Talking bed bugs with David Cain, take 2

David Cain of Bed Bugs Limited (UK) sat down for a long chat with us today. We are very happy to share this conversation with you. The audio is decent (unlike our last attempt), but I will try to produce a transcript for you to scan.

The primary subject of our conversation was the Bed Bugs Limited London bed bug survey. (Our conversation also touched on bed bug monitors, infestation dynamics and the desirability of making bed bugs a notifiable pest.) However, as you will see, the survey maps will not be released to the public. I pressed David on this (but I didn’t press that hard… perhaps because I’m not a real journalist).

A map image may be made available to us later.

I realize this interview may be for the bed bug geeks. And David says he’ll shave next time so that our next interview can be on video.


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    very good podcast….
    thus far the detection and/or control traps have had mixed reviews. the newer traps recently promoted are very expensive ($300 – $400 per unit), and reports of success are very mixed.. some claims of being effective as control device, but most experts remain quite skeptical of the effectiveness of these units. The new device mentioned by Cain sounds interesting but in practical terms — more often then not the insects are close to host and can be found in seams of mattress or box spring – problems occur when they are dispersed by inappropriate spray treatments or when infestations have become well established. The use of detection dogs is more cost effecxive for doing number of units but arranging for a basic adjacent unit inspection along with notification of tenants and awareness of infestation may be the best approach. Inspection of all units in a block sounds great but may not be particularly useful without a context relating to the actual structure of the building. It comes down to availability of resources and cost-effectiveness , so if adjacent units are inspected due to convenience and higher probabilities and units on other floors are called or otherwise notified of risk, this can be more effective in teh long term. We once had every unit in a site inspected and found that the extent of infestations at units in the block was low and depended on other factors, however, keep in mind that risk can be in the range of 30% .
    As always, education and good information collection is key..
    further, a group in Simon Fraser University in Vancouver have been working on an aggregation pheromone and we hace heard of monitoring traps in development.. Effectiveness remains to be determined, but pheromones are very sensitive and if these worked as an attractant… would be great.. But this does not always work.. the same notion was tried with roaches and it worked, but the cost was greater than the necessity and results for those traps were not that much better than just placing more glueboards.. but roaches are not bed bugs.. A good monitor trap for bed bugs would be a most valuable tool.. Right now the best detection device is a good dog… trained for this purpose….. not many of these around , but they have a place and could be the best resource for large scale monitoring even with the advent of better monitor traps… i would rather spend money on a detection dog than one of those $400 monitor devices… the dog will do a lot of units in a day….

  3. Renee Corea

    Thanks, Sam.

    That’s interesting, that you think in terms of cost-effectiveness. This is essentially what I worry about the most. I always worry about when will we have solutions that can be widely deployed? Only the tools that can work in a wide variety of situations and that will work for those who cannot afford bespoke pest control will ultimately serve to gain control of the bed bug problem in our cities.

    We often hear this, that bed bugs will be found close to the host. But I think sometimes professionals forget that for the bed bug sufferer, the bed bug infestation is the first infestation (unless they are of that increasingly unlucky group of repeat sufferers). We are not trained — our eyes are not trained — on what to look for and where to look for it and how to look for it. I speak from experience on this. What may be reasonably easy for an expert to find, can be very difficult for the sufferer to detect — in an early-stage infestation which is where we want to catch most infestations if we hope to turn the tide. Consequently, sometimes infestations go unconfirmed even in cases where there is an allergic reaction. (You’d think bringing in a pro would be the solution, but obviously it has to be an experienced professional!) So, both for the non-allergic and for those who really wouldn’t be able to detect a low-level bed bug infestation anyway because they lack the special inspection training and experience, I certainly hope we get more reasonably priced monitors or traps. So that we can all find our infestations early. We need early detection tools and treatments that actually eradicate infestations. Like yesterday!

  4. Renee Corea

    And I have questions about what we can learn from cockroach infestation control patterns, but I’ll save them for when we talk.

