Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sniffing out a solution for bed bugs… Literally.

Our very own cleaning whiz had a no-good-very-bad, terrible start to 2018: she caught a bug (and I don’t mean flu). Her property succumbed to that voracious beast, the bed bug! 

With Mammy’s love of cleaning, she never expected to be attacked by bugs while asleep. The poor oul’ crater, Himself was covered in bites from head to toe and he was so upset that he stomped off to the local pub and had a kip at the neighbours. Poor Mammy was left to battle the ‘lousy little fecks’.

She had a go at exterminating and thought she had them beat, but then some guests complained (furious they were). Mammy realised she had made matters worse! For the love of God, Mammy was at her wits end! She worried that before long her whole resort would be banjaxed with bugs!

Then Mammy read a Facebook post about dogs being used to sniff out bed bugs. Well, Mammy was delighted because her dog, Bono, was a rare sniffer. She decided that it was about time the oul’ mutt did something useful. So, as we speak, Mammy is attempting to put Bono to work, sniffing out bed bugs. Even Himself is mighty impressed. He told her: “Mammy, if this works sure Bono will be the dogs bollix!”

Are dogs an effective pest management solution?

As much as ccomnews enjoys Wily Irish Mammy’s quirky take on bed bug elimination, we highly recommend that you always consult the professionals as an infestation of bedbugs should be dealt with by the experts.

It is true that some pest-control companies use highly trained detection dogs and there is proof that sniffers can locate just a single bedbug (or a few eggs) with astonishing accuracy, but deploying them in the real world is not yet a perfect science.

accomnews spoke to Australia’s eminent expert on bed bugs, Stephen L. Doggett, Director of the Department of Medical Entomology, NSW Health Pathology, regarding the use of sniffer dogs to detect bed bugs. Stephen has been at the forefront of documenting the rise and impact of bed bugs within Australia, and along with a distinguished team of Australian pest controllers produced an industry standard on bed bug management, A Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bugs in Australia  (available for free from www.bedbug.org.au).

Stephen told us: “They can be great, but they can also be quite bad. Let me explain… The first use of scent detection dogs for the detection of bed bugs was undertaken by the University of Florida in the late 2000s. The research indicated that dogs were 98 percent accurate in locating bed bugs, with zero false positive alerts (where a dog indicates but there are no bed bugs present). Furthermore, the study showed that dogs could distinguish between living and dead bed bugs with a 95 percent degree of accuracy.

“However, this research was undertaken in an artificial environment and not in a real-world situation where there are multiple scents that can (and do) distract dogs. The feeling in the pest control industry was that these results were too good to be true, and this was subsequently found to be the case.

“Richard Cooper and colleagues (2014) from Rutger’s University in New Jersey, tested the ability of eleven canine teams (i.e. the dogs and the handlers) to accurately detect bed bugs in hotels. Most handlers believed that their dogs were highly effective at detecting bed bugs, but this was proved not to be the case. The average detection rate was only 44 percent (with a range of 10-100 percent) and the mean false positive rate was 15 percent (range of 0-57 percent). Generally, the better a dog was at detecting bed bugs, the greater the chance a false positive rate was going to occur.

“Subsequently, four dog teams were tested over a series of days, and the results were highly inconsistent and quite variable in terms of bed bug detection from day to day.”

What can we take from all this? Stephen explained: “A scent detection dog is a tool, which has limitations as all bed bug management devices. A lack of training of the dog and handler or inappropriate training (e.g. misguided scent training), inappropriate reward systems (some handlers reward the dog when it indicates, rather than after confirming an infestation is present), a lack of quality controls (e.g. live bed bugs in cups or bed bug scent to constantly check the dog’s ability to detect bugs), fatigue (some days, dogs do not work well, like all living creatures and become tired!), limitations in where a dog can reach (the dog is unlikely to detect an infestation in a cornice, for example, or other areas where it is unable to reach), air flow variations (from air conditioning or other sources), all means that scent detection dogs can (and do) fail.”

