Hospitals conduct routine bedbug checks

A bed bug nymph feeding. Photo by David Hill, courtesy of the Armed Services Pest Management Board.

In addition to asking for your birth date and health insurance coverage, two Vermont hospitals have made it standard operating procedure to ask patients if they’ve been exposed to bed bugs.

Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin and Fletcher Allen Medical Center in Burlington developed a new set of procedures to prevent the bedbug scourge from infecting their hospital rooms.

“We’ve had an increase in central Vermont … we had patients in the ER with bites,” said Erica Baker, infection preventionist at Central Vermont Medical Center. “We needed a process to prevent infestation here.”

The hospital’s policy, posted at registration, requires patients to talk to hospital staff about “bed bug exposures” and unexplained bug bites. Want to bring luggage, backpacks or even your pillow into the facility? Think again. You’ll have to use a hospital pillow and put your clothing in plastic bags. Prevention, as the saying goes, is its own reward.

Dawn LeBaron, vice president for hospital services at Fletcher Allen, said that while the hospital has had no problems with bed bugs, it decided to explore preventative measures last year when bedbugs became a news item.

“The best thing is to prevent getting them here in the first place,” she said. “All of the bedding is changed on a regular basis. Everything is stripped, and mattresses wiped down with disinfect.”

All patients are asked at registration about their exposure to bed bugs, she said. Patients who answer yes are taken to a private room, where they remove their clothing and are given hospital garb. Their clothes and belongings are then heat-treated, which kills bedbugs, before being returned to the patient.

“Once we bag up the clothing, the risk of bedbugs is nil,” said Baker. Bedbugs may travel on clothing or luggage, but not on the body, so just the belongings need to be treated.

Both hospitals invested in something called a “heat duffel.” Patient clothing and luggage is placed inside the duffel, heated, and then removed.

Jon Turmel, the state entomologist, said Fletcher Allen and Central Vermont are the only hospitals in the state that he knows of with these procedures.

“I think they are overreacting, but it’s probably better to overreact than not react at all,” he said.

Brad Wright, external affairs coordinator at Rutland Regional Medical Center, said patient rooms are closely inspected, and linens washed at 170 degrees, but no special procedures have been implemented there. Spokespeople at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph and Dartmouth Hitchcock in Lebanon, N.H., did not return phone messages.

Turmel said that Vermont has had reports of bed bugs, and that people should be aware of them when traveling.

“Ask at the front desk (of the hotel) if they had or have bed bugs; they have to tell you,” he said. “It’s important that people not be ashamed. The stigma that’s attached to it, ‘Oh, I must be dirty,’ that’s bogus. … If you get them early, before they get way out of hand, they are easier to control.”

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