Bedbug-sniffing dogs do battle against spreading scourge

By JOEY FLECHAS – St. Petersburg Times

SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. – Jet scurried into the room, eyes wide open and tongue hanging out of his mouth as he panted. The white and brown rat terrier knew it was time to eat — but lunch was not served. He had to earn it.

Obeying his trainer, he calmly walked around a carousel of plastic containers with blue lids. He sniffed a series of small plastic containers one at a time until the scent of one made him quickly sit up, like a soldier being called to attention.

“Show me,” said his trainer, Steve Price.

Jet lowered his nose to the lid of the container to show Price that he can quickly sniff out what it usually takes humans hours to find: bedbugs.

“Good boy!” said Price, as he handed him a bite of lunch.

Jet is one of many dogs who are being trained at the Florida Canine Academy, a school in Safety Harbor where dogs are trained to recognize and point to scents ranging from mold to termites to sea turtle eggs.

Lately, though, bedbugs are booming.

“They’re here, and they’re not going away,” said dog trainer Bill Whitstine.

Whitstine owns and operates the academy and has been a figure in dog training for years. A former firefighter, he was the first person in the country to own and train an arson dog, and he has been training dogs for about 20 years.

He said cruise ships and hotels have been making sure their rooms are free of the blood-sucking pests, especially as spring breakers come and go from all over and heighten the chances of hitchhiking bugs coming in.

“As a whole, hotels are being diligent,” he said.

Tony McClure, a trainer with the academy, said even visiting sports teams have shown concern for the making sure the bedbugs don’t bite.

He recalled when the Rutgers University football team had its coaches and players’ hotel rooms searched with bedbug dogs before arriving for a game with the University of South Florida in the fall.

Phil Koehler, a University of Florida urban entomologist, noted that research has shown that dogs enter a hotel room and find bedbugs in minutes, whether they’re crawling in the edge of a mattress, hiding behind power outlets or sneaking around in a nightstand drawer.

It could take people hours to tear apart a room. And not only are dogs quick, they’re also accurate.

“A properly trained and handled dog can be 98 percent accurate,” Koehler said.

He said bedbugs re-emerged as a major pest in this country in the late 1990s, when visiting tourists inadvertently brought them in. Combined with shifting pest control practices, bedbugs found a crack to crawl through and establish themselves again.

According to a 2010 survey of U.S. pest management companies conducted by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, 95 percent of respondents reported having encountered a bedbug infestation within the previous year. Before 2000, only 25 percent reported dealing with bedbugs.

And hygiene has little to do with it, Koehler said.

“Bedbugs come from bedbugs,” he said.

But the elusive critters that resemble crushed red pepper flakes cannot escape the canine’s nose. And just about any canine, Koehler says, will do.

Whitstine, who started training bedbug dogs in 2001, said the better tracking dogs are usually hunting breeds like Labrador retrievers, Jack Russell terriers and beagles, but the academy rescues all kinds of mutts from animal shelters in several surrounding counties.

A dog could require anywhere from three to six months of training, depending on the personality and background of the dog. A trained bedbug dog and training for the handler costs about $8,700.

Florida Canine Academy has graduates across the country and abroad in countries like Canada and Japan.

Price talks about dogs in terms of putting them to “work,” but he knows that to them it’s all play.

“To them, it’s a game.”

What are the symptoms and signs of bed bug bites?

Bed bugs bite and suck blood from humans. Bed bugs are most active at night and bite any exposed areas of skin while an individual is sleeping. The face, neck, hands, and arms are common sites for bed bug bites. The bite itself is painless and is not noticed. Small, flat, or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign; redness, swelling, and itching commonly occur. If scratched, the bite areas can become infected. A peculiarity of bed bug bites is the tendency to find several bites lined up in a row. Infectious disease specialists refer to this as the “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” sign signifying the sequential feeding that occurs from site to site.

Bed bug bites may go unnoticed or be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other types of rash or skin conditions, since they are difficult to distinguish from other bites. Bed bugs also have glands whose secretions may leave odors, and they also may leave dark fecal spots on bedsheets and around their hiding places (in crevices or protected areas around the bed or anywhere in the room).

Bed bugs have not been conclusively proven to carry infectious microbes. However, researchers have implicated bed bugs as possible vectors of American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), and studies are ongoing to determine whether bed bugs may serve as disease carriers.

Get ready for a blitz of bedbug cases in summer 2011, experts say

By New York Daily News – Thu Mar 3, 8:48 am ET

Jennifer H. Cunningham, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Here’s some news to make your skin crawl: Bedbug infestations will explode this year, particularly in the summer, experts say.

The bloodsuckers are already entrenched in the city and, like cockroaches, tend to thrive in July, August and September, said Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for “I firmly believe that this year is going to be worse than last year,” White said at a bedbug seminar Wednesday”If we combine the seasonal trend, with the bugs getting more and more embedded in our community, that allows the bugs to make that resurgence all the more stronger.”

