Should I Vacate the Structure?

Whether or not to vacate a bed bug infested structure is controversial subject. Obviously if you are a guest of a hotel or motel there is little doubt that vacating the infested area would be the immediate response upon learning of an infestation. However, precautions should be taken to minimize the likelihood of taking bugs with you when leaving the infested room. But what if the infestation occurs in your home or the workplace, should the structure be vacated? This is where things get complicated. On one hand, how can you say that it is ok to leave people there where they will continue to be bitten by bugs? While at first it may seem incomprehensible to suggest that people remain in a structure that has bed bugs, consider the following points:

  • Bed bugs are not considered a disease threat and at the current time, by traditional definitions, are not considered a pest of medical importance
  • Rarely are structures vacated during flea infestations. Instead occupants remain present while the fleas are eliminated which may take weeks or longer depending on the complexity and extent of the flea infestation
  • Pest control efforts may not be effective in vacated structures as many of the bugs are likely to be inactive without a human host present and will not interact with the chemical treatments
  • Bed bugs can survive many months without a blood meal so the structure will need to remain vacant for a very long time, perhaps months or even up to a year or more, to insure that all of the bugs died.
  • If alternate hosts are present such as mice, the bed bugs may continue to survive regardless of how long the structure remains vacant.
  • In multi-occupancy settings such as apartments, college dormitories etc., infested rooms that are vacated may promote the dispersal of bed bugs to surrounding units in search of a blood meal.
  • It is virtually impossible to determine through current inspection methods when the vacant structure is actually free of bed bugs.

For these reasons it is not uncommon for structures to be vacated, treated repeatedly, inspected and found to be “free” of bed bugs, only to have the occupants experience bed bug bites once they re-occupy the structure.

Should a unit be vacated in multi-occupancy settings such as apartments, hotels, health care facilities, dormitories etc., it is highly recommended that ongoing inspections of the adjoining units (above, below, and to the sides) be conducted until the infestation has been eliminated and the vacated unit has been placed back into the market. It is important to realize that the longer the unit remains vacant the greater the likelihood that bugs will migrate to one or more of the surrounding units in search of a blood meal. Adjoining units can also be treated pro-actively, although it is unclear just how effective this measure will be in preventing bed bugs. Mattresses and box springs can be encased in the adjoining units, to protect them from becoming infested and to increase the likelihood of detection of bed bugs during subsequent inspections. In addition, the installation of Climbup Insect Inceptors as a proactive monitoring device is highly recommended in all surrounding units. The devices may intercept bed bugs as they are traveling to the bed.

Vacant units where bed bugs are thought to be present may be the ideal situation to set an active bed bug monitor (using a lure to attract bed bugs) as most of the bed bugs should be hungry and there are no other food sources present. This will optimize the chances that you collect a bed bug in one of these monitors and may provide you with another piece of information in regards to whether or not bed bugs are present. (see also section on Early Detection Devices)

While it may not be an appealing answer, it is best not to vacate structures as it may create a whole new set of problems that are more difficult to deal with than the original infestation. If you choose to vacate the structure don’t be surprised if bed bugs are there to greet you when you return.

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