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Bed Bugs Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Bed Bugs

Everyone’s probably heard about bed bugs, but are they here in Fairfax County? How bad is the problem in our community? What about when I travel for work or vacation? Or worse could my holiday guests bring them to my home? Or when my child returns from college? Learn more about these blood sucking stowaways and what you can do to protect yourself. Rachael Perrott, the county’s bed bug expert, and John Yetman, the Health Department’s top investigator who’s responsible for dealing with bed bug outbreaks, answered questions as part of Ask Fairfax!

John Yetman : Rachael and I want you welcome you here today. We hope we can answer your questions and calm your fears about bed bugs once you understand how to deal with the little stowaway bloodsuckers.

Anonymous User : Is there any way to determine if a business (hotel, restaurant, etc.) in Fairfax County has had a bed bug problem?

John Yetman : Yes by asking the business. Or if a complaint was filed with the Health Department, then by requesting the information by email to or calling 703-246-2300. Just because they had bed bugs in the past dosn't mean they have them now. What matters is how they handle future bed bugs. Do they have procedures in place to deal with bed bugs? If a hotel do they take the room and adjacent rooms out of service until professionally inspected, the affected rooms treated and then re-inspected to confirm eradication. The Health Department has found that the Hotel industry in Fairfax has been very proactive and responsive in dealing with these stowaways.

Anonymous User : Do I need to worry about bedbugs when I travel to and from work on the Metro? If so, what should I do to prevent taking any home with me?

John Yetman : True they can be anywhere. But Metro, Rail and Bus are not a conducive place for them. There is too much light, vibration, activity. There instinct is to remain hidden where they stowed away.

Taquanda Jones : If I were to get a bed bug infestation, can I treat the issue myself with pesticides from the local store? When should I call a pest control company?

Rachael Perrott : Unlike other insect infestations, bed bugs pose a real challenge to control because there are so many factors about them that make them so good at what they do: BEING A NUISANCE! The process of eradicating bed bugs from a location is a complex problem, for reason such as using the correct pesticide that is labeled for bed bug control, the fact that bed bug biology and "living habits” are very cryptic in nature (i.e. they hide in cracks and crevices and it is very hard to find them), and even the fact that knowledge and experience with application techniques is a necessity to properly treat this type of problem. There are sprays, chemicals, etc. that are available to treat bed bugs in local stores and these treatments can kill bed bugs that come into contact with the treatment. However, if they are not applied in the correct places in a building where infestations can occur or in all the areas where bed bugs may be hiding, then the treatment will not be effective. An experienced technician has the best tools available (between access to current pesticide trends that may not be available to the public consumer, receiving on-going training for the most up-to-date procedures, and receiving current technology (such as heat treatments) to battle these insects. Bottom Line: Treatment of bed bugs is really best left up to the professionals.

Anonymous : We are about to travel across do we detect bedbugs in a hotel room?

John Yetman : Look at the bed, pull the sheets back, check all of the seams in fabrics for this small bugs or the blacken droplet stains in the seams. Take the menu card and run it behind the bedboard and see what come out. If a hotel, ask for another room or go elsewhere. If not an option (like your out of country) or the bed bug population is small and not seen. Prevention is the key to keep away these stowaways, keep everything in your travel bags. Don't leave them open. Don't store on the floor or by the bed. Put your bag on the luggage rack at least a foot from a wall. Carefully check the bag before you leave the room.

Marc : Can you get bed bugs outside? I mean pick them up in the woods and bring them home? Or do they live only inside buildings?

Rachael Perrott : The answer is "No" it is not possible to get bed bugs from walking outside, or opening a window on a warm, breezy day. Instead, bed bugs have to be brought into a structure in an infested item or by hitch-hiking on someone's clothing. In a sense, bed bugs are lazy: they live with humans, they are moved when humans move them, and they infest places humans go.

Anonymous : Does anyone know where the bed bugs first surfaced during this outbreak? Could they have been brought in from overseas?

John Yetman : They showed up in the major cities first then our mobile society spread them. Bed bugs were never eradicated, any insect pest that was worthy of writing by Aristotle and Pliney in their treatise on nature isn't likely to be eradicated. However, bed bugs had been profoundly controlled in North American. The spread of these stowaways was controlled by the Hotel industry and through regulation/inspections of Tourist lodgings by the Health Departments. But since the pest had gone away people became less and less diligent over time. Now with rapid international travel to other parts of the world and our very mobile society they have come back with a vengeance.

Anonymous User : I have a 2 year old who goes to daycare. Is it likely that she can get it transferred from someone at her school to her? And if so, what should we check for?

John Yetman : Just as which head lice the day care should notify the parents if there is a problem. For the parent, bed bug prevention you must remember bedbugs are stowaways they don't attach to the child. Any bedding or plush toys should be washed and dried in a high heat before being brought into the house. Books and items should be checked. Any travel bag could be put in a plastic bag and sealed until its next use.

