Greater Cincinnati remains at the top of bed bug list

New treatment options prevents loss of furniture

Forbes magazine recently announced that Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus remain at the top of the list of America’s most bed bug infested cities, based on a survey of two nationwide exterminators.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County have joined forces to create a task force to address the situation, which has spread to Clermont County and the surrounding areas.

The Center for Disease Control has said the insects do not carry diseases and pose no major health risks, but they are known to cause anxiety and insomnia. The Ohio State University’s Extension Office emphasizes the importance of a rapid response, which most often includes a call to a local exterminator.

Kurt ScherZinger unloads an electric heater used to kill bed bugs from his trailer.

Exterminators generally use an array of chemical pesticides and require multiple visits to ensure complete eradication, however, one company that has been operating in the Cincinnati area since 1934 began using a chemical-less method in March 2010 that can be completed in a single day.

The ScherZinger company uses an electrical heating process to heat an entire building to 135 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bed bugs at all stages of their life cycle from eggs inside furniture to the adult bugs. Company manager Kurt Scherzinger said the process, called “heatigation,” differs from chemical methods which may not be able to reach hidden eggs, and from propane heating methods which force heated air into homes from an outdoor heater.

“We’re not doing what call the ‘spray and pray’ approach,” Scherzinger said. “While a chemical control can be very effective, it’s a series of four treatments every other week. You’re basically moving out of your bedrooms for two months. It’s pretty labor intensive.”

ScherZinger places electric heaters powered by their own diesel generator at strategic locations throughout the structure. The technicians then use dozens of wireless sensors to monitor the temperatures and use high powered fans to eliminate hot or cold spots and ensure popular bed bug hiding spots are sufficiently heated. Scherzinger said the ambient heating method used by the electric heaters mimics body heat and can actually draw the bed bugs out of hiding, as opposed to forced air heating, which can drive the insects out of effective heating zones.

“With this you actually see them literally crawling out of the woodwork,” ScherZinger said. “I actually find it pretty fascinating.”

A temperature of 135 degrees is maintained for between four and six hours and technicians enter the structure once an hour to vacuum the bed bugs into HEPA vacuum cleaners which are left in the home to ensure they reach the necessary temperature to kill the insects trapped within.

ScherZinger said preparation for the treatment is minimal. Any items such as candles that may melt or aerosols which may explode when heated should be moved to a bathroom which will not be heated.

“You’re typically not going to find the insects in the bathroom because they’re going to gravitate towards the places of rest,” ScherZinger said. “Towards the end of the service we’ll introduce those items to the heat just in case there was a bug on it.”

The temperature of 135 degrees is designed to be hot enough to kill the insects quickly while low enough to prevent damage to belongings in the structure.

ScherZinger said that once the process is complete, his technicians do a follow up in about a week. They check to ensure there are no insects in the home and use a small amount of chemical dust to catch any stragglers. If a significant population is found they will reheat the home at no charge.

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt has been adamant about bed bug removal for about two years and in September she introduced a bill in Congress that would provide grants to local housing authorities and communities to cover the costs of bed bug prevention, mitigation, disposal, and monitoring.

Spokesman for the Congresswoman Bruce Pfaff said recently the Congresswoman is aware of heat mitigation techniques and she has found them to be a very expensive method that may not be as effective as other tools.

ScherZinger said the average cost for chemical treatment ranges between $600 and $2,000, while the Heatigation treatment starts at $1,200.

“When you add in the cost of having to dispose of any furniture or bedding, such as a badly infested couch, right there is $1,000 bucks,” ScherZinger said. “People are seeing that their time is worth that couple hundred bucks.”

The Congresswoman has been a strong proponent of the chemical Propoxure, which has been banned for indoor use by the Environmental Protection Agency. Pfaff said the chemical has a much higher kill ratio and would ultimately be more effective. Schmidt was recently named chairman of a Department of Agriculture subcommittee. Pfaff said the USDA’s stance on the safety of Propoxure and other chemicals differs from the EPA’s.

“As chair she plans to hold the EPA’s feet to the fire on their methods of approval,” Pfaff said.

In the meantime Schmidt is a strong proponent of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s strategy, a strategy Pfaff said is very comprehensive. The plan follows an integrated pest management approach which begins with prevention, and includes tips for inspection, sanitation, trapping, and use of insecticides. The comprehensive plan can be found at

The Cincinnati Health Department has said that heat treatments are one of a number of effective tools that can eliminate bed bugs. They emphasize that heat and fumigation treatments end when the exterminators have completed their work. If bed bugs are reintroduced into the structure there is nothing preventing them from infesting it.

ScherZinger said their heatigation work is guaranteed with a 30 day warranty. At least one chemical method, Phantom, which is used by the Amelia based company Prokill Termite and Pest Control is guaranteed to completely eliminate the insects for up to a year.