In practice, what does this mean? “In all cases, if a dog indicates an infestation, the handler must confirm that bed bugs are present. Conversely, if the dog does not indicate, it does not mean that bed bugs are not present. We know that there are strain variations in bed bugs and the chemicals they exude. A colleague of mine has a strain of bed bugs that no dog can detect, as the strain does not produce a particular pheromone that most bed bugs produce, which the dogs pick up on.

“The other issue with dogs, is that generally they represent a one-off inspection, at one particular point in time. They are not continually monitoring bed bugs as traps do (but traps also vary enormously in their degree of efficacy – this is a whole other story!),” he replied.

How do dogs compare to other detection technologies? Stephen said: “The other main methods for bed bug detection include; resident interviews, visual inspection, and the installation of bed bug traps.

“For a hotel, the last thing you want is for the client to inform management of bed bugs. This has happened to me twice over the last year (and I requested a room without bed bugs, which makes the hotel very liable!) There is nothing like the presence of bed bugs that can damage the reputation of a hotel more rapidly than bed bugs as infestations are promptly reported to the world via social media (luckily, for the hotels that I stayed in, I don’t do social media).

“The second method, visual inspection, should be undertaken by someone trained in bed bug recognition. This can be a pest manager, or better still, someone in housekeeping who checks the beds on a routine basis.  The frequency of checking would be based around bed bug activity in the facility.

“Regarding traps, there are some very effective bed bugs traps on the market, notably the ‘pitfall’ style, which looks like a cup and is placed under the bed leg or near the head board. However, the hospitality industry does not like these, as the traps are obvious and almost advertised that bed bugs are present. The great advantage of traps is that they are present 24/7 and represent a continual monitoring system (if checked regularly and properly maintained).”

Are there any advantages to using dogs? Stephen agreed: “One advantage of using dogs is their speed. They can rapidly examine a room, much more quickly than a trained human can. It is easy to spend 45mins checking for bed bugs, even longer in a moderate infestation, while a dog takes minutes. Thus, large areas can be rapidly checked by a dog.”

Beware, he advised: “Dogs are not without other issues. You do see videos of dogs where the handler forces them onto the bed. This appears unprofessional in my opinion. If you have a client who then comes in and suffers with a severe animal allergy – the hotel could face legal difficulties. Thus, is there an onus to inform the client that a dog was present in the room just in case a guest could suffer an adverse reaction? Then what do you say the dog was doing in the room? Clearly you will not admit to bed bug detection!

“One senior executive in one of the largest hotel chains in the world, said to me that he would not allow dogs into any of his hotels as he was concerned guests would see the animal, and think that they were bomb or drug dogs. However, these fears are unfounded as professionals will bring their dog in a covered cart, and no one will be the wiser that there is a dog present.

“One nefarious use of dogs is that some handlers have trained their dog to indicate when no bed bugs were present, in order to gain a control contract. This has been reported in New York. Hopefully however this is rare and does not occur in Australia.”

Dogs are used regularly in the USA and UK to detect bugs. How common is their use in Australia?

“Dogs for the use of bed bug detection are uncommon. In fact, I have only known of three companies that use them on a regular basis. In contrast, in the US a survey of pest managers in 2015 (Potter et al. 2015) showed that 42 percent of pest managers used dogs for bed bug detection.”

Can any dog be trained to sniff? “Unfortunately; some people think they can train any dog for bed bug detection and then use them for profit. Sadly, this is not the case. Some dogs cannot be trained easily, some perform badly. Dogs require ongoing training (almost daily, according to some handlers) and this all means that dogs represent a significant cost to a pest control company. For this reason, few companies have dogs in Australia as there is a lack of financial return.”

In your opinion how should they be used? “In summary, dogs have their place in bed bug detection. They are more accurate than a one off visual inspection, but probably less useful than a trained housekeeper who is constantly checking for activity. It is important to remember that dogs are a tool with limitations, as per all bed bug management options.”

About Mandy Clarke

Mandy Clarke
Mandy is one of our most popular industry reporters. Make sure you never miss out on her monthly property profiles by subscribing to Resort News!

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