Amanda Mendez : What effective alternatives are there for bed bug control rather than using pesticides? I have heard that bed bugs are resistant to pesticides.

Rachael Perrott : Bed bugs are not resistant to all pesticides, as there are many different varieties (i.e. different chemical structures) available to choose from. However, bed bugs can be resistant to certain groups of pesticides. Fortunately, if one group of pesticide is not doing the trick as far as insect control, there are other chemical options available. To answer the second part of your question, research has determined that there are other options for control that work because. These options include: heat treatments, insect growth regulators, dry cleaning, sending items of clothing through a complete washer and dryer cycle, steam cleaning, and vacuuming. Specifically, on the note of vacuuming, this is a very effective way of eliminating bed bugs. Vacuuming removes all stages of bed bugs, including the eggs, by sucking them off the infested item. Don't forget to throw away the bad when you are done- EACH TIME YOU VACUUM. Otherwise, bed bugs can crawl back out of the machine.

Anonymous User : If a Bed Bug is reportedly able to live a year, why would it go against nature and wait any longer than other insects to eat or reproduce? I think the report of their longevity was made up by a pest control representative to drum up more business. Where is the scientific study?

John Yetman : Yes it is true they can live up to a year in a dormant state waiting for a food source to show up. They can't get to you or another animal so they wait. You must leave the special encasements for mattress and box springs sealed in place for a year to starve/kill the bed bugs or eggs trapped inside. This is based on studies going back to the early 1900's.

Anonymous User : My landlord is charging me $900 for bedbug treatment. Why doesn't the landlord provide treatment for bed bugs like they do for roaches, mice and rats? If I can't pay $900, will I be evicted?

John Yetman : Landlord - Tenant lease issues are a little out of our expertise. The laws for multi-unit residential dwellings require the landlord to treat the public or common areas of the building, but ultimately the tenant is jointly responsible for pest control in their unit. Fairfax County has a Tenant Landlord commission and addresses these types of issues in the Office of Consumer Affairs. or call 703-222-8435

Anonymous User : Children in our child care center sleep on non-fabric mesh cots. All linens used are laundered at our facility weekly. What other precautions should be taken to prevent bedbug infestation? Should children with bedbugs be excluded from the center? For how long? In the event of an infestation, what measures are needed to ensure that the infestation is eliminated?

John Yetman : Children do not need to be excluded from child care. However, a parent should be responsible enough to notify the care giver of a home bed bug problem so appropriate precautions can be taken. Precautions are similar to handling head lice. Notify the other parents, used bedding dedicated to an individual child and not shared, handle plush toys the same as bedding, store the child's outer garments and backpack in away from the others, check the storage area for their garments and backpack after departure and if a bug is observed, squash it.

Anonymous User : Doe Fairfax County keep a database of apartment units or single family homes that have been reported to have bedbugs?

John Yetman : We do not keep a list of rental units that have bed bugs. But you can obtain a complaint history on a specific address under the Va. FOIA by email to or calling 703-246-2300. However, past history is not as important, instead, what does the landlord do when bed bugs are discovered. Do they have procedures in place to deal with bed bugs if an apartment building, do they have a pest control service on retainer, are all of the other tenants cooperative? One uncooperative tenant that the landlord is unable or unwilling to deal with may make it difficult to eradicate bed bugs or any pest from the building.

Anonymous : If you purchase a new mattress, is there anyway you can check to see that there are no bed bugs inside?

Rachael Perrott : When purchasing a new mattress, the first thing to think about is method of delivery. Many mattress companies deliver your new mattress to your house, and they will dispose of your old one for you. The new mattresses are loaded on the same truck with all the old ones. Second, the old mattresses are brought back to the store and unloaded. Old mattresses may remain there for a period of time until they can be properly disposed. To avoid a bed bug infestation, the best thing to do is inspect your new mattress before it is brought inside your home. A visual inspection is all that is needed. Bed bugs are large and can be seen with the naked eye. They CANNOT bore holes into your mattress or chew their way through wood. Bed bugs will only cling to the exterior of your mattress , as they are in waiting for their true food source: BLOOD. A visual inspection should include checking the top and bottom of the mattress, and folding down the seams along the side of the mattress to see if any live insects are found.

Anonymous User : Does Fairfax County actually investigate units or homes to see if the suspected creatures are actually bedbugs?

John Yetman : Yes we investigate bed bug complaints for multi-unit buildings (apt & condo), hotels, and public access areas. We don't inspect single family homes or town homes. We do provide a bed bug indentification/confirmation if you bring the bug in a securely sealed, self sealing plastic bag to the Health Department. Call 703-246-2300 for info.

Sophia Grinnan : How do you know if you have them in ur home? I checked for flecks along my mattress lining with light and magnifying glass, but I don’t know if that’s enough. If I do have them, how do I get rid of them; if I don’t, how can I prevent them from visiting my home? Also, can they live in the carpets, rugs or animal beds?

