Home Health Care Workers and the Bed Bug Scourge: How to Protect Yourself

Health Care Dynamics

As the national debate over affordable health care continues, the real battle is in the trenches. Medical technology and the healing arts notwithstanding, patients are spending less time in the hospital and more time in managed home care. Home health care professionals and social workers are increasingly involved in care-giving, administration of medicines and general follow up. Many of the patients are poor or elderly and reside in urban settings of apartments, independent living or care centers. Demographics and pest management reporting shows that bed bugs are most prevalent in these living situations. As home health care workers, you really have no idea what conditions or levels of infestation await you as you provide service.

Bed Bugs have RETURNED!

The reasons for the resurgence and return of this common pest, and the global "pandemic" are many. We have become a global economy, as well as global travelers. The avenues for them to find a food source to thrive and multiply are increasing daily. They feed on humans, and we are now moving into more urban and dense population centers. More people: more bed bugs. A single pregnant female (if left unchecked) can literally produce thousands in a matter of weeks! They are hitchhikers and have an uncanny ability to hide and survive. Their bites produce varied reactions in patients, but in general will cause an itchy red welt, which the patient scratches, thus opening bleeding wounds. The open wounds are the source of blood borne pathogens; the pest itself does NOT transmit disease.

Working in the real World

Bed bugs have no socio-economic preference for a host. Every human being is a potential food source. If you are working in and around a their hiding place, or in an area that has a high potential for infestation, then you are at risk. As you assess a patient, be mindful of the following strong indicators of their presence: open wounds on the patient; black smudges or dots on the mattress, or wall ( fecal matter); a significant amount of bug spray or insect repellant near the bed; large quantities of bay leaves or other aromatic leaves in or around the bed. A typical hide-out is quantities of clutter, or "stuff" which is quite common in urban dwellings. These conditions are strong "clues" that you are in a high risk situation. In addition to those personal protective measures you employ to reduce the risk of infection to you, there are simple precautions that you can employ both before and after a visit.

YIKES! I think I have bed bugs; what can I do?

You have several choices: You can spend hours online reading the thousands and thousands of pages of information; you can burn all of your belongings, or you can follow some very simple and straight-forward guidance. FIRST: Do NOT Panic; SECOND: Create a barrier between your workplace and your home. Most home health care professionals wear their scrubs from their own home to the patient's location. Remove your clothing before you enter your home. THIRD: place your clothing and bedding in the clothes dryer for 30 minutes at high heat. FOURTH: capture any bug that you find, put it in a baggie and have it positively identified by a qualified professional. FIFTH: Make sure you document the situation, and your concerns about bed bug infestation in the patient's home, and get professional colleagues involved. SIXTH: If you do decide to engage a pest management professional, inquire about their expertise with bed bugs and Integrated Pest Management.


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