Don’t let the bed bugs bite!
The bedtime rhyme “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” hits closer to home now that bed bugs have made a comeback in the United States.
Dave Duncan, a licensed pest control specialist in Crestline, calls the bed bug resurgence “an epidemic.” While he does not mean to cause a panic, he reported that three years ago, he may have gotten one call a month about bed bugs. Last year it was one call a week, and now it’s becoming one call a day.
According to Duncan, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati are all in the list of top 10 cities in the country for reported bed bug cases. He has treated numerous cases in Galion and other communities in the area within the last couple of years, and the exterminator does not see the problem slowing down. If anything, he says it will get worse.
For the month of August this year, the Galion Health Department received three complaints about bed bugs — but that number represents the people who called. There may have been any number of other cases that went unreported.
Stephanie Zmuda, environmental health director at Galion City Health Department, admitted that bed bug cases are under-reported because the health departments cannot do anything to help people who are infested. However, she said she would still like people to call and report an infestation so she knows what the community is dealing with.
Bed bugs have never been proven to spread disease to humans, which is why health departments do not label the issue as an epidemic or public health priority. But that does not mean the health — and bank accounts — of the victims is not at stake.
Duncan said he has personally seen the toll on a person’s mental health that bed bugs can bring. While the bite of a bed bug is painless, he said it’s common for people who know or think they are infested to become paranoid and stop sleeping, not to mention stressing out about the situation. Because of this, their overall quality of life decreases.
Zmuda agreed with Duncan. “Aside from physical effects, living with and battling a bed bug infestation can also be emotionally and psychologically devastating,” she commented.
A concerned Galion resident, who wished to remain anonymous, had an infestation recently in one of the four rental homes she owns in town. It cost her $1,600 to get the problem resolved, but that’s not why she’s concerned.
When the resident found out bed bugs can hide on backpacks, purses and clothing, she was concerned that if children are unknowingly carrying them, the bugs will infest schools and spread rapidly.
And her concern is not paranoia: Bed bugs have been known to inhabit office buildings, hospitals and, yes, even public schools.
“We can’t afford this,” the resident said.
FIGHTING AN EPIDEMIC
Duncan gave a presentation on bed bugs at the Mansfield Public Library on Oct. 2. He has been in pest control for 10 years and talked about the biology and habits of the insect, as well as how to prevent an infestation.
His advice? Know your enemy.
The bed bug is very secretive, hiding in small, dark cracks and crevices. It is nocturnal, but can change its habits to adapt to a host’s sleeping cycle.
In its lifetime, one bed bug can lay up to 400 eggs. It can also live up to one year without a blood meal in some cases. The bugs hide in everything, not just beds. They have been found in couches, chairs, books, wooden dressers and desks, carpet, inside of walls, cars, electrical sockets and even electronic devices.
They can be transferred very easily, and it sometimes takes as long as three months to know you have them in your home. “The way we socialize and interact with each other makes it perfect for bed bugs to just take over,” Duncan said.
Despite popular belief, bed bugs are not attracted to filth. Duncan calls them “equal opportunity” because they do not care if a person is clean or dirty, rich or poor. In fact, no matter how clean a home is, it is still susceptible to an infestation.
Multi-unit apartments are at the highest risk, as well as places with multiple people using furniture like motels, dorm rooms and movie theaters. The bugs can crawl through walls into adjoining rooms and units.
As far as prevention, Duncan recommends inspecting your home regularly. Check under your bed sheets and mattress, especially around the seams where bed bugs tend to congregate. Also check under furniture cushions. In addition to bed bugs themselves, look for small, black fecal droppings and shed skin. (The same goes for staying at hotels or a friend’s home.)
To limit the possibility of the bugs entering your home, avoid buying used things at garage sales and used clothing stores as much as possible. If you do, inspect your purchases closely.
If you think you may have bed bugs, DO NOT attempt to solve the problem yourself. This is advice that Duncan and Zmuda both emphasize.
Spraying pesticides and insect repellents just scatters them and they are resistant to some chemicals. Duncan also explained that proper protective equipment such as a mask, gloves and boots are needed to treat an infestation. “You can do more harm to yourself than the bed bugs can do to you,” he said.
Also, if you have bed bugs, do not throw away a mattress by carrying it through the house and putting it on the curb. Instead, wrap it in plastic immediately, then mark it when it is disposed of so people will know it is infested. (For example, spray painting “bed bugs” on it might stop other people from taking it.) Duncan recalled one mattress that infected three different places because no one knew there were bed bugs inside it.
If you throw away any clothes or other furniture, mark those as well. Recently he did a job in Galion that had nothing but rental furniture inside. Employees of the rental store came and took the furniture out of the infested house. He did not know if the furniture was treated before being rented out again.
Clothes and bedding linens can be treated by putting them in a dryer on the highest heat setting for twenty minutes. (A temperature of at least 113 degrees kills them—not hot water, but dry heat.)
Ultimately though, both Duncan and Zmuda say to call a pest control specialist. Duncan is not just promoting his business. At the Oct. 2 meeting, he recommended that people call multiple pest control operators to get estimates and ask questions on how they treat the problem. He added that some will do free inspections, but people should have a reason to ask for an inspection (spotting bed bugs, droppings or shed skin).
Zmuda noted: “Professional pest control specialists have access to the pesticides that are most effective against bedbugs and have been trained to apply them properly. “
Duncan said real pest controllers should be licensed by the state and be able to show you a card to prove it. Also, they cannot be licensed without having insurance, so they should be able to prove that as well. An average cost for a chemical treatment in this area is $400, depending on size of the home. Heat treatments cost much more and a freezing treatment is not always effective.
He does a combination of heat and chemical treatment, then comes back in two weeks and treats again to ensure he erradicated all the bugs. For him, the bottom line is: don’t spend the money and still have the problem.
Quick facts about bed bugs from the Galion Health Department website (www.galionhealth.org/environmental-health/bed-bugs)and the Central Ohio Bed Bugs website (www.centralohiobedbugs.org):
Appearance: egg sacks look like a small grain of rice; babies are clear, but as they grow and feed, they become a reddish-brown; and adults are reddish-brown with oval-shaped bodies, they are flat when unfed and the body swells when they feed.
Bed bugs are nocturnal and feed on human blood about every 7 days. They have been known to feed on animals, but humans are preferred. The bite of a bed bug is painless. A single bug can be responsible for numerous bites during the night, and scratching the bites can lead to infection.
While bed bugs haven’t been known to transmit disease to humans, their bites usually leave behind itchy, red welts similar to mosquito bites. (Symptoms vary from person to person, though).
Bed bugs do not jump or fly but can walk very fast. They are attracted to body heat and carbon dioxide. They hide in small cracks and crevices, usually inside beds and furniture that people frequently sleep and sit on.
A single bug can lay up to 400 eggs in its lifetime, allowing them to multiply very quickly. They can be transferred very easily because egg sacks are extremely sticky.
For more information:
Galion Health Department — 419–468-1075
Ohio Department of Health Zoonotic Disease Program ID Service — 614–752-1029
OSU Pest Diagnostic Clinic — 614–292-5006