What Can We Learn From the Walmart Bed Bug Infestation?

Last week, Walmart employees in Pennsylvania made a grim discovery when a pill bottle containing bed bugs was found inside the pocket of a jacket intended for sale. A thorough search of the store by pest control experts unearthed a second pill bottle and several live insects, which were found crawling around a men’s fitting room.

For Walmart shoppers, this is very concerning news. Anyone familiar with bed bugs can tell you how easily these parasitic insects can move from place to place inside clothing, linen, and luggage. Once established, a bed bug infestation can be very difficult to clear and often make the lives of those who live with them a complete misery.

So, what can we learn from the Walmart incident, and how can we use this to keep our homes bedbug-free?

First things first: what exactly happened?

The skin-crawling story of Walmart’s bed bug incident hit headlines in the first week of January this year.

As the BBC reports, the insects seem to have been deliberately released in an act of mischief that could have caused an infestation of catastrophic proportions. Health and safety experts were called to the scene shortly after the first pill bottle (which was found inside a jacket intended for sale) was discovered by a manager. After confirming that the insects inside were, in fact, bed bugs, the pest control professionals conducted a thorough search of the store and found more of them crawling around a men’s fitting room.

Two days later, a second pill bottle (containing dead bed bugs) was found in another clothing department of the same store. Fortunately, the health and safety crew reported that they found no evidence of an infestation, and this seems to have been an isolated incident with no other nearby stores affected. A police investigation to identify the culprit is currently underway.

The bottom line is that Walmart customers have nothing to worry about regarding in-store bed bugs, as the insects were discovered before they could get comfortable and start breeding. The fact that it happened at all, however, is enough to make some people feel uncomfortable about shopping there.

After all, bed bugs can easily move from place to place by hiding inside clothing, and no-one wants to bring these tiny biting monsters home with them from the store.

What can Walmart’s bed bug incident teach us about commercial bed bug control?

The incidence of bed bugs in stores is generally low. However, rising numbers of bed bugs throughout the states means that this is happening more and more frequently, especially in residential areas.

Bed bugs find their way into stores when people with infestations at home carry them in on their clothing, bags and even shoes. The insects then transfer to other items in the store when they are handled or tried on. It is impossible to prevent people with bed bugs from visiting retail locations, which means stores have to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to commercial bed bug control.

  1. Perform regular inspections in high-risk areas. Bed bugs are most likely to turn up in places with a lot of human traffic. Break rooms, locker rooms, and any employee seating areas are considered high-risk and should be inspected regularly for bed bugs. This can either be done by a pest control professional, or by someone who knows how to correctly identify bed bugs.
  2. Make bed bug awareness a standard part of staff training. Make sure that all staff know what bed bugs are, why they’re a potential problem and how to correctly identify them for all-hands-on-deck control.
  3. Examine return items carefully. Return items are especially high risk for bed bugs, as they have often been taken into someone else’s home before finding their way back to the store. Many people aren’t even aware they have bed bugs, so return items should be inspected carefully before being put back on the shelf or returned to the supplier.

How can you identify bed bugs?

To be able to correctly identify bed bugs, you must first know what you’re looking for. The insects themselves have long, flattened, oval-shaped bodies, are brown in color and are around the size of an apple seed. They give off an unpleasant, musty odor when present in large numbers and their eggs are pearly-white and tiny.

When performing an inspection for bed bugs, look out for the following things:

  • Live or dead bugs
  • Skin casks (these will look like ‘empty’ bugs)
  • Eggs or egg cases
  • Blood spots on pillows and sheets
  • Bed bug droppings (these often look like clusters of tiny dark or rust-colored spots)

How can you prevent bed bugs from being transferred from stores to your home?

There is no way to guarantee that your local retailer doesn’t have bed bugs in store (though it is unlikely). The only way to be sure that you aren’t going to end up with a bed bug infestation yourself is to carefully examine all new purchases before placing them among your belongings at home.

In the case of clothing and sheets, you can wash these on a high temperature to kill any potential bugs or eggs.

Conclusion

Walmart’s bed bug incident last week set skins throughout the states crawling, after two pill bottles full of the insects and several loose specimens were found in a store in Pennsylvania. Luckily, pest control was immediately called to the scene and, after removing the insects, found no evidence that there were any more living in-store.

That’s not to say that bed bugs never infest stores. As bed bug numbers rise, so does the likelihood of them finding their way into retail locations, where they can easily transfer to people’s homes if infested items are bought by unsuspecting customers. Being aware of how to identify and control bed bugs is key for both retailers and homeowners, as preventative action is the best way to stop them in their tracks.

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