Bed Bugs in America

Public Perceptions and the Impact Bed Bugs Have on Everyday Life

Executive Summary
By Missy Henriksen, Vice President of Public Affairs, National Pest Management Association (NPMA)
  

Without a doubt, bed bugs have been the most talked about pest in recent years, and particularly in2010. Most Americans have read news stories about the bed bug comeback and some may have evenexperienced an infestation themselves. While it is clear that bed bugs are having an impact on all of ourlives, in one way or another, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) conducted a survey tofind out just how worried people are about bed bugs and the true impact the resurgence of thesenocturnal visitors is having on the way people live their lives.

Methodology

Self‐administered online interviews were conducted among 504 adults, age 18 and older. Collectively, these respondents mirror all adult Americans on several key dimensions, including age, gender, andgeography. Responses were collected between November 16 and November 19, 2010. Almost 18percent of respondents were from the Northeast region of the country; 22 percent were from theMidwest; nearly 37 percent made the South their home and the remaining 23 percent hailed from theWest.

The Bed Bug Resurgence

Nearly three‐quarters (73 percent) of survey respondents believe that the number of bed buginfestations in the United States is increasing. Nearly 80 percent reported to have seen, heard or readabout bed bugs over the past few months, mostly getting their news from television (80 percent),followed by newspapers (35 percent), online resources (25 percent) and word‐of‐mouth from family,friends, neighbors and colleagues (21 percent). Radio, magazines, advertisements, flyers and apartmentmanagement comprised the remainder of news sources on bed bugs.

Public Opinion and Perceptions

Although the public seems largely aware of the recent resurgence of bed bugs, a few majormisconceptions remain. Nearly half (45 percent) of survey respondents incorrectly believe that bed bugstransmit disease to humans. It should be noted that research conducted to date has shown that bedbugs do not transmit disease to humans, despite the fact that they do feed on human blood. More thana quarter of respondents (29 percent) inaccurately believe that bed bugs are more common amonglower income households, and 37 percent of respondents said that bed bugs are attracted to dirtyhomes. The truth is that bed bugs do not discriminate in regard to cleanliness, nor do they prefer onesocio‐economic class to another. Bed bugs are found in penthouses and five‐star hotels as well as inlow‐income housing and budget motels. Overall, a meager 13 percent of respondents answered all threequestions accurately, while 39 percent answered all three incorrectly, illustrating further need for publiceducation and awareness about bed bugs.When asked if the federal government is doing enough to control bed bugs, 72 percent of respondentssaid no. It is clear from this strong response that government agencies are being looked to for guidanceand information by the general public.

Personal Concerns

Two‐thirds of respondents are concerned about bed bugs, with 23 percent saying they are veryconcerned. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 34 percent say they are not concerned, with just eightpercent voicing no concern at all.Fear of getting bitten by bed bugs tops the list of specific concerns, with 31 percent of respondentslisting that as their chief worry. Finding a treatment that eliminates an infestation permanently is aconcern cited by 24 percent, while paying to treat an infestation is a top concern for 19 percent.Although bed bugs are not known to transmit disease (see "Public Opinion and Perceptions" sectionabove), disease transmission is a top concern for 1 percent o respondents. Anxiety, sleep loss andconcerns over what friends and neighbors might think if the respondent's home is infested rounded outthe list of top concerns.An overwhelming 78 percent of respondents said they are most concerned about encountering bedbugs at hotels, while 32 percent pointed to places of employment. Other locations of concern overpotential infestations are public transportation (52 percent), movie theaters (49 percent), retail stores(44 percent), medical facilities, such as doctor's offices and hospitals (40 percent), their own homes (36percent) and friends' homes (32 percent).

Bed Bugs' Impact on Lifestyle

With a greater public awareness of the bed bug resurgence and the pest's reputation for being difficultto detect and control, many Americans are now modifying their behaviors to include certain bed bugprevention and detection tips. Many are washing new clothing immediately, inspecting the clothing theywore while traveling soon after returning home and examining hotel rooms during their stays. Onaverage, respondents have added nearly two new behaviors to their routines to help them prevent bedbugs.Growing concern over the bed bug resurgence is even affecting how Americans travel. Specifically, 27percent have inspected or washed clothing upon returning from a trip; 25 percent have checked a hotelroom for bed bugs; 17 percent have inspected or vacuumed a suitcase upon returning from a trip and 12percent have altered or canceled travel plans because of concern over encountering bed bugs.Consumer habits in retail situations are also changing. In fact, 16 percent of respondents admitted toinspecting second‐hand furniture they've brought into their homes; 15 percent have checked dressingrooms when trying on clothing and 29 percent have washed new clothing immediately upon bringing ithome from a store.Bed bugs are not just affecting personal behavior, but personal relationships as well. Specifically, itappears that encounters with bed bugs are changing how Americans relate to and interact with peoplein their lives. Of the 13 percent of respondents who said they knew someone who had a bed buginfestation in their home, 40 percent said they avoided entering the infested home and 33 percentdiscouraged those who had the infestation from entering their own home.