  5. sam bryks

    Very good points Renee……
    I wish that there were good bed bug monitoring tools right now, but I just don’t think it is the case .. at least not at prices that are affordable by the average person. Perhaps David Cain’s device at $20 a unit might be in the “affordable” range, or hopefully the work in Simon Fraser University will result in a truly affordable trap system. Education is really the key … and what you speak of from personal experience says a lot. I have had cases in which a person went to their family doctor who then advised them that they had “flea” bites, and these bites were “definitely” not bed bug bites….. I am not sure on what basis the doctor was sure they were not bed bug bites as in fact they were!!! But family physicians have very little training in this area, though this is improving with the publicity. When one suspects fleas, the question is “do you have pets?” or does your neighbour have pets (in an apartment or row house situation), or, in a house, are you hearing any animals in the attic.? The idea being that the fleas are coming from cats or dogs.. The other reality is that when dogs or cats have fleas, more often than not, they do not go to people as they prefer the furry environment on the animals. I once had a situation of a dog with 8 puppies and an elderly cat .. all infested with fleas, and lots of them, but no one in the family was bitten even ONCE. The physician didn’t have that experience or understanding of flea biology. Usually people are bitten when someone has moved out of a home, and taken with them a flea infested pet, and then the next generation of fleas waiting in their pupal cocoons come out due to mechnical vibration and sensing new potential hosts, and if there are no dogs or cats, they will go to people.
    We are learning more and more about bed bug biology, but when one considers that the last major publication on fleas until recently was Usinger’s classic monograph titled “Monograph of Cimicidae” published in 1966 by Entomological Society of America through the Thomas Say Foundation. I might have mentioned recently that the ESA had old copies that were actually stained on the overleaf from the old style paper cover. When these were offered for sale on the internet, they went in about two hours and now there is a new paperback of the book for sale. Researchers such as Prof Potter and Prof Kells are now studying bed bugs in detail and Prof Coby Schal who is one of the foremost experts on roaches is also doing studies on bed bugs both in terms of effectiveness of IPM approaches and also looking at world wide distribution through studying of DNA markers.
    In addition, we are getting practical field feedback from people like Richard Cooper who has a consulting firm, and Larry Pinto of Pinto Assocates who were the main authors of the Bed Bug Handbook. Joe Barile of Bayer has also been very active in this area.
    What is slowly emerging is a picture of bed bug behaviour and why they can be difficult to detect. Small initial numbers hiding who knows where can be hard to find as you know, but there are added complications such as initial reactions by using aerosols and driving the insects to other locat ions, or poor advice from pest control firms such as moving beds or disposing of beds or other furniture before vacuuming or before treatment is underway.
    No one has a finalized picture of bed bug behaviour, but Potter’s work showing that fully 92% of infestations are located on the bed, mattress, box or upholstered furniture really says it pretty clearly.
    I would guess that a good inspection of these areas with a flashlight would reveal the infestation in most cases,,, we hope!!!!!
    Another complicated issue is “do we throw away infested mattresses and other furniture?” … This is a common reaction and I once had disagreement with Dr. Potter about this recommendation. In my opinion, it was the worst thing that could be done in a building because it increased risk of spreading infestation and had really zero benefit in control. There are times when stuff must be thrown away, but this becomes a matter of aesthetics and of opportunity sometiimes. Here in Toronto, it is not uncommon for people on welfare support to ask for letters confirming bed bug infestaiton so they can get funds to buy new mattresses and box springs. The problem is that this does not help the infestation in the least… Getting a new matt and box should be based on the necessity for a better bed and because the old one is worn out, not because of bed bugs. If I had an infestation personally, I would prefer to get a vacuum and to get good quality enclosures for the matt and box than to get a new matt and box because the former help control the problem… Once the infestation has been eliminated, then that is the time to get a new bed and also to put it into the good quality cotton/polyester enclosure bag.. This is not an easy “sell”.. I once attended a meeting in which i was almost shouted down for saying just that because the emotional reaction is to throw away the matt and box as a relief of “getting rid of the bugs” and starting from clean. Mind you, when all was said and done, the people at that meeting did accept my recommendations in the minutes in spite of their emotional reaction. Good for them!! I admire their ability to hear my words in spite of their revulsion and their impulse to get rid of the stuff.
    As I have said here Renee.. the educational component is so critical and care must be taken not to impart incorrect information because people are desperate for solutions. Some times well intentioned amateurs in NGO’s will rush through publicaitons that are flawed and because of impression, it then takes a long time to overcome the misinformation. The Bed Bug Handbook or some of the really excellent web sites such as at Cornell and Michael Potter at Univeristy of Kentucky and Steven Kells at University of Minnesota), are great resources — Prof Kells had the privilege of working for one of the largest Pest contorl Firms in Canada and gained invaluable field experience in the area before he took on the positon at U of M. and of course, Usinger remains a very important resource.. I expect it will be out of date very soon, but it is comprehensive even if really more an entomologist’s reference than a book for control strategies.
    Education really remains the key…

