illustration of a dormitory

Contributed by Orkin, LLC

They creep, they crawl, and they’re known to be one of the most bothersome pests in the industry — we’re talking about bed bugs. They can be found in environments beyond your bedroom — from the comfort of your living room to a conference room in your office space. Once indoors, they can be difficult to control and can cause severe damage to your business’s bottom line. These pests don’t discriminate either, as they have been found in five-star hotels, hospitals and even student housing. Since they’re expert hitchhikers, the likelihood of bed bugs entering your building is greatly increased as they latch onto personal belongings such as luggage, purses, backpacks, furniture, boxes, clothing, etc.

Given that millions of students and summer visitors live in student housing each year, these buildings are vulnerable to potential bed bug infestations. Student housing facilities are also particularly vulnerable to introductions because of the frequent turnover of residents.

The best way to combat these pests is through an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program because it takes a proactive and environmentally conscious approach to eliminating the conditions that are conducive to them in the first place. Student housing officials should also work with a trained, licensed pest management professional to tighten up current pest programs and pay strict attention to the following “hot spot” areas of your student residence halls.

What Are Bed Bugs?
The best way to battle bed bugs is to learn more about the pest themselves. They’re small, flat, oval, wingless insects that measure up to the size of an apple seed. Like mosquitoes, they bite humans to feed on blood, but unlike mosquitoes, they don’t transmit disease. They can be difficult to detect and treat because of their small size and ability to survive long periods of time without feeding. The first signs of a bed bug introduction are often the bed bugs themselves or the small, dark stains and smears they can leave behind. They can quickly become a major problem as they can spread from room to room if undetected. Anyone who notices a bed bug sighting should contact a pest management professional immediately.

How Are Bed Bugs Brought into Student Housing?
Bed bugs obtain access to college campuses by hitchhiking on students or their belongings (backpacks, clothes, etc.). Bed bugs are normally nocturnal and cryptic insects that come out of hiding to take blood meals from sleeping or quietly resting humans (particular other animals can serve as hosts, but humans are preferred). The best habitats for bed bugs will be on or near beds, sofas and other upholstered furniture. Rather than returning to a regular hiding place, bed bugs may find their way into luggage, purses, back packs, etc., nearby to find their way to a residence, employee locker room or work station. A hitchhiking bed bug can drop off almost anywhere and find a new carrier. Aside from an infested residence hall, hotel rooms, waiting rooms or even public transportation vehicles are likely places to accidently become an unknowing carrier. Students can also bring back bed bugs after holidays and breaks, so figuring out a potential issue before leaving campus is crucial.

During travel, students should remember the acronym S.L.E.E.P to inspect for bed bugs:
•    Survey the room for signs of an infestation. Inspect for brown and black spots on the bed and furniture.
•    Lift and inspect common bed bug hiding spots: the mattress, box spring, bed skirt and other furniture, as well as behind baseboards, pictures and even torn wallpaper.
•    Elevate luggage and other belongings away from the bed and wall. The safest place is in the bathroom.
•    Examine luggage while repacking and returning home from a trip.
•    Place all dryer-safe clothing from the luggage in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting after returning home.

When returning to campus, students should:
•    Check luggage before bringing it back into residence halls.
•    Clean and reduce clutter to eliminate bed bug hiding spots.
•    Regularly vacuum crevices, upholstery mattress.
•    Apply encasement to mattress. 
•    Thoroughly inspect any second-hand furniture.

Discovering Bed Bugs
Your first response should be to inspect and discover the extent of any potential infestation. Students and student housing officials should take bed bug issues very seriously and implement an IPM program to deal with cases as soon as they’re discovered. Additionally, a licensed, experienced pest control management company, whose employees are trained to identify and eradicate bed bugs should be used.

If, and when, a bed bug incident is confirmed, housing officials should determine the appropriate course of action based on the severity of the situation. In some serious cases, it’s important to place students in another room until the affected room is treated. Be sure to:

•    Inspect all personal items in the room and bag them for transport.
•    Ensure no uninspected items are taken with the student before treatment.
•    Launder or dry clean clothes. Be sure to return all items to students in a timely manner.
•    Replace carpeting and furniture, if unable to be salvaged.
•    Inspect the area at regular intervals after treatment to ensure that all signs of bed bugs have been eliminated.

