Just when parents thought head lice were the only insects to invade classrooms, bed bugs have been added to the list. Hotels are typically the place that comes to mind when bedbugs are mentioned, but the critters like book bags, too.
Bed bugs began making national news about three years ago. While they don’t carry disease, the pests are notoriously hard to get rid of, and just the suggestion that bed bugs might be in your home is enough to make most people’s skin crawl.
They also carry a stigma that prevents people from telling their friends or their children’s teacher that they are battling bed bugs at home.
“You could say that your house is surrounded by mosquitos and your neighbors would think nothing of it, but you don’t want them to know you have bed bugs,” said Paul Guillebeau, an Extension entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“But bed bugs don’t have anything to do with sanitation. It doesn’t mean that a house is dirty or not cared for.”
While the bugs can’t be transferred from human to human, there have been reports of them hitching a ride to school in students’ book bags — and book bag to book bag transfer could be possible.
School officials only notify parents when there is a serious chance one child’s bed bugs could have infested another child’s book bag, which is not common but is possible.
When parents learn that one of their children’s classmates brought bed bugs to school, the first thing they should remember is not to panic. There are practical steps and precautions they can take to make sure their child doesn’t carry bedbugs into the house, Guillebeau said.
If the school sends home a letter notifying parents that someone in their child’s class brought bed bugs to school, parents should not let their child bring their back pack inside the house. Leave it on the porch or in the car, he said.
“If I received notification from the school about bed bugs, I would immediately wash and dry my child's clothes when they arrived home from school. And I would not bring any items inside before a thorough inspection or treating the items to a heat treatment,” Guillebeau said.
Simply leaving the book bag in a closed car during the hottest part of the day or emptying the book bag and placing it into a hot dryer for 45 minutes should kill any bugs.
If you do notice bites on yourself or your child, or see bed bugs inside your house, the first rule of dealing with bed bugs still applies: Don’t panic.
The bugs are hard, but not impossible, to control. You will, however, have to call a professional exterminator to handle the problem, Guillebeau said.
“It’s just not a situation that amateurs can take care of themselves,” he said.
While bed bug treatment can be pricey, it may be less expensive than repeatedly trying to kill the bed bugs yourself. Consumers should be careful about who they hire to exterminate bed bugs, Guillebeau said.
Not all pest control companies have experience with bed bugs, so make sure to ask the company you’re considering about their experience with bedbugs, and don’t be afraid to ask for references.
There are a number of bed bug resources available including Georgia Department of Public Health handbooks and fact sheets available at http://health.state.ga.us/epi/zvbd/infest/index.asp.