  6. sam bryks

    oops another unintended error…
    last major publication on BED BUGS, not fleas..
    i guess I was on a flea roll!!!!
    the dog and 8 puppies and old cat were MINE!!!….
    We treated the dog with a modern product, but i removed all the fleas from the puppies and the cat by HAND…
    took a while, but it worked…
    in hindsight, we were lucky … no recurrence..

  7. Renee Corea

    I have to say, I am so intrigued by Dr. Kells’ research. The other thing to look forward to is the DNA and population dispersal research at North Carolina State Univ (Dr Warren Booth et al).

    I love to read this stuff, whatever I can get access to at the army’s online library. But I’m too weak-kneed for some of it. Ezekiel Rivnay in the 30s? Ha ha, that stuff is way too intense for me. I am going through Johnson’s 1941 paper now and want to write a post about his hut at some point.

  8. Renee Corea

    Oh, and, I should say that of course we agree with you on the mattresses, encasements should be used in lieu of disposal. However, it has to be said, that encasements tear, even the expensive top quality ones, and this is certainly a problem I’m not sure what we can do about. (These and other essential things researchers and PMPs can learn by listening to the people who actually live with bedbugs. We have wisdom. There has to be in the field research that can capitalize on it.)

    About removing fleas by hand, wow. But you know in NYC there is this thriving business in Brooklyn, I think, nobugs mentioned to me, all they do is remove lice from children by hand.

  9. Sam Bryks

    Renee…. good point about the enclosures… the ones that tend to tear are the cheap polyvinyl ones. The ones made of polyester and cotton are quite tough,, and not at all “easy” to tear, and i have looked at some made of polyspun polyvinyl (I can’t remember the exact name) and these are also quite tough.. My main concern about the enclosures is affordabiity. But there are some fairly reasonably priced enclosures out there. People should shop carefully because there is a whole marketing shark mentality selling these with feature on top of feature.. waterproof and this and that… Some of these are the same folks who tried to create a market from panic about dust mites. While dust mites are important from the perspective of allergies, common sense really suggests that ordinary good housekeeping practices ensure that these are not in numbers in the average home. The marketers were promoting “mite resistant” encasements and pillow cases .. as if the usual practices of vacuuming and changing sheets were not enough!!!!! There are quality issues of course, but when i see an enclosures selling for more than $100 for one for a standard bed, i see a huge profit margin in that selling price. I advise that homeowners shop carefully and check material makeup and thread count (250) and quality of zippers. A bit of duct tape at the closing end of the zipper works fine too…. For those who can afford the best, they will pay for all the fancy features.

