When Bed Bugs Bite at Camp

Bed bugs continue to be one of the most difficult pests to control. They like to travel and are good hitchhikers, easily making the journey into or out of your camp by hiding in bedding and luggage. Bites can cause irritations ranging from itching to a rash to blisters. Severe cases can result in infection or allergic reaction and may need medical treatment.1

If a camper’s interaction with bed bugs results in injury or financial damage, your camp could potentially be liable for any expenses incurred. Costs associated with paying medical bills, refunding a portion or all the camper’s tuition, and paying to fumigate the camper’s home could reach into the thousands. 

Ways to Protect Your Campers and Camp 

Bed bugs are a constant battle for camps. No matter what setting your camp is in, it won’t be 100 percent free from the risk of bedbugs. It is important to address the issue right away when you find evidence of an infestation.

You can also take proactive measures by minimizing your risk exposure through vigilance, regular inspections, and scheduled treatments. But there are two other important methods you may not have considered, which are just as important: 

1. Keep excellent records. Camps that keep excellent records are more successful in showing that reasonable steps were taken to eliminate or control infestations. If a claim is filed, your insurance company will be interested in your recordkeeping. Having well-documented procedures for cleaning and inspecting on a regular basis show that your camp actively takes measures against infestation—and can prove it. Ensure that maintenance, cleaning staff, counselors, and program staff understand the importance of accurate documentation and preserving all records. 

2. Educate your phone staff. It is in our nature to be as helpful as possible, but oversharing could increase your camp’s liability. The person who answers the phone is considered an “information gatekeeper.” Ensure the gatekeeper—whether staff, an intern, or a volunteer—knows what information is safe to share and what is not. 

If you receive a call from a parent blaming the camp for sending bed bugs home with a camper, instruct the gatekeeper simply to take the caller’s information, then deliver it to the right person, like a camp director. Your camp director should be honest but careful to not openly admit fault. Be empathetic and listen. You can communicate your camp’s commitment to keep pests at bay without getting into details. Your camp’s attorney can help prepare a written procedure for how to deal with these kinds of phone calls.

Don't Let DIY Make you CRY

It can be tempting to try to solve your camp’s bed bug problem with a quick fix. Much like other infestations, chemicals, special equipment, and experienced skill are needed to confront the problem head on.

The costs associated with bed bug removal generally fall under the category of property maintenance, which may not be covered by your camp’s insurance. Do-it-yourself applications can cause more harm or damage, increasing your camp’s liability risk exposure. 

The following often are considered ineffective and potentially dangerous measures used by do-it-yourselfers: ammonia, bleach, fire, gasoline and kerosene, wasp spray, bug bombs, and overuse/improper use of agricultural or outlawed insecticides bought on the internet.2 Use of these can result in toxic fumes, serious injuries, and property damage. 

How to vet a professional bug-buster. To safely deal with an existing bed bug problem, or to minimize the potential for infestation, hire a professional. Professional pest removal companies train their personnel to properly and safely use insecticides. Using experts can decrease your camp’s liability and show your camp took reasonable measures to manage a bed bug problem.

When considering a pest management expert, get quotes from several reputable companies and look for the following:

  • The company is insured and licensed in your state (check with your state’s Department of Agriculture or Attorney General for the agency regulating pest management companies)
  • A detailed list of what’s included in the quote and what will cost extra
  • A guarantee that lists what it covers, how long the treatment lasts, and what is required for continued control, prevention, and management
  • Written explanations about the products and associated hazards

In addition to improved recordkeeping, staff education, and professional bug-busting help, talk to your insurance agent. He or she can explain if and how your policy financially protects your camp from bed bug claims involving bodily, personal, and emotional injury. You’ll also want to know your responsibility if a camper’s home becomes infested following a stay on your property. 

1 “Bed Bugs FAQs.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 January 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs

2 Potter, Michael F., Rosenberg, Bob, and Henriksen, Missy. “Bugs Without Borders—Defining the Global Bed Bug Resurgence.” The National Pests Management Association and the University of Kentucky 2011. https://npmapestworld.org/default/assets/File/publicpolicy/executivesummaryreleasetomembersFINAL.pdf