It’s 6:27 a.m. on a sunny Tuesday morning. There you are, comfortably seated at your desk, ready for another great day, when you are called for assistance by a counselor to the health center. Upon arrival to the center, you observe a camper and your health center nurse. Instantly you can sense that something is wrong and there is a situation to deal with. And, that’s when you learn that, for the first time ever, you’ll have to be dealing with the unspeakable — bed bugs.

Fortunately for you, and thanks to your counselor’s efforts, this particular camper has remained calm during this situation, causing you to instantaneously think to yourself that it could have been worse. However, as the situation progresses, you realize that you’re in over your head. The camper is understandably upset as he recounts his experience that occurred during the wee hours of the night. He tells you that something caused him to wake up at about 4:00 a.m. and then again at about 5:00 a.m. He said that he felt itchy and that he saw what appeared to be a number of bites on his arm and stomach. These bites caused him to get out of bed and turn on the lights when he saw a bug or something crawling on the sheets. He captured it in a cup and brought it to the counselor. They then went to the health center — and now here you are, face to face with your first bed bug. While listening to the camper’s story, you begin to think: “Wow, I heard about bed bugs, but never thought it could happen here — not at our camp. How could I have prevented this from happening? How can I protect my camp, my campers, and my staff from the unspeakable — from bed bugs?”

This scenario is fictitious; however, it is a reasonable depiction of what can happen at any camp, at any time, on any day, and in any geography across the United States. The simple truth is that hospitality industry locations including camps, hotels, resorts, and other facilities may become infested with bed bugs at any time because bed bugs have been introduced into their facilities through a number of potential paths. The question is: What can be done to best protect these facilities — in this case, your camp?

Learn the Fundamentals

In my role as an urban pest management consultant, it amazes me that bed bugs take up the majority of my time. My observations regarding the growing bed bug situation over the past six years have underscored some of the significant reasons that bed bugs are currently succeeding as a pest on a wide-scale basis. While there is no need for us to panic, there clearly is a need for us to become better prepared. None of us would knowingly sit for an exam having not studied; nor would we enter a competitive game situation having failed to practice, prepare a viable game plan, or learn more about the opposition. Yet, one of the fundamental reasons for bed bug’s success, in my observation, is the overall general lack of public knowledge about bed bugs. And this is a concern for effected industries as well.

Top Four Tips for Camps

(From ACA’s bed bug resource page, located a

  1. If you suspect that someone in your camp has been bitten by bed bugs, thoroughly examine crevices in walls, mattresses, and furniture. You will need to perform your inspection at night when bed bugs are active. Examining during the day most likely will not be useful.
  2. If your camp is infested with bed bugs, understand that eliminating them can be a very difficult process because bed bugs hide so well and can live for months without eating. Consider all the options (quickly) before deciding on your plan of action.
  3. Understand that bed bugs, while gross and irritating, do not carry disease. Treatment of those who have been bitten can usually be handled by your on-site health care staff. However, there are situations where those afflicted should see a doctor.
  4. Be very wary of accepting second-hand items such as mattresses and upholstered furniture. Examine any second-hand item extremely carefully and don’t use if not in exceptional condition.

It is a fundamental concept that adequate knowledge of the specific pest in question is necessary to successfully manage this pest. The ability to compose and implement a viable bed bug management program at any facility or infested location is dependent upon possessing a sound, fundamental knowledge of bed bugs. This bed bug knowledge must include a variety of topics such as biology, behavior, identification, inspection, recognition, control, and prevention methodologies. Clearly, there is a lot of information that must be known in order to successfully deal with bed bugs — and the more you know, the better off you will be.

First, we need to ask ourselves: Are we well prepared to deal with an infestation of bed bugs? Have we trained our staff members and armed them with the knowledge necessary to successfully address a bed bug situation? Are we able to answer questions about bed bugs in a reasonably accurate fashion? How can we protect our property, our campers, and our staff from bed bugs?

Below are a few tips and considerations to help you implement a proper bed bug program at your facility:

  • Staff training is an important part of any bed bug management program. Be sure your staff receives the proper instruction from a competent source.
  • Be sure that your entire staff is trained to recognize the early tell tale signs of bed bug activity. These include the presence of fecal stains, shed skins, bed bug carcasses, and live bed bugs. Campers should be informed of these signs, too.
  • Maintenance staff should visit guest rooms and units on a regular basis. (Be certain that maintenance staff is properly trained to recognize the tell tale signs of bed bug activity mentioned above.)
  • Assure that all your camp counselors and staff can recognize the signs of bed bug bites that may occur to campers.
  • Campers or counselors may carry bed bugs in to your camp when they arrive. Be sure your camp implements suitable methodologies to adequately address the various paths that bed bugs may be introduced to your facility. Such methodologies should include inspections of luggage, as well as information disseminated through a suitable bed bug awareness program. Some programs have gone so far as to include heat treatment of incoming luggage as part of their prevention program.
  • Early detection is critical in preventing the rapid spread of bed bugs subsequent to introduction at your facility. It is wise to implement a regularly scheduled inspection process as an ongoing portion of your bed bug management program.
  • Staff who interact with campers, their parents, or the public may find themselves answering bed bug related questions at any time. Be sure that these staff members are well trained and know how to properly respond to bed bug related queries. (See ACA’s bed bug Web page in the online Knowledge Center at
  • It is critical that a suitable written policy is composed and in place for your operation. Such policies should adequately address the various aspects and challenges presented by bed bugs. Such policies are best prepared by management working in cooperation with a knowledgeable bed bug pest management expert.
  • We would all agree that making proper decisions is influenced by the quality of education and experience that the individual making such decisions possesses. As such, it is imperative that those managers who are involved in policy decisions should also be well trained and educated regarding bed bugs.
  • It is best to hire a competent professional bed bug management service. How can you tell that you are hiring the correct bed bug professional? Reputable bed bug management firms will have many positive attributes. A few of these include the following:
    • A sound bed bug control program. Their program makes sense to you and it sounds like it will work.
    • They answer your questions and concerns.
    • They have adequate licensing and insurance to work in your region. They can provide you with a current and verifiable certificate of insurance.
    • They are members of professional trade associations.
    • They have an on-staff technical director or consulting urban entomologist.
    • They have relevant experience and may have years of bed bug control experience with many jobs completed successfully.
    • They have a number of satisfied customers who may be contacted as references.
    • They stand behind their work with a sound warranty program.

Based upon personal experience, it appears that relatively few facilities have conducted a suitable training effort to adequately address the bed bug situation, and they aren’t well prepared to deal with an infes¬tation once discovered. While it may be unreasonable to expect that camp profes¬sionals educate themselves to the point that they become knowledgeable pest management experts, it is widely known that camps are subject to bed bug infestation. It is important that camp industry professionals educate themselves about this most troublesome pest so that they are ultimately better able to protect their property, their campers, and their staff from bed bugs.

Additional Information

Additional information on bed bugs may be found from various sources, including but not limited to the following:
ACA’s e-Institute — Webinar (co-facilitated by Paul Bello)
ACA’s Knowledge Center:
Bed Bug General:
CDC’s Resource Page:
Pest Management Professional Magazine: 
Author’s Resource Page:
The Bed Bug Combat Manual:

Paul Bello is a pest management consultant with over thirty-four years of experience. He has authored many articles on bed bug management and recently published The Bed Bug Combat Manual available at He frequently conducts bed bug training seminars for many organizations throughout the country and may be reached for questions at His Web site is

Originally published in the 2012 March/April Camping Magazine.