Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, has been in the news a lot lately. Once a problem of “those kinds of people,” now even the most expensive top-drawer hotels and stylish big city penthouse condominiums are finding themselves with these tiny, uninvited guests. Like some relatives, these guests can be very hard to get rid of.
As a caregiver, what do you do to protect yourself and your patient if you suspect your patient’s bedroom, or worse, home, may have bedbugs? Bedbug infestations are now considered a public health issue, though the good news is they don’t transmit any known diseases. They do provide itching, rashes and sometimes, allergic reactions, so getting rid of them is important.
First, how do you know if there are bedbugs afoot? First, check your patient’s bedclothes. In a mild infestation, bed bugs don’t usually dig in too deeply, preferring the sheets, blankets and pillows close to the human’s tasty skin and blood, but in a more serious infestation they may run and hide in headboards or near the bottom of the box springs. In really severe cases, you may find bugs, or evidence of bugs, as far afield as curtains, carpets and even electrical outlets.
What you will be looking for are minuscule dark dots (bug feces), teeny little eggshells, around 0.04 inches long and white, shed skins, or the actual bugs, which resemble a smaller, slightly flatter version of their distant cousins, the ticks. Take a second at the beginning of your shift, to pull out the corners of the sheets and look around with a flashlight for any movement or other evidence.
If you even suspect bedbugs, put your purse, bag and any other personal items on a smooth counter or in the bathtub or sink, not on a bed, carpet or other upholstered furniture. Bedbugs don’t like slick surfaces and tend to avoid them if they can. If you find bedbugs, undress in your bathroom when you get home and, if possible, launder your clothing immediately. If you can’t do it immediately, store the items in a sealed bag away from your bedroom until you can. When you do wash your apparel, you must use hot water, at least 113 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill the bugs, and do a second dry cycle to be certain they’re all dead. Take a stiff brush to the inside of your purse or bag, then vacuum to get the loose “bug stuff” out completely. You can find other tips and advice on protecting yourself from dangers in your patient’s environment at 24 Hour Home Care.
The same treatment needs to be applied to any affected clothing and linens at your patient’s home. Anything that cannot be exposed to hot water should be destroyed if possible, or treated by a professional exterminator.
As a caregiver, you may or may not have full control over your patient’s environment, but you do have a responsibility to do what you can. Notify the patient’s family if there is any, or whatever legal guardian applies. If the patient’s home is rented, notify the landlord, as it is at least partially his/her responsibility to help deal with eradicating the pests and ensuring they have not or do not spread to other units. The point is not to place blame, just to fix the problem for everyone’s benefit.