Structural Pasteurization Proves
Effective Against Bed Bug Infestations
According to father of five, a bed bug bite received at luxury rental cabin landed him in the E.R. for severe bacterial infection thought to be staph. Now, victim vows to protect others with an innovative non-chemical heat treatment proven effective against bed bugs
When Sandy Williams went on a long anticipated family ski trip with his wife and five children last December, little did he know that his stay in a 3-story luxury cabin in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tenn. would land him in the E.R. Not for skiing, but for a rapidly progressing infection, presumably linked to a bed bug-caused staph infection.
Bed bugs, which emerge from their typical hiding places in mattresses, bedframes, headboards, and sheets at night to feast on their sleeping victims, were long thought not to transfer dangerous pathogens. But recent published research is challenging that assumption and from the available evidence experts in the field believe Williams may be one of the first documented cases amongst thousands of undocumented where annoying, itchy bed bug bites turn into something much more serious, possibly fatal.
A Family Trip to the ER
After a non-stop drive straight to the cabin, on the third day of a five-day trip, Williams first noticed a few bites on his eldest son's arms and back when changing to go skiing, but thought little of it. It wasn't until his family returned home to Gulf Breeze, Florida that Williams, his wife, and three of his five children noticed the red bites across their arms, legs, and torsos.
Among Williams' bites, which he photographed, were a series of bites in a row along his neck near his ear, and on his legs.
Although he didn't realize it at the time, the 48 hour delay in the appearance of the bites along with the location, size and symptoms were all textbook indications of bed bugs – a serious and rapidly growing problem throughout the United States, particularly for the lodging industry.
But what most concerned Williams was an inflamed bite on his leg that developed a pus cap and was so painful he decided to visit his primary care doctor.
“With a sore leg, I visited my doctor, who said the bites were almost certainly bed bugs and prescribed an oral antibiotic for the inflammation,” says Williams. “The next morning, before I filled my prescription, the inflamed bite had swollen to about 1.5” in diameter and it became painful to walk. My wife, a medical professional, drew a circle around the bite. Not long after, the bite doubled in size and started ‘spider veining.' That's when we decided to go straight to the ER.”
Fortunately, Williams' leg infection responded to an ER-prescribed oral antibiotic, and about two weeks later only a scar was left at the site.
A number of experts reviewed the data, photos and doctor's reports. They concluded that the bites were indeed from bed bugs, and the inflamed “abscess of the left leg” listed on the hospital discharge report was mostly likely the result of a staph infection delivered from beg bug to victim.
“Given the prevalence of bed bugs and the increasing number of bed bug incidents across the Southeast, the series of bites in a row on exposed skin, the 2 to 3 day period before the bites became evident, the appearance of the bites, and the fact that all family members sleeping on the second and third floors received bites, the indications are that the bites were almost certainly due to bed bugs,” says Scott Gosney. Gosney has almost 30 years experience in the pest control business including 10 with years managing bed bugs, and is owner of Advanced Pest Control, a South Florida-based pest control company.
Williams' experience is noteworthy as recent research has demonstrated that bed bugs can carry bacteria that have historically proven lethal to humans, including potent strains such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, and Proteus mirabilis discovered on bed bugs.
A June 7, 2011 study by the Natural Link Mold Lab (NLML), a prime researcher for studies linking bacteria and bed bugs, collected several groups of bed bugs from diverse sources in California and Nevada, examining them for the presence of microbes, including bacteria and yeasts, carried by the insects.
The research documented bed bugs' ability to transfer live Staphylococcus aureus (staph) cells from a culture to a sterile plate, demonstrating their potential as a bacterial vector. Microbes isolated from bed bugs included: Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Enterobacter cloacae, Enterococcus faecalis, Kytococcus sedentarius, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Proteus mirabilis, and Candida tropicalis.
“Our research indicates that bed bugs could be a vector for disease including staph, which appears to be the case here,” says Sean Abbott, Ph.D., senior biologist for the NLML, commenting after reviewing the information in the Sandy Williams' incident. “The infection presented and progressed as a traditional staph infection would, and resolved with antibiotics indicating possible transmission of regular staph, not MRSA.”
