BED BUGS: Development of Housing Policies & Education

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Submitted by BedBug Central on Wed, 2010-01-06 13:34

It’s no secret that college campuses are ground zero for bed bugs. In fact, a recent report of U.S. college campuses indicated a surge in the number of infestations plaguing dormitories. With students coming from different places around the country and the world, it’s inevitable that bed bugs are tagging along for the ride. Now, more than ever, college administrators need to be vigilant in developing policies that not only protect its students against these bed bugs, but also minimize liability.

Policies and Liabilities

To date, there are only a handful of schools with integrated bed bug protocols. However, many are quickly following suit. After interviewing pest professionals who have worked directly with universities, the overall consensus is that bed bug policies are needed; however, most schools are still dealing with bed bugs in a reactive fashion rather than a proactive one.

Fast Facts about Bed Bugs

Small, nocturnal insects that feed off the blood of humans, while they sleep.

Do not transmit disease

Bed bugs can live inside mattresses and box springs, as well as behind headboards, inside cracks and crevices in the wall, and behind picture frames.

Bed bugs are also very small and hard to see with the naked eye. A full-grown bed bug is only 1⁄4 inch long and can fit through a crack as narrow as a sheet of paper

Bed bugs are ‘hitchhikers’ and rely on people to transport them from one location to the next via rental furniture, luggage, second-hand furniture and more
To read more about bed bug biology and behavior please click here.
“Until we had experienced a few instances of bed bugs, we did not have a policy in place,” said one university pest control professional. He also explained the significant changes that the university needed to make in order to address the challenges presented by this new pest.

“We had to get a lot more educated about them,” he said. “During orientation, we have students attend an orientation class, and we try to do a real good job of informing them about used furniture and international travel. We also provide students with specific information for spring break traveling, like what to look for, what to do, and how to deal with their clothing and possessions when they return.”

“Institutions can best serve their students by having proactive, reactive, and follow-up protocols in place,” said Richard Cooper, one of the leading bed bug experts in the country and also the Vice President of BedBug Central. “These protocols should clearly outline the steps that all involved parties should take to prevent or thwart an infestation.”

“The most important items that would help limit liability would be open and honest communications,” said a university representative who wishes to remain unnamed. “Take immediate actions, communicate with residents and parents, and be prepared to interact with the media.”

Keep in mind that as you develop a policy; ensure that you include some important protocols including:
  • Specific instructions on how to inform students of any upcoming services
  • Specific requirements for the resident cooperation with the program
  • Outlined ways to enforce resident cooperation with the pest control service
  • Explicit directions to provide access for the pest control company into all areas scheduled for service
  • Delegate an educated staff liaison to accompany pest control personnel during service
Fighting an infestation is a costly, time-consuming process that is rich with liability concerns. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, landlords and property owners have specific legal obligation to provide safe and habitable accommodations for tenants. Certain infestations, including bed bugs, may constitute an unacceptable condition. Tenants have an obligation to cooperate with owners and landlords. This includes preparing the dormitory or apartment so that the pest control operator can easily inspect the rooms and treat if necessary. This is something that university staff should keep in mind when dealing with residents and bed bugs. A similar habitability policy varies by university and outlines acceptable dormitory conditions.


According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories, and shelters. Once a policy is in place, students, parents, and residence life should be equally educated on all the different aspects of bed bugs biology and behavior.

Quick Tips

Provide fact sheets

Create web pages

Add additional pages to the Student Handbook

Educational Sessions and Seminars

Provide visual references
A quick online search for bed bugs and colleges brought up New Jersey based Rutgers University, one of the few institutions that has recognized the need for bed bug policy and education on its campus. Additionally, Rutgers provides students with a downloadable PDF Bed Bug Information Sheet right from their main website. The pamphlet gives students and parent’s helpful information about bed bugs and how they assist in the eradication of an infestation. They have also outlined the service call criteria, and what you should inspect during and after treatment. You can view the document here.

College administration can help by providing students and staff with information to pass along to new move-ins; such as bed bug information in the student handbook, handouts, fact sheets, pictures, and periodically remind students that they should be checking for bed bugs and reporting any signs of pests they may find in their rooms.

Check out other college websites which may contain helpful and accurate bed bug information. This can be used as a reference when creating your own protocols and educational materials. Some we found useful are Kentucky UniversityHarvard University, and Cornell University. Another great resource that can be utilized is the “Bed Bug Handbook: The Complete Guide to Bed Bugs and Their Control” written by L.J. Pinto, R. Cooper, and S.K. Kraft. This book provides very detailed information about bed bugs, as well as outlines many different and useful checklists.

Students Can Help

“Living in a dormitory can be hard enough when dealing with roommates, space issues and the occasional mouse,’ said Leslie A, a student at a local NJ college. “To then have to think about bed bugs totally creeps me out. I am very scared my building will get them and wish my school was more aware of this pressing issue.”

Common Bed Bug Locations near Bed

Mattress and Box Spring

Pillow-top Fold


Items under the Bed



Other Locations to Inspect



Wall Hangings

Travel Luggage


Remote Controls
Students Can Help Prevent Infestations by:
  • Not 'scavenging' mattresses, bed, or other discarded or dumpster furniture
  • Inspecting carefully to make sure there are any bed bugs on purchased used or reconditioned furniture
  • Washing secondhand fabrics, such as clothes, blankets, etc. as soon as they are acquired, and sealed if washing is not immediately possible
  • Vacuuming the room often, paying close attention to the area around the bed
“The social activities at institutions with dormitory housing create the ideal setting for the rapid and widespread distribution of bed bugs throughout other dormitory buildings,” said Cooper.

All students need to be reminded that the bed bug problem continues to increase nationwide, and for this reason they need to be aware of the possibility and proceed with regular inspections. If a student suspects bed bug activity, the first step is to alert their RA or RD. Then, the RA or RD's responsibility is follow the policy set forth by the university – one you may have helped to create.

Next article… be sure to check out the next article,Reacting to an Infestation, which will take a look at exactly what the students and university administration can do when a possible bed bug infestation is reported.
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