Treating Infestations

Nearly half (46 percent) of survey respondents said they would contact a pest management professionalif they experienced a bed bug infestation in their home. Conversely, 38 percent said they would treatthe infestation themselves and 16 percent would contact their landlord or property manager.When it comes to treatment methods, respondents don't particularly favor one method over another.Fumigation, vacuuming, steam, pesticides and heat treatments are almost equally popular. Specifically,steam would be the preferred method for 23 percent of respondents; 26 percent would opt forvacuuming; 22 percent for pesticides; 18 percent for heat and for 13 percent for freezing. While someAmericans have no preference (28 percent), others look for the least expensive treatment (27 percent).Like most professional services, people prefer to work with companies and providers that are moreexperienced and knowledgeable about treating for bed bugs (39 percent). Low cost for services wascited by 20 percent as the most important consideration when choosing a pest managementprofessional and 17 percent are looking for someone who can provide quick solutions. Other importantconsiderations listed by respondents include recommendations from family, friends, neighbors orcolleagues (9 percent), third party, official certification (8 percent), offers of specific treatments (4percent) and canine inspection services (3 percent). About 60 percent of respondents would turn toonline sources and the Yellow Pages if they were in need of a pest management professional to treat abed bug infestation.

Where People Are Encountering Bed Bugs

The National Pest Management Association reports that bed bugs are found in all 50 states. However,specific regional information was not available until now. Bed bugs were encountered by 17 percent ofrespondents in the Northeast; 20 percent in the Midwest; 20 percent in the South; and 19 percent in theWest.When asked if they know anyone who has encountered bed bugs while staying at a hotel, 10 percentsaid yes, they did. Thirteen percent know someone who has had a bed bug infestation at home, whileonly 5 percent of respondents admitted to having bed bugs in their own home.Overall, one out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation at home or knows someone who hasencountered bed bugs at home or a hotel.Bed bug infestations appear to be more common in urban communities, as nearly 30 percent ofrespondents who live in urban areas have encountered bed bugs. Moreover, the incidence of bed bugsis three times higher in urban areas than in rural areas, as only 10 percent of respondents living in ruralareas said they encountered bed bugs. Additionally, one quarter (25 percent) of respondents who renttheir homes report encountering bed bugs compared to 16 percent of those who own their homes.There are two important factors to consider here. One is that urban residents are more likely to renttheir homes than their suburban or rural counterparts, which can explain the larger number of rentersreporting infestations than homeowners. The second factor is that urban environments are much moreconducive to the rapid spread and breeding of bed bugs due to the larger population size, density ofhomes in a metropolitan area and increased travel traffic.

Demographic Differences in Bed Bug Encounters and Knowledge

In regard to age demographics, respondents aged 18 to 34 are much more likely to have encounteredbed bugs (28 percent) than those in the 35 to 54 age range (17 percent) and those in the 55 or oldergroup (12 percent). Americans who have encountered bed bugs tend to be younger, live in urban areasand rent their homes.There were other noted differences among age groups and places of residence when it came to certainbed bug knowledge. For example, when asked if bed bugs transmit diseases to humans, 25 percent ofthose 55 and older said no (the correct answer), compared with 22 percent of those in the 35 to 54 agegroup and 21 percent of those in the 18 to 34 age group. Respondents in the 18 to 34 age group andthose who live in urban areas believe more so, erroneously, than the other two age groups that bedbugs are more common among households with lower incomes. Similarly, 70 percent of the 18 to 34 agegroup do not believe or do not know the statement bed bugs are attracted to dirty homes is false, muchmore so than the 35 to 54 and 55 and older age groups.

Moving Forward

In the past year, bed bugs have become a part of the everyday lexicon and for a number of Americansthey have been an unwelcome intrusion into their lives. As evidenced by this survey, people across thecountry are taking the bed bug resurgence seriously and are implementing simple precautions in theirdaily lives to guard against possible infestations. It is important for people to be aware of bed bugdetection and prevention methods, as awareness and vigilance are key to minimizing infestations. Theprofessional pest management industry will continue to do its part in controlling this pest, but the fightagainst bed bugs requires cooperation and assistance from the federal and local governments and fromthe general public. The fact of the matter is that bed bugs have made a serious comeback in recent yearsand show no immediate signs of retreating.

 

Missy Henriksen is vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association located in Fairfax, Va. The NPMA, a non‐profit organization with more than 7,000 members, was established in 1933 to support the pest management industry's commitment to the protection of public health, food and property. For more information, visit PestWorld.org.

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