Heat treatment of suitcases decreases spread of bed bugs through luggage

Bed bugs have started developing resistance to chemical insecticides and this has motivated scientists to look for non-chemical methods to controls these pests – specifically to stop them from spreading across places through luggage.

In one such study that looked into non-chemical ways to put brakes on the spread of bed bugs, scientists have suggested that brief heat treatment of luggage is a promising way to decrease the spread of bed bugs being transported on the outer surface of luggage. Published in Pest Management Science, the study notes that while this treatment will not kill bed bugs inside the luggage, it could be a component of integrated management for this pest.

During the study, researchers exposed soft-sided suitcases to an air temperature of 70-75 °C. They found that this particular brief heat treatment was successful in killing all bed bugs in only six minutes – even those that had concealed themselves under zipper flaps or decorative piping. During heating, only one bed bug (out of 250 total) moved into the luggage (through a closed zipper). Also, at room temperature, only three percent of bugs placed on the outside of the suitcases had moved inside during a 24-hour period.

Researchers point out that bed bugs tend to hide in cracks or crevices and this particular behavior incidentally generates a thermally-insulated microenvironment for themselves. Bed bugs located on the outer surface of luggage are less insulated and potentially more vulnerable to brief heat treatment.

“Heat has attracted a lot of interest as a control method for bed bugs because it is effective and environmentally benign, but it can take a lot of time for heat to thoroughly penetrate a piece of furniture or a suitcase and increase the temperature at the location of the hidden bed bugs inside,” said Dr. Catherine Loudon, author of the Pest Management Science article. “Bed bugs located on the outside of luggage are one of the few cases in which they are somewhat peripherally constrained and therefore more vulnerable to a quick exposure of heat.”

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