OK, maybe you're as smart as a 5th-grader, but are you as smart as a bedbug?
It's a question that more and more people in Hawaii - residents and visitors - are having to answer.
"I get three, four calls a day" about bedbugs, said Mark Redeker, president of Mid Pacific Pest Control in Kihei. "That's why I invested $80,000 in a system to treat them."
Mark Redeker, president of Mid Pacific Pest Control, looks over a heater with a wireless remote sensor in the bedroom of a Kihei condominium while preparing to remove bedbugs Tuesday morning. The remote sensor monitors the heat level in the rooms and sends the information back to a computer outside the condo.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Redeker and his employees were receiving instruction this week from Ed LoCascio of Temp-Air, the Minnesota company that makes a heat treatment machine to outfox bedbugs, dry them out and kill them.
Mid Pacific is the first Hawaii company to buy the system since it was approved in March by the state departments of Agriculture and Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Redeker said.
The world is experiencing a bedbug population explosion, LoCascio said. And the few chemicals that are still effective against them are a pain to use, he said. To treat a dwelling, the inhabitants have to leave, first bagging their belongings. Every surface must be sprayed until it's wet, and then the bedbug has to walk on the wet surface for at least a minute.
Then it has to be done again a week later, after the eggs hatch.
Alternative heat treatments have been used for years, LoCascio said, but they were not too reliable. In his experience with bedbugs, only about 70 percent die on the first try.
The older heat treatments used propane heaters and blowers, and the blowers were the problem, he said. They created a slight positive pressure in the building.
To get the temperature up to 122 degrees - at which point the bug is dried out and killed - the air had to be hotter, around 130 degrees. The bedbugs, clever fellows that they are, experienced this flow of hot air as a signal to skedaddle, running out of cracks and crevices toward cooler air.
The better way, according to Temp-Air, is to use electric heaters and a slight negative pressure, and somewhat cooler air.
The bugs sense this air as being more like the human body heat that attracts them to mate and feed, and instead of fleeing, they come out of their hiding places and get fried.
Christina Zimmerman, a pesticide specialist with the Registration Section of the Pesticides Branch of the state Department of Agriculture, evaluated the Temp-Air system for safety and effectiveness for the DCCA and said it works. She does not recommend one brand over another, and there is another heat method approved in Hawaii, the ThermaPure brand from a California company.
It is different in several respects from the Temp-Air approach and so far has not been adopted by any Maui pest-control operator, although Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions in Pearl City has used it for a couple of years.
Zimmerman confirmed that bedbugs are a problem in Hawaii. "It's very widespread," she said. "I don't know if it's on all the islands, but it's certainly on Oahu, due to all the tourists and the college students moving in and out."
Temp-Air is mainly in the business of renting big, portable heating and cooling machines. (Say you have a professional football team and the field is frozen before the big game. Temp-Air can thaw it for you.)
Selling heat treatment machines against bugs is a comparatively new line, LoCascio said. It kills not just bugs but "just about everything," including cockroaches.
But not termites. Termites die at about 130 degrees, but because they are protected under the wood, it takes an air temperature of at least 180 to go after them, he said. So tenting is still going to be used against termites.
For bedbugs, Redeker deploys four electric heaters (with their own power source) and 10 fans. This can handle a 1,200-square-foot apartment in about eight hours. For a larger house, the treatment has to be done in stages.
The cost varies depending on the size of a unit being treated and the amount of preparation work needed, Redeker said. An easily accessible studio would cost about $700 to treat and take three to four hours, he said. A three-bedroom home with difficult preparation and not easily accessible could cost $2,200 and take 10 hours.
The treatment is not limited to residences, he said. It could be done at businesses or even vehicles, such as ambulances or taxis.
"Wherever the bugs hide, we'll chase them," Redeker said.
LoCascio was training Mid Pacific's staff how to do it. Unlike with pesticides, there's no bagging and comparatively little upset in the household.
The heaters are turned on for several hours, with fans aimed at couches and other upholstered furniture to "drill down" with the hot air.
In the last hour, the bug exterminator crew goes in and upends the mattresses and box springs and opens dresser drawers.
One treatment should be sufficient because a temperature of 122 degrees is enough to kill the eggs, too, LoCascio said. The fans are intended to make sure the hot air gets into the crevices where the eggs lie.
If you're traveling, there is an unofficial registry of bedbug infestations, based on user experiences, rather like GasBuddy.com that reports retail gasoline prices. It covers the United States and Canada but not Hawaii or Alaska.
It was founded by Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and computer programmer, who describes it "as a way of getting vengeance against bedbugs after a traumatic experience in a San Francisco hotel."
Find it online at bedbugregistry.com.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.