Sniffing dogs help get rid of bed bugs

AZEX Pest Solutions Sonny Henegar and his bed bug detection dog Sonny demonstrate how they search for bed bugs at their Prescott training facility.

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

AZEX Pest Solutions Sonny Henegar and his bed bug detection dog Sonny demonstrate how they search for bed bugs at their Prescott training facility.

For anyone who has dealt with the irritating bites of bedbugs, that cute little rhyme about not letting “the bedbugs bite” is anything but cute. They’re tiny, hide most of the time, and come out only to feed at night, generally on human blood.

Chances are, you heard little about them until perhaps a decade ago. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint statement in 2010 that said, “Although bedbug populations dropped dramatically during the mid-20th century, the United States is one of many countries now experiencing an alarming resurgence in the population of bedbugs.

“Though the exact cause is not known, experts suspect the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bedbugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bedbugs,” the statement said.

The good news is that bedbugs can be exterminated, and, once gone, will stay gone unless they’re re-introduced into the home.

Bedbugs (cimex lectularius)

Bedbugs, contrary to some myths, are not necessarily a sign of a dirty or unsanitary home.

“You’d be surprised where you can pick up bedbugs. You can bring bedbugs home from a movie theater, they come home from the library, you can bring bedbugs home from a hotel,” said Cecil Newell at Yavapai County Community Health Services. “They like to hitchhike.”

Once in a home, they will bite their victim—mostly at night—drink until full, and then go into hiding in very tiny cracks and crevasses.

The good news, according to the CDC, is that they don’t transmit or spread disease, although some people can be allergic to their bites.

Preventing an infestation can be difficult. Although they’re small, and can be seen, most people aren’t likely to notice them until they wake up with itchy bites.

What doesn’t work

Pesticides, whether they’re the spray can variety or the “bug bomb,” don’t work.

The bedbugs simply retreat further into their hiding places until the application is over and the poison subsides.

Another treatment involves the use of diatomaceous earth (DE), which does kill the bedbugs. However, several sources, including the EPA, point out that diatomaceous earth is a hazard to the human respiratory system, and advise against both pool-grade and food-grade DE use.

What does work

“The best treatment for bedbugs is heat, but that needs to be done by a professional,” Newell said.

Locally, AZEX Pest Solutions does use heat to eliminate bedbugs, said Sonny Henegar, who heads up the K9 program and says it works very well.

The company uses dogs to identify whether a location has a bedbug infestation; the dogs are trained to sniff out their distinctive odor and alert to show the handler exactly where bedbugs are hiding.

“The bedbugs live in places that you can’t spray chemicals,” he said. “They live in books, they lie in pillowcases.”

But his company heats up a room to about 130 degrees to kill the critters.

How it works is ingenious: the heat is slowly increased over hours’ time, Henegar said, and like the story of the frog that sat in a pan on water while the water was heated to boiling, the bugs don’t seem to realize they’re in trouble until it’s too late.

This method also has the advantage of killing the bedbugs, not driving them away, only to return. “The idea behind our heaters is, because it’s a low heat, they don’t leave the room,” he said.

AZEX is now teaching pest control companies from around the U.S. how to deal with bedbugs at its facility in Prescott, Henegar said. “We teach them how to use heat to eradicate bedbugs.”

Bedbug exterminators are doing a booming business these days.

“(Bedbugs) are everywhere,” he said.