On theorizing how pathogen transfer occurs, Dr. Abbott, says, “While a bed bug doesn't inject its mouthparts into the host to suck blood as does a mosquito, its mandibles act like a pair of sharp forceps, piercing and tearing the skin, so the potential exists for surface bacteria to enter through the bite wound.”
Fighting Back With Heat
The NLML study examined the efficacy of high temperature heat applied to buildings for reducing levels of viable bacteria in indoor environments. Employing both laboratory and field data, results demonstrated this heat process as an effective modality for killing microbial pathogens carried by bed bugs.
“In one case, we subjected some adult specimens and one nymph to a temperature of 122ºF for four hours,” describes Abbott. “All the bed bugs were dead following the heat treatment. More importantly, no bacteria were isolated from the heat treated specimens.”
Chemicals are less effective in addressing any bacteria bed bugs may be carrying.
“We already know that bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics, which is why methicillin-resistant staph is such a lethal threat within healthcare facilities,” explains Abbott. “As a result, chemical solutions cannot guarantee eradication of a bed bug and its associated bacteria. On the other hand, bacteria can't mount a resistance to heat. When properly applied, which includes filtration, heat kills both bed bugs and most resident pathogens.” William's Recovery …and A Preventitive Solution
After recovering from his trip to the ER, Sandy Williams resolved to protect his family and others from a similar occurrence.
“The infection progressed so rapidly that it scared me,” says Williams. “I'm grateful that it was me and not my wife or children that became infected. I wanted a way to fight back, to protect my family and others from the possibility of this happening again.”
Williams, who co-owns Expert Dry with his father John, a structural drying company serving the Florida Gulf Coast, discovered that a unique structural pasteurization process his company had used to “dry out” commercial buildings for years and to handle associated environmental issues caused by water damage was also extremely effective in killing bed bugs, their eggs, and any pathogens they carry.
If structural pasteurization sounds familiar, it is an application of the principles that Louis Pasteur used to reduce microbiological caused food spoilage – most famously milk – in the mid-1800s, but applied to building structures.
Structural pasteurization is an engineered process in which high temperatures up to 150ºF are introduced for several hours to a structure or part of a structure to reduce bioorganisms to acceptable levels without damage to the structure.
The heat from structural pasteurization penetrates deep into a structures cracks and crevices to kill bed bugs and their eggs where they are hiding. Pesticides, in contrast, are typically not effective on bed bug eggs, so multiple treatments are often required. While pesticides may kill the live bed bug, they often need to be applied again once the egg has developed, increasing occupants' exposure to chemicals and chemical residue.
Since many bed bugs do not stay just on bedding, the heat treatment's penetration into structural spaces is particularly important. The heat effectively destroys the insects and their eggs. Since heat can achieve lethal levels inside mattresses, pillows, wall voids, books and all contents of a given room or structure, the home, hotel or property owner doesn't need to completely remove and replace all the furnishings, drapes, carpets or mattresses.
Structural pasteurization, it should be noted, is not just a matter of applying heat to a structure. HEPA filtration plays a critical role in the treatment process by eliminating airborne contaminants that already exist, or that are stirred up during the convective heat process.
The combination of heat application with HEPA filtration – known as ThermaPureHeat® – was co-invented and commercialized by David Hedman, a Stanford educated inventor and is delivered by licensed contractors throughout the United States and Canada.
“We take precautions such as using filtration because it drastically inhibits cross-contamination of the structure,” says Hedman, President of ThermaPureHeat. “We don't have to worry about blowing bed bug parts, eggs, spores and bacteria into other parts of the building or into adjacent structures.”
A Safe Solution To Indoor Health Threats Structural pasteurization is not only effective for bed bugs, but also for destroying active mold growth sites, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, insects, and other heat-sensitive pests and organisms. Formaldehyde, VOCs, and second-hand smoke are among other indoor irritants that can be addressed with heat.
Although the evidence from this is circumstantial, Williams, for one, is a believer and has recently licensed with ThermaPureHeat to add pest control, including bed bugs, to his company's repertoire.
“When a family trip can turn into a trip to the ER so quickly as a result of bed bugs, it's time to definitively eliminate them in as safe a manner as possible,” says Williams. “I want to be a part of that, so no other families have to go through what mine has gone through.”