From the Classroom to Your Home: How Bed Bugs Can Hitch a Ride on Your Child

Could your kids be coming home with more than just homework? When it comes to bed bugs, there is no one surefire way to avoid them. These pests are found in more than just beds, and although they are mainly spread through travel and second-hand furniture, it’s also possible that you or your child could pick one up from school and take it home with you.

Let’s look at how this could happen and how you can lower your risk of getting bed bugs from school.

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

Is it common for schools to have bed bugs?

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about bed bugs. Bed bugs are not associated with unsanitary homes or people; they can infest any type of home or business where people sleep or congregate in close proximity, such as dormitories, shelters, movie theatres, public transport, and apartments.

In all my years working in the pest control business, I’ve never had to deal with a bed bug infestation in a school or college. So, while it is not very common to get bed bugs from school, it is certainly possible, and it does happen.[1]

Don't put a school backpack on the bed to prevent spreading bed bugs.
Don’t put a school backpack on the bed to prevent spreading bed bugs

How do bed bugs get into schools?

As bed bugs do not fly or jump and cannot live outside as they rely on our blood to keep them alive, they will be brought into the school via a person. So that could be a student, teacher, volunteer, or even a visitor.

Being excellent hitchhikers, they can be transported around in a number of ways, such as a person picking one up on public transport on their way to school. But more often than not, it’s from a home with a bed bug problem.

If a person brings an item with a bed bug or two on it, such as a book bag, backpack, clothes, or books, into school, and the bugs crawl out and into another person’s belongings, they unknowingly take the bugs home with them.

This creates a possible route through which bed bugs could travel to another student’s or teacher’s home. If the bed bug is a pregnant female, then this becomes more of a problem as she will lay eggs. The eggs will hatch, and the nymphs will look for a blood meal soon after. The female will also mate with her offspring, so the population of these pests will just continue to grow.

Harborage areas for bed bugs in schools

Because bed bugs are tiny, they can hide in small places like cracks in desks, upholstered furniture, and amongst any clutter. This can make classrooms susceptible to infestations.

As relatively large amounts of materials are brought into schools and colleges by students and teachers, certain areas of schools tend to be more susceptible to bed bugs.[2]

These are:

  • Cloakroom areas where coats and jackets are all close together.
  • Computer rooms as they are often found inside electronics.
  • Lounge and common areas where people congregate, and that has upholstered furniture.

How to minimize the chances of bringing bed bugs home from school

These pests are not showing signs of going away anytime soon, so if bed bugs have been found at school, you or your child can do a few things to limit bringing these hitchhikers home:

In school

  • Store jackets and backpacks in a locker instead of leaving them in a cluttered cloakroom area next to other people’s belongings.
  • If there are no lockers available, store the jacket/backpack inside a sealed plastic bag.
  • Don’t put belongings on the floor in a pile with other people’s stuff.
  • Check all backpacks and other items for bed bugs in an outside area before bringing them inside the home.
  • Limit the number of items taken to and from school.

At home

  • Regularly inspect clothes, bags, and anything else taken to school for bed bugs.
  • Keep backpacks and other items used at school out of the bedroom and away from the couch and other resting areas. This includes any library books or textbooks, as bed bugs can hide in book spines.
  • It’s a good idea to keep anything taken to school stored inside sealable plastic bags or plastic storage containers. Bed bugs cannot climb smooth surfaces, so they won’t be able to escape and infest other areas of your home.
  • As soon you or your child gets home, put all clothing into a sealable plastic bag and take it to the dryer. Put the clothes in the dryer for a MINIMUM of 30 minutes on the highest heat setting. Bed bug eggs, nymphs, and adults will die at 125ºF (51ºC).
  • Put the backpack in the dryer on high heat on a weekly basis to kill any eggs and bed bugs that might be hidden inside.

Be vigilant at home by knowing what to look for

Bed bugs are tiny, nocturnal insects with reddish-brown, oval-shaped bodies that resemble an apple seed. Take a look at these pictures so you know what bed bugs look like and how to identify one if you see one.

Their only food source is blood, preferably human blood, and they are attracted to us when we sleep due to a combination of carbon dioxide and body heat we give off.

Oval-shaped bed bug similar to apple seed.
Bed bug (middle) looks similar to the apple seed.

Being vigilant is key to preventing a bed bug infestation in your home. Infestation signs include:

  • Finding a live bed bug.
  • Tiny white eggs that are about the size of a grain of salt.
  • Shed skins that look like translucent bed bugs.
  • Rusty-colored smears or stains on bed sheets.
  • Dark spots on the bed that look similar to an ink dot.
  • Raised bumps or marks on areas of your body that are likely not covered in bed.

Click here to find out how to check for bed bugs.

Should your kid stay home if the school has bed bugs?

Schools are not ideal locations for bed bugs to hide, and it’s highly unlikely that the whole school would be impacted by these pests.

In schools, bed bugs spread via contact between items carried by students (such as backpacks) or clothing worn by students (such as jackets).

And, as bed bugs are not known to carry or transmit any disease, the answer is no, you shouldn’t keep your child home from school.

Being alert, taking precautions, and knowing what to look for will keep you ahead of a potential pest problem in your home. Limiting what items go to school and come back from school and inspecting backpacks and clothing are all ways to reduce the chance of an infestation.

If you find a bed bug, let the school know so they can carry out their procedures.

How should schools deal with bed bugs?

Most school districts have a bed bug infestation plan in place, which will include sending a letter to all parents to let them know that bed bugs have been found and what they can do to limit the chances of bringing the bugs home, which are listed above.

Prior to this, the school will bring in an IPM professional (integrated pest management) to inspect the room to confirm whether the bug found is actually a bed bug or a similar-looking bug, if it was a single bed bug, or whether there is an infestation and carry out any necessary treatments from there.

A confirmed case of a single bed bug does not necessarily mean there’s an infestation. Most cases are discovered due to the fact bed bugs are hitch-hikers that can be picked up from anywhere and transported to school mainly on clothing and items such as backpacks.

Any person, including those with bed bugs in their homes, can repeatedly bring bed bugs into school, so it makes sense that schools have a bed bug protocol in place.

Keeping an eye out for these pests is the best way to avoid a potential infestation. If you find any signs of bed bugs, take them seriously and either get rid of them yourself or call a professional exterminator immediately.