Nearly 7% of adults in the city – 404,000 people – reported bedbug infestations in 2009, the Health Department said.While cities are particularly vulnerable to bedbugs, even remote areas like Alaska have reported an 800% increase, White said. “It’s not just a New York problem,” he said. Once you’ve got bedbugs, it can cost $1,200 to get rid of them professionally, White said. “The big problem is not getting bit, it’s bringing them home,” said Adam Greenberg, president of BugZip, a $10-$20 plastic covering that shields luggage in hotel rooms.

Though a bedbug’s bite is thought not to spread disease, the thought of having your blood sucked while asleep can be psychologically devastating, White said. “I’ve seen people completely emotionally crumble from dealing with it,” White said. “People just need to be educated. It’s not going away anytime soon.”

Preventing bedbug bedlam in your home Inspect hotel room mattresses, bedding, furniture and closet hangers for signs of infestation. Never put clothes in hotel drawers or on a hotel floor. Travel with resealable bags large enough to hold clothes. Use dissolvable laundry bags when travelling. The bags can go straight from your suitcase to the washing machine. If in doubt, don’t bring belongings in the house.

Check your laptop. The bedbugs are attracted to the heat and body oils on the computer. Periodically inspect cribs, mattresses, box spring, head and foot boards and under the bed for signs of bedbugs. “After they’ve fed at night, they go and hide in the cracks and the crevices of the headboard and wait for you to come back to bed,” said Gemma Holmes, owner of the Nashville-based Holmes Pest Control. Check the alarm clock on your nightstand, along with electrical outlets. “It’s a warm spot,” Holmes said.

Federal agencies strategize to fight bed bugs

By John Buckner
Federal News Radio
The Defense Department, Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all have initiatives to combat bed bug infestations through extensive research, communication and education as infestations rise across the country.

“One of our major roles is to foster communication across the federal agencies,” said Susan Jennings, representative of the Federal Bed Bug Workgroup. “Prior to organizing this work group there was some communication, I wouldn’t say there wasn’t any, but it was very scattered, not even as needed. I’d day it was as was convenient.”

At Tuesday’s second annual bed bug summit in Washington, Jennings said the agencies are working together with the Federal Bed Bug Workgroup to increase research in pesticides and other preventative measures as well as integrate pest management principles and educate the public on bed bugs.

She also said the work group has had an “open venue to have regular communications on a myriad of topics and has been very effective” with the agencies and their focus on bed bugs.

The government’s job on this issue is to “facilitate information exchange, encourage research and promote safe control,” Jennings said.

The EPA, for instance, has created a strategy that will develop new tools, use integrated pest management principles, provide education on bed bugs and eliminate the misuse of bed bug preventative measures, Jennings said.

The EPA stated on its website that it classifies the use of integrated pest management principles a critical measure, considering them an “effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common sense practices.”

These principles include setting thresholds, monitoring and identifying pests, prevention and control.

The Armed Forces Task Management Board (AFTMB) joins EPA in this fight against bed bugs. It is dedicated to ensuring the issue of bed bug infestations in the DoD are under control.

“The Department of Defense has had bed bug infestations which have been very similar to those in the surrounding communities where these installations are located,” said Jennings.

The AFTMB has found that bed bug representations are equal between the surrounding communities and the bases in those areas. Jennings said that it is “remarkable that they [DoD] have had no highly resistant populations reported yet in any of the DoD facilities.”

Jennings said the workgroup focuses on research done by the Department of Agricultural Research Service, which has spent “over $370,000 a year on researching and working with bed bugs.”

Jennings also called out the CDC’s role. She said the CDC is “a source of information and education dissemination and I can tell you from experience, what the CDC says carries a lot of weight.”

Even with the increased collaboration efforts underway, bed bug infestations continue to rise.

According to a Terminix bed bug tracking map, the rise in bed bug infestations shows a level of “severe” on the northeast coast.

HUD has instituted an internal bed bug committee, committed to research and best practices to help the agency and citizens at-large. HUD provides information on pesticides and other preventions the public needs.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

(Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved.)

How to Prevent Bed Bugs From Spreading

Bed bugs survive by feeding on the blood of humans and other animals. Prevent bed bugs from taking over your home and skin by following these steps.

How to Prevent Bed Bugs From Spreading @ Yahoo! Video

Watch Video!

Results of University of Florida tests on bed bug dog effectiveness are out

dogsABSTRACT The bed bug, Cimex lectularius L., like other bed bug species, is difficult to visually locate because it is cryptic. Detector dogs are useful for locating bed bugs because they use olfaction rather than vision. Dogs were trained to detect the bed bug (as few as one adult male or female) and viable bed bug eggs (five, collected 5-6 d after feeding) by using a modified food and verbal reward system. Their efficacy was tested with bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs placed in vented polyvinyl chloride containers. Dogs were able to discriminate bed bugs from Camponotus floridanus Buckley, Blattella germanica (L.), and Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), with a 97.5% positive indication rate (correct indication of bed bugs when present) and 0% false positives (incorrect indication of bed bugs when not present). Dogs also were able to discriminate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs from dead bed bugs, cast skins, and feces, with a 95% positive indication rate and a 3% false positive rate on bed bug feces. In a controlled experiment in hotel rooms, dogs were 98% accurate in locating live bed bugs. A pseudoscent prepared from pentane extraction of bed bugs was recognized by trained dogs as bed bug scent (100% indication). The pseudoscent could be used to facilitate detector dog training and quality assurance programs. If trained properly, dogs can be used effectively to locate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs.