    Regarding picking off lice by hand, there is a lady in Toronto who also does the same thing, but she uses an Israeli designed lice comb that electrocutes both adult and eggs of fleas. Works beautifully i am told. The comb is not that expensive either.. i believe around $50 and if someone is very sensitive to even mild insecticides it is well worth the investment. Now that is “easy” nitpicking…
    The range of research under way on bed bugs is amazing. This is a very hot issue now and i see new things when i have the luxury of time to search and have missed a few things due to busyness…..a nd business too..
    Renee, going back to IPM again, and i like to also call it INTELLIGENT PEST MANAGEMENT… a very good way to described it….. IPM is intelligent pest management besides having the aspect of integrated .. i.e. using a combination of approaches based on knowledge and information — there are distinctions here..
    the work of researchers helps us understand what to do right and what NOT to do. Years ago there was an issue of whether extensie sealing of apartments was a cost-effective method of helping roach control, and there was also a suggestion that “dusting” of walls at construction had some benefit to prevent roach spread. Research showed that sealing was not actually cost effective in roach control as the availability of moisture and of food were more significant factors, though sealing in specific situations and at specific times could be useful … e.g. sealing at kitchen sinks and in the kitchen cupboards at specific locations and sealing as appropriate when vacant units are being prepared for new tenants. Sealing for bed bugs also has its specific benefits depending on the structure.. so that sealing of baseboards may be useful in some structures but not very useful in others (if partition walls are concrete or block then sealing is not needed widely except at wall penetrations).. This is all about cost-effectiveness to get maximum benefit from investment especially when funds are limited.
    These issues go through analysis and variations ….. until best practices emerge from a combination of careful field research and the experience of pest management professionals. And as you noted, from the feedback of clients…
    But i am confident that the research now underway will provide tremendous benefits in a relatively short time. By way of example, some years ago i attended a conference and a few speakers spoke of their careful research on pharoah ant control.. i took what they said and applied it to the field and we got fabulous results when others had failed by using the knowledge provided by researchers. One of our clients supers had basically laughed at us as he had seen a lot of work come to nothing and after our success, he became a “believer” in our integrity and in the way we approached problem solving. He always calls us now when he has a difficult pest control issue. And that too is IPM of course. understand the pest biology, learn from researchers, apply the knowledge to practical field settings. That is classical IPM.

  10. Sam Bryks

    oops, i again made an error.. the comb is a lice comb..not used for fleas.. electrocutes adults, nymphs and eggs of LICE…..
    sorry. i seem to have fleas on the brain as i type out this stuff….
    i used to teach a course on food plant sanitation and part of it was an overview on IPM so in the entomology section i would explain to students how to identify insects that are common pests who undergo complete metamorphosis, and it went something like ‘ fleas, flies (butterflies ) and moths, bees, wasps ants (all hymenoptera of course)and beetles… I don’t think i missed anything.. the others have incomplete metamorphosis.. with its variations. or no metamorphosis.

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  12. Renee Corea

    That’s wonderful, an electrocuting comb.

    I’m almost done with my questions for you Sam! I hope they’re intelligent ones.

    About the encasements, only because this is an important point, yes I am referring to the top quality entomologist-endorsed encasements. They do tear, unfortunately, especially where placed on the metal supports for the box spring. So people need to be educated about the possibility and what they can do to prevent it (use felt adhesive coverings on sharp surfaces). By the way, David Cain doesn’t use encasements in his work. Something to do with the way beds are constructed there and also his preference. For us, however, I’m grateful we have them.

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  15. sam bryks

    By way of a brief update on David Cain’s passive monitor. I saw the monitor when I was in Washington … and after conversation with David, and some reflection, I see value in his monitor though it seems rather expensive to me for what it actually is. David indicated it took a lot of funds and research to come up with the concept and design, but consumers sometimes look at an item and say “wow” would I pay that much for this bit of stuff, and may actually create their own monitors based on the design which is actually very simple and wonderfully thought out. I think these monitors would be great as early warning devices and as follow-up devices that tenants/homeowners can check…. Great idea till someone comes up with a sticky trap that works based on the attraction of a pheromone such as an aggregation pheromone.
    The commercial units that I Have seen are just horrendously expensive for what they are and for what they can actually accomplish in each unit .
    Great for pest control firms as a service, but not so great for a limited income tenant or a public housing landlord whose funds are limited.

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