October 12, 2011
Since the early 2000s, there has been an “alarming resurgence in the population of bed bugs” in the United States, according to both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And since the bug hitchhikes into communities in a variety of ways – in the luggage of unwary travellers, for example, or on furniture – no place is immune to the pest, not even rural areas like Pipestone County.
Five properties have been treated in Pipestone County over the past three years, with two more scheduled for treatment this week. And those are just the statistics from one pest control company: Plunkett’s Pest Control out of Sioux Falls, a pest control company that covers the upper Midwest from Montana to Michigan.
Over the past five years in the tri-state area of Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa, Plunkett’s has treated 120 properties for bed bug.
One of the Pipestone places Plunkett’s treated just last week was one of Pipestone’s public housing units, Nokomis Apartments. Tammy Manderscheid, director of the Pipestone Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), said they discovered the bed bugs in one man’s apartment after he moved out. He didn’t let the HRA know about the bugs, which then spread to the apartment next door where the tenant noticed the telltale bites on her skin.
Manderscheid took quick action, contacting Plunkett’s to treat the two apartments last week. She then alerted the tenants in the HRA’s newsletter that the bugs had been found and treated. She asked that tenants be on the lookout for the bugs or bites and to report them immediately if discovered.
“It’s a huge burden for us,” Manderscheid said – it cost $3,480 to treat the two apartments – but added, “We feel that it’s all taken care of.”
Bed bugs are reddish-brown, oval, flat and the size of an apple pit. After biting its victim, the tiny bug scurries back to its crack or crevice hiding place, which can be found all over the home, including in the crevices of mattresses and box springs, behind the headboard, or in other furniture or objects. In some cases, the bugs are so well hidden they cannot be found unless items are taken apart.
Though the bugs can be distressing and difficult to eradicate, and though blood is their meal, they are not known to transmit diseases, including blood-borne disease like HIV or hepatitis. Pipestone County Medical Center has posted a bed bug fact sheet on its website, but confirmed last week that it has not treated any cases of bed bug bites.
‘An equal opportunity pest’
One of the myths about bed bugs is that the pest only appears if a person or their home is unclean.
“That’s part of the problem,” said Dr. Colleen Cannon, a Plunkett’s staff entymologist. “When bed bugs turn up, people are afraid that they did something wrong, that they’re filthy or their housekeeping is not up to par.”
The shame of having bed bugs will prevent people from coming forward and treating the pest, until it’s completely out of control. But bed bugs are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. That means whether a person lives in a mansion scrubbed daily by hired help or a hostel without running water, the human presence will keep these ancient pests around – not dirt.
“It’s an equal opportunity pest – rich, poor, five-star hotel or flop house,” said Dr. Cannon.
Once the bugs are detected, there are over 300 different products registered by the EPA for use against bed bugs, in addition to high powered vacuums and heat systems to treat infestations.
Plunkett’s does not use chemicals as the first line of defense, particularly as the inactive stages, such as the eggs and pupa, are the toughest to kill with chemicals, Dr. Cannon said. Instead, its heat system hits all the life stages and kills them.
“Research shows they (bed bugs) die in the vicinity of 111-114 degrees, but we overshoot because of the way heat is distributed,” Dr. Cannon said. “So our ballpark is 130.”
Plunkett’s also uses a bed bug sniffing dog named “Tracker” for large spaces like hotels, movie theaters and clothing warehouses that would take a long time to search completely.
“A dog speeds that up and adds to the accuracy and their findings are confirmed by people,” Dr. Cannon said.
Why the come-back?
When our ancestors were still living in caves, they were living with bed bugs. That’s how long this ancient pest has been feasting on sleeping humans.
In the United States the bed bug went into a kind of remission after World War II when the U.S. began hitting it with heavy chemicals like DDT. That chemical, also toxic to the environment, has since been banned.
Though there’s no doubt that bed bugs are thriving in the U.S. today, Dr. Cannon said “why” is the million dollar question.
Experts suspect the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides; greater international travel from places that have bed bug issues; greater domestic travel; lack of knowledge regarding bed bug control due to the bug’s prolonged absence; and the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.
Since bed bug distribution is strongly linked with travel, hotels and motels run greater risks of contact with bed bugs, which then hop rides with unwary travelers to other hotels, apartments, or homes.
When traveling, Dr. Cannon said she keeps her luggage in the bathtub. The insect likes to hide in wood and fabrics and so the smooth surface of the bathtub would be difficult to scale.
“Just be aware when you’re traveling,” she advised, inspecting luggage thoroughly before bringing it back into the house. For those who like to practice extreme caution, she suggested unpacking in the garage so clothing can be inserted into plastic bags and immediately brought to the laundry room for washing.
Once the pest has entered a community it can hitch a ride in numerous ways to other abodes, whether through infested beds and furniture left on a curb and picked up by another or in large housing units, like dorm rooms or apartment complexes, where people may be more apt to trade clothing or furniture.
“Please do not trade or give away items such as bedding or furniture, as you don’t know if (you) are spreading them from one unit to another,” Manderscheid advised tenants in her newsletter.
Though professionals don’t know why the bed bugs populations are again thriving, the bugs seem to be here to stay.
“I can tell you that they’re everywhere,” Dr. Cannon said. “I have a bad feeling that unless things change, we’re all going to be intimately familiar with them. They’re so good at hitchhiking, and good at hiding. So people discover them only when bitten.”
Do you have bed bugs?
When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:
- Dark spots (about this size •), which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1 mm) and white.
- Skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
- Live bed bugs.
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
Common Bed Bug Myths
Myth: You can’t see a bed bug.
Reality: You should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.
Myth: Bed bugs live in dirty places.
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. However, clutter offers more hiding spots.
Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.
Reality: There are no cases that indicate bed bugs pass diseases from one host to another. Lab tests have shown that it is unlikely that the insect is capable of infecting its host.
Myth: Bed bugs won’t come out if the room is brightly lit.?
Reality: While bed bugs prefer darkness, keeping the light on at night won’t deter these pests from biting you.
Myth: Pesticide applications alone will easily eliminate bed bug infestations.
Reality: Bed bug control can only be maintained through a comprehensive treatment strategy that incorporates a variety of techniques and vigilant monitoring. Proper use of pesticides may be one component of the strategy, but will not eliminate bed bugs alone. In addition, bed bugs populations in different geographic areas of the country have developed resistance to many pesticidal modes of action. If you’re dealing with a resistant population, some products and application methods may only serve to make the problem worse. It is a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional (PMP) if you have bed bugs in your home.
Source of fact boxes: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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