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A short heat-treatment of luggage may reduce spread of bedbugs

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Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 15, 2016 — A University of California, Irvine entomologist has discovered that a brief blast of heat can kill bedbugs traveling on the outside of luggage, suggesting an additional way to use this nonchemical means of controlling the annoying insects.

Catherine Loudon, a senior lecturer in ecology & evolutionary biology, reports that exposing soft-sided luggage to high temperatures – between 158 and 167 degrees – for six minutes was sufficient to kill all the bedbugs on the exterior, including those under zipper flaps and decorative piping. Her study appears in Pest Management Science.

Bedbug infestation continues to be a major pest problem, especially for travelers, and various management techniques have been tried. Because these parasites have become resistant to many chemical control methods, research into nonchemical means of limiting their proliferation is increasing. One possibility gaining interest is heat treatment, due to its negligible impact on the environment.

Loudon's study examined whether heat treatment could effectively eradicate bedbugs on the exterior of soft-sided suitcases.

"Luggage transport is one way that these bugs spread," she said. "Being located on the outside of luggage provides one of the few cases in which they are less insulated and more vulnerable to heat treatment."

To investigate the amount of exposure required to kill these baggage-riding pests, Loudon released bedbugs on the exterior of suitcase and then placed it into a heated chamber for varying periods of time at varying temperatures. She discovered that the six-minute blast was long enough to kill the bedbugs but short enough that the bag's contents would not be excessively warm.

"Any tendency of bedbugs to move into the luggage was also evaluated," Loudon said. "During heating, only one bug in 250 was found to have moved inside the luggage."

She added that the technique represents a promising way to reduce the spread of bedbugs, suggesting the possible use of luggage heating chambers similar to the ones in her study at hotels and airports.

Pur Systems of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., has patented such a device and provided access to a prototype for the research. Loudon cautioned that the treatment would not kill any bedbugs inside luggage but could be part of an integrated pest management approach.

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About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It's located in one of the world's safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County's second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit http://www.uci.edu.

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