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  • Danielle Fornal

Bed Bugs & Essential Oils-Help For Our Essential Nurses

Before Covid-19 the epidemic everybody was talking about bed bugs. For at least 10 years bed bugs were one of the main issues for people’s health concerns. Since Covid-19 there is not been a lot of conversation about bed bugs. Every day we’re seeing new stats about how many people are infected, etc. The reality of it is bed bugs are still here. One of the most challenging places that you will find bed bugs currently is in senior living facilities. These communities are an entirely different animal. The reason for that is elderly people already have a compromised immune system, then you add in the fact that they have to take medications that also compromise their immune system. Weakened immune systems reduce the likelihood of someone reacting to a bed bug bite. So often you won’t realize there is a bed bug problem in these situations, until the population of insects has grown so substantially that they are easily visible, even just by walking into the room.

So, today I am reaching out to another essential worker, that is the nurse. Nurses are exposed to bed bugs in these situations of senior living facilities because the population like I previously stated can grow exponentially without being noticed for quite some time. Nurses often have to go in sit down with a resident that they care for, and know on a personal level. Occasionally they have to sit on their bed, help them up, and out of bed. Or even sit in the chair and just be a friend. It’s those types of activities that nurses are doing that puts them at risk of being exposed to taking home bed bugs, or transferring bed bugs from one elderly person’s unit to another one. What I hope to do here is help healthcare workers come up with reasonable solutions to help protect themselves from taking home the insect epidemic.

I’m often asked how I never take bedbugs home. The answer to that is simple, I always keep moving and I teach all of our technicians to keep moving. When you stand still and spend a long period of time in one spot the carbon dioxide buildup creates a plume that will alert bed bugs to a blood meal. This will get them moving and clumsily making their way to the area that they are sensing the carbon dioxide. Once there, they focus on karamones (a pheromone that benefits one species, and hinders another), and body heat to find an area suitable for hitchhiking. A crease in a shoe, pant leg, or handbag etc. Obviously when you were in a patient’s room you don’t want to seem nervous or anxious, so you obviously cannot keep moving. What I intend to do is share some information I have researched on essential oils. Which I do not view as choice methods for bed bug elimination, they certainly stand their ground with their repellency abilities.

The essential oils that bed bugs do not like are as follows: tea tree, lavender, lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, clove, lemongrass, citronella, thyme, and neem oil. Tea tree oil has a very good repellency to bed bugs and is safe to be applied to skin. The next essential oil is lavender, which often helps put a mind at ease and helps you to sleep, mixing lavender oil with water and applying around the bed can help put a mind at ease and potentially repel any insects from invading your area of rest. Lemon oil and lemongrass are both highly acidic so it is not wise to use it on your skin, but adding a few drops into water and applying through a spray bottle or into the laundry will leave your bed sheets smelling lemony fresh and help repel insects from your bedding area. Peppermint has fantastic insect and mouse repellent abilities, but when applied to a child to bed can cause problems as they have weaker skin. Also mixing peppermint with lemongrass is known to cause allergic reactions in bed bugs. Eucalyptus, a favorite food of koalas, is also a repellent and oil that reports great killing power for bed bugs. This, however, is not safe for the skin. Clove oil has a very strong odor, and is excellent at repelling and also reports a strong ability to kill insects but with the strong odor, may be better being applied to backpacks, handbags, shoes Etc. Thyme oil is another product that has a strong odor and insecticidal qualities. I’ve recently seen this used in hand wipes, where a family member was using them to wipe down a chair shortly after we applied pesticides to it. The Thyme oil drove all the insects off of the chair into the surrounding living room area. Last but not least, neem oil, which I personally feel has the strongest repellency out of all oils I’ve mentioned previously. It is used to remove skin tags, warts, and other blemishes. It is not safe for long term skin exposure. But I feel its repellency abilities are unmatched.

The general rule of thumb that I have noticed with all of these oils are roughly a few drops into 20-30 mL of water, and a spray bottle when applying to bedding, shoes, handbags, and potentially scrubs with oils that are safe to use with dermal exposure.

If essential oils aren’t your thing. It’s a good idea then to bring an alternate pair of clothes and shoes. Then before leaving throw the clothes and shoes you were wearing in the dryer for 30 minutes. All dryers on low heat run above 125 degrees Fahrenheit which is enough to kill bed bugs. A trick I have picked up from a customer on shoes, is to tie the shoe laces into a knot. When you shut the dryer door keep the knot outside of the dryer. This way the shoes stay elevated and don’t tumble around for 30 minutes. I hope this helps any health care workers who find themselves in this predicament.

Josh Koenig

Technical Director

Safeway Pest Management


*The use of essential oils is at the users own risk.

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