John Yetman : How do you know where to look. Remember you are the food, they come for you when you are very still (asleep) which is normally at night. If you don't see any evidence on your bed and you don't have insect bites, you are probably ok. Sleep tight (tuck in the sheets, keep all your skin covered and they can't get to you)

Kathy : How do I avoid getting a bed bug infestation?

John Yetman : Check out our web page.

Anonymous User : We have a rental home at the beach and have been warned to get mattress covers to assist with this problem. Is this a good suggestion or does it do any good or is it just to protect the mattress so the cover can be taken off and laundered without getting the bugs into the mattress?

Rachael Perrott : Mattress covers are a MUST! When purchasing a mattress cover, it is necessary to get one that completely encloses the mattress and zips it inside. A simple mattress cover that looks like a fitted sheet will not be effective to avoiding an infested mattress. Once, you have zipped the mattress inside the mattress cover, you should also put heavy duty tape over the zipper. In this way, there are no gaps that a bed bug could squeeze inside. Mattress covers are very effective because they remove the access to seams, folds, etc. where bed bugs like to hide. Bed bugs are easier to locate and eradicate on the continuously smooth surface of a mattress cover, than on the many folds of a mattress. Additionally, the box spring is open on the bottom and could pose as a safe haven for bed bugs if not properly contained inside a mattress cover.

Anonymous User : To be on the safe side, is there any way to treat luggage and clothing after a trip to ensure that any hitchhiking critters don't make it in to my house?

John Yetman : If its summer, put the luggage in the car, park it in the sun for the day for a do it yourself heat treatment. Actually any sunny day when the inside car temperature goes about 120 degrees F. Don't use pesticide. Vaccum the inside, outside, all the pockets thoroghly and discard the vaccum clean bag outside immeadiately. If you are still concerned seal it in a trash bag until next use.

Edgar Zappata : What should I think about before, during, and after traveling in regards to avoiding bed bug infestations?

Rachael Perrott : I believe that many aspects of this question have already been answered, so I will focus on what to do after travel to avoid bringing bed bugs home. If you suspect that you were exposed to bed bugs while traveling, the best thing to do is not bring any of your travel items inside the house. Items of clothing and shoes that you are wearing should be removed as soon as possible upon entry of your home. These items should be placed in a bag and either brought outside the dwelling or brought directly to the washing machine for a full wash/dry cycle. All other items should then be brought inside one laundry load at a time, and place immediately inside the washer and the cycle turned on. All items that cannot be washed can either be vacuumed or visually inspected. Placing items inside a car in direct sunlight on a warm summer day can also be very effective. Please see our other answers for other travel items and luggage inspection.

Anonymous User : How is the county dealing with Bedbugs?

John Yetman : We investigate all complaints for hotels, lodgings, public access areas, multi-unit dwellings like apartments and condos. We will identify a bug is a bed bug if brought to us in a very sealed self sealing plastic bag call 703-246-2300. We provide information and guidance. We have enforcement authority for some settings but not for single family homes or town homes.

Anonymous User : I saw a product at a local store that indicated it was for killing bedbugs. I believe it was a spray. Are there any products that can be purchased at a store that are effective in killing bedbugs?

John Yetman : Yes there are pesticide in the store. The problem is how to find the bugs and how to use the pesticide effectively. All the pesticides recommended in the 1930's and 40's when we last fought this battle are now banned. The single most important thing is DON'T spray a pesticide on your bed or linens, your skin will be in contact for hours. This is not good. Remember follow the instructions on the label.

Rania Mahmoud : How can I protect my family from these blood sucking? What is the way to kill these Bed Bugs? Does these Blood sucking affect kids? Does this Bed Bugs eat wood? Best regards

Rachael Perrott : Fortunately, bed bugs are not able to transmit disease. This insect is labeled only as a nuisance bug, because they are blood suckers and can bite. The reaction to a bed bug bite varies from person to person, and can range from no reaction to all to a full body rash. However, a majority of people when bitten will have a red, raised area form around the bite mark. This is very similar to that of a mosquito bite. Reactions can take a few days to appear. The only food source for a bed bug is blood. They cannot eat wood or any other material. Their mouthparts look very much like that of a straw.

Anonymous User : My son is coming home from college for the holidays and they have bed bugs. What can I do to keep them out of my house?

John Yetman : Treat them like any visitor who has bed bugs. Don't bring anything inside. Wash everything you can because the dryer heat kills the eggs and bugs. Best is Dry first, Wash off the dead, then Dry. Put the luggage in a car, park in the sun and check it the temperature got above 120 degrees F for several hours. If its to cold. Then put their luggage in sealed plastic bags until they leave.

Maria : Any suggestions for a shelter type settings. What would you suggest to minimize exposure?

John Yetman : If you are a shelter operator please contact our office 703-246-2300 we have a document on facility procedures.

Rachael Perrott : John and I would like to thank everyone for their interest in learning more about bed bugs, their control and their biology. We encourage you to contact the Health Department for any further questions. Email: Phone: 703-246-2300 To file a complaint for a bed bug infestation, please submit the complaint to: