5 On Your Side

New heat treatment scorches exploding bedbug problem

Posted February 1, 2011 4:26 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2011 6:57 p.m. EST

Family fights bedbugs

— "Don't let the bedbugs bite" isn't just the stuff of lullabies anymore. These tiny, bloodsucking insects are invading the country's hotels, stores and homes.

Pest control companies say the problem is exploding; a Raleigh company, Triangle Pest Control, reported a 500 percent increase in bedbug calls over the last year.

On Tuesday, the federal government held a bedbug summit in Washington, D.C. The Federal Bedbug Working Group looked at how different cities are dealing with infestations, especially now that many of the bugs have built up a resistance to pesticides. The two-day brainstorming session aims to come up with a battle plan that state and local leaders can bring home to their communities.

Mature bedbugs are about the size of apple seeds. They get into mattresses and small crevices and even experts admit they're extremely difficult to eradicate.

But there's hope.

A new treatment that uses scorching heat instead of toxic chemicals seems to be working for many people who have spent years and thousands of dollars trying to rid their homes and businesses of the creepy insects.

Expert bedbug exterminator Donnie Shelton of Triangle Pest Control said he starts the heat treatment by setting up a room like a convection oven.

"At 115 degrees, it can no longer take it, so all the moisture that's in the bed bug comes out, and that's how they die," he said.

To make absolutely sure the bugs are dead, the heat is cranked up to 150 degrees for four straight hours.

"Nothing's gonna survive that kind of heat," Shelton said.

Sensors in the room – some are hidden behind the walls – monitor the temperature. A crew with a laptop monitors the heating process from another room.

Shelton said the process works because the bugs – even those hiding in furniture, knick-knacks, outlet boxes and behind walls – cannot escape the heat like they can escape chemicals. While some items, like candles and mini-blinds, can melt during the process, most items can safely stay in the room during the treatment.

The process isn't cheap. Shelton charged $1,400 for treatment in just two rooms, but for homeowners who have tried everything to eradicate their bedbug infestation, it can be worth the cost.