Work with a professional pest management provider to provide a program that helps eradicate bed bugs, so you do not have repeat incidents in the same rooms. Bed bug incidents can be very stressful for affected students, so try to respond sensitively, restore their personal possessions as quickly as possible and move them back to their rooms as soon as the problem has been resolved.

Bed Bug Preparation
The best practice is to prevent bed bug infestations from taking hold in the first place, but that is much easier said than done. It involves ongoing vigilance in cooperation with your housekeeping staff and pest control provider. Here are three tangible steps every student housing facility should consider.

1.    Student Trainings – An educated and watchful resident population is your absolute best defense against bed bugs. In most student housing, student are the only ones who see their rooms for extended periods of time. Do they know what to look for? From tiny, ink-blot stains on mattress edges to cast skins, there are signs of infestation beyond just the bugs themselves. But even live insects may not be a dead giveaway. Work with your pest control provider to provide your students with the training they need to look for and identify bed bugs, as well as the signs they can leave behind. Some providers even offer free tip sheets in multiple languages for students who may not speak English as their first language.

2.    Resident Assistant (RA) Trainings – During RA training, facilities staff should educate the RAs on the prevention and treatment of bed bugs, including the procedures to follow if there is a suspicion of bed bugs. The RAs, in turn, should communicate all information and protocols dealing with each pest to their student residents. Additionally, quick tips and informational collateral should be sent out to students and displayed in the residence halls.

3.    Routine Inspections – A trained bed bug expert can spot things you and your students might miss. Discuss proactive bed bug inspections with your pest management provider. That extra investment could help catch infestations early. Not to mention, the reputation damage that you avoid by preventing the infestation from spreading to more guest rooms.

4.    Canine Inspections – Dogs have been used for years to locate trapped victims of natural disasters, sniff out bombs, locate drugs and even find termites. When properly trained, their powerful noses can also detect live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs. In student housing, the main benefit of a bed bug-sniffing dog is speed. They can often inspect rooms faster than humans, ruling out certain rooms and isolating the affected rooms for more effective and timely treatment, with fewer rooms out of service. But bed bug dogs aren’t perfect. Canine inspection works best when the dog is teamed with a well-trained handler – University of Florida researchers have found that in a lab setting, well-trained dogs can detect live bed bugs with 98 percent accuracy.

Prevention Tips
A bed bug infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness—you can pick them up in the finest hotels, and they can hitchhike into the cleanest homes at any given time. Encourage students to help reduce the chances of a costly bed bug infestation with these tips:

•    Check locations where bed bugs hide during the day, including mattress seams and behind baseboards, headboards, electrical outlets and picture frames.
•    Bed bugs can hide in backpacks, so inspect backpacks periodically. Additionally, check seams and pouches throughout backpacks for live or dead bugs and eggs.
•    Dry potentially infested bed linens, curtains and stuffed animals on the hottest temperature allowed for the fabric.
•    Be on the lookout for signs of their presence such as blood spots on sheets or an unexplained “rash” on the body.
•    If students discover or suspect bed bugs, encourage them to immediately contact student housing. Bed bug treatment should be performed by a trained pest management professional.
•    Clean and reduce the clutter in the room to eliminate places for bed bugs to hide during the day.
•    Wash clothes and linens frequently in hot water and dryer to kill any possible bugs.
•    Don't bring second-hand furniture items onto campus. They are often prime introduction sources for bed bugs.
•    When traveling, be diligent about not bringing bed bugs to campus. Check the entire room, even behind wall paintings and fixtures.
•    Try not to put luggage on the bed; elevate bags and backpacks on a luggage stand.
•    Upon returning to campus, check all traveling items when unpacking.

While bed bugs continue to surprise us with their resilience, fortitude and presence in more places, don’t let your student housing location be taken by surprise. Consider posting information on your schools’ resident portal or website to educate individuals on bed bug prevention and treatment.

Glen Ramsey is Technical Services Manager for Orkin. He is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of training and education, operations, and marketing. For more information, email or visit