Make Sure Your Bed Bug Dog is Well Training

As the bedbug epidemic spreads so does the surge of opportunistic and unlicensed “Bed Bug Dogs Specialist”. We recommend that if you decide to use an exterminator with a Bed Bug sniffing dog that you demand to see their license and also their dogs certification. On average a legitimate Bed Bug dogs goes through 800 hours of dog academy training. Also, if you want to make extra sure see that their dog comes with a good reputation. We recommend you look at their web site and follow the press links to make sure that their Bed Bug is for real. For example go it’s obvious that “Ruby the Bed Bug Dog” has been around for a while and has a good reputation. She was featured in many articles and videos including  a Fox News Special and also featured article in the  NY Times.

Here’s some excerpts from a recent NY Times Article:

If any heroes have emerged in the bedbug epidemic sweeping households, movie theaters, retailers, schools, offices, you-name-it nationwide, it is surely bedbug-sniffing dogs

But as the number of reported infestations rises and the demand for the dogs soars, complaints from people who say dogs have inaccurately detected bedbugs are also climbing. And in the bedbug industry, where some dog trainers and sellers have back orders until spring despite the dogs’ $11,000 price tag, there are fears that a rise in so-called false positives by dogs will harm their credibility and business.

“Many pest control companies have the same frustration,” said Michael F. Potter, an entomology professor at the University of Kentucky, “that they often follow behind dogs that are indicating bedbugs, and they can’t find anything.”

In a co-op near Union Square in New York, a dog indicated bedbugs in a third of the 50-odd apartments, though physical traces of bedbugs were found in only five, according to one resident. He resisted pressure from the co-op board to get a $1,500 treatment because his family had not been bitten by or seen traces of bugs.

A designer on the Upper West Side said a dog brought in by her co-op to inspect every apartment had detected bedbugs in her home even though neither she nor her husband had been bitten. An inspection by a different exterminator revealed no bedbugs, but her building paid thousands of dollars for apartments to be treated, including those where bedbugs had not been found.

Jessica Silver and her husband paid $3,500 in extermination fees after a dog indicated there were bedbugs throughout their row house in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. They got rid of 40 garbage bags full of clothes and baby toys that they feared were infested and their Pottery Barn queen-size bed. But Mrs. Silver continued to get bitten, and she called another exterminator, John Furman of Boot-a-Pest, based on Long Island, who spent two hours combing through her bedroom, where the biting was taking place, only to find no traces of bedbugs, alive or dead.

The culprits, she eventually discovered, were rodent mites. Mr. Furman said the antibedbug treatment probably killed some mites but failed to eradicate their breeding grounds in the walls.

Mrs. Silver did not want to name the bedbug-sniffing dog company she used. After she posted details of her case on an online bedbug forum, she said a company representative threatened to sue her for slander, and the moderator of the forum took her post down.

“Everyone’s getting sucked into the whole bedbug pandemonium,” Mrs. Silver said.

Dog experts say false positives can result from the poor training of a dog or its handler. The dog might detect a different type of insect. Or the dog could be reacting to a cue from its handler, be it accidental, like reaching for a treat to reward the dog, or, more ominously, on purpose. Pepe Peruyero, a trainer who runs the J&K Canine Academy near Gainesville, Fla., said if a dog’s company also offered extermination treatment, it was “financially advantageous” to have a dog alert.

False alerts can also be made by well-trained, highly attuned dogs. Andrew Klein of Assured Environments, based in New York, said dogs might pick up on bedbug scents transmitted by clothes or wafting through ventilation from a neighboring apartment. “The dog can’t tell us gradations of intensity,” Mr. Klein said. “If there is no bug, if there is no bite, we monitor.”

Physical evidence is especially hard to see. A newly hatched bedbug is the size of a pen tip, and fecal droppings are the size of an ink dot.

It is unclear how often false positives occur or lead to expensive extermination treatments (there are also cases of false negatives, when bedbugs are present but not detected). The state consumer protection boards in New York and New Jersey said they had no records of complaints, including complaints of false positives, made against companies that use bedbug-sniffing dogs.

Mr. Peruyero, the dog trainer, is pushing for scent-detection dogs to be certified through an independent oversight board, the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association. But there is factionalism and fighting in the industry, said Philip G. Koehler, an entomologist at the University of Florida, over which association, if any, should certify the dogs.

“The bedbug thing has grown so rapidly that it’s grown ahead of the regulations,” Professor Koehler said.