about the rising number of bed-bug infestations around the country, and they urged campus officials to get ahead of the curve by buying the high-tech heating system. At the time, CU was one of only about a dozen campuses in the nation that had purchased the TEMP-AIR product.
Now, when the presence of bed bugs is confirmed in a CU dorm room or, as has been more common, the university’s family housing apartments, affected residents take a hot shower to remove any eggs or bugs from their body. Then they gather the few belongings they want to take with them and place those in another, smaller heating system called a PackTite, so that they can be decontaminated. (CU has three of those $500 units, acquired at around the same time as the TEMP- AIR system.) The residents then spend a night or two at a friend’s place while a crew of CU employees descends on the housing unit and sets up the TEMP-AIR heaters in each room — as well as an array of fans and sensors that the crew monitors to ensure that the heat is spread equally to every crevice in the room.
Von Bleichert says the heating process can take anywhere from six to 12 hours, depending on the size of the space. Initially, bed bugs come out of hiding when the temperature starts to rise, because they are attracted to warmth, given their blood-sucking propensities.
“They think it’s their next meal time,” Schuck says.
But then it gets a bit too hot for them, and at the end of the treatment, crews vacuum up the carcasses.
Von Bleichert says there is no pesticide registered in the U.S. that can kill both adults and eggs, so the use of chemicals would just be a Band-Aid.
Furthermore, adds Schuck, people who try to solve their bed-bug problem with a can of Raid are probably just going to drive the bugs away to an adjacent housing unit, exacerbating their spread.
He recommends using www.bedbug registry.com to see whether a hotel or other establishment you plan to visit has had past infestations.
Marcie Tucker, assistant director of customer relations for housing and dining services, says CU has gotten calls from other universities around the country inquiring about CU’s approach and the TEMP-AIR system.
“We are definitely at the forefront,” she says.