This undated handout photo provided by the National Pest Management Association show a bed bug in Gainesville, Fla. The federal government is waking up to what has become a growing nightmare in many parts of the country _ a bed bug outbreak. The tiny reddish-brown insects, last seen in great numbers prior to World War II, are on the rebound. They have infested college dormitories, hospital wings, homeless shelters and swanky hotels from New York City to Chicago to Washington. (AP Photo/NPMA) | Buy Journal Photos


By ERIN MATHEWS Salina Journal

Until recently, Rex Lacy said he was better at diagnosing what ailed some Salina residents than their doctors.

“Now they’re seeing more complaints and people coming in,” said the co-owner of Harry Lacy Chemical Co., 938 Sherman. “I think doctors are finally starting to recognize it.”

Lacy said the itchy red welts on arms, legs and necks that often appear in rows, were not caused by dermatitis, fleas, spiders, mosquitoes or some other skin condition.

They were in fact evidence of a tiny nocturnal blood sucker — bed bugs.

The bugs that crept straight out of nursery rhymes are becoming a more common complaint in Salina area homes and apartments.

“Even though they’re part of a nursery rhyme they are for real,” said Mark Hassman, co-owner and vice president of Hassman Termite and Pest Control, 901 E. Prescott. “A lot of people think they’re fictitious.”

Several Salina pest control professionals are reporting a rapidly increasing business in bed bugs.

“It’s gotten bad really fast,” said Dewayne Geissinger, manager of Tox-Eol Pest Management, 417 S. Clark. “It’s getting worse and worse every day.”

He said the company is currently receiving eight to 10 calls a week about bed bug problems.

And bed bugs are difficult and expensive to get rid of. A professional heat treatment to kill eggs and bugs at all stages of life costs between $650 to $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and about $1,500 to $2,500 for a larger home, said Roger Meitler, co-owner of Tox-Eol.

Making a comeback

The pest had been all but eliminated in the United States in the 1940s and ’50s before the environmental effects of chemical pest controls like DDT were recognized and they were banned. In the 1980s and ’90s, increasing world travel helped bring about a resurgence of the bugs on the East and West coasts.

“Not necessarily all things that happen on the coasts come here, but this is one we’re going to share,” Hassman said. He’s received specialized training in bed bug treatment using a technique that combines encasing mattresses, and application of heat and steam and dust pesticides. The method he uses follows a protocol established by entomologists at www.bed

People unknowingly carrying bugs in suitcases can spread infestation to hotel and motel rooms, leaving an unwanted souvenir for the room’s later guests to take home.

People wearing clothing from an infested suitcase or a jacket that had been slung over a chair in an infested room could transfer the bugs or eggs to seats in theaters, churches, public transportation or a couch in a friend’s house.

“If you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re going to get them,” Hassman said.

The bugs are also commonly introduced to homes through secondhand furniture and mattresses. One person pulls out an infested mattress and puts it on the curb, and by the time the person who picks it up realizes why its previous owner didn’t keep it the bugs have found a new home.

Turn up the heat

Meitler said his company was the second pest control business in the state to invest in an expensive piece of equipment called a remedial heat treatment machine to destroy bed bug infestations. The problem, he said, is expected to get much worse.

“It’s been described to me as: ‘There’s a tidal wave coming, and it hasn’t hit us yet,’ ” he said.

Although the bugs do not transmit disease to humans, for people who react to their bite, the itchy red welts they cause can be very unpleasant and finding out the cause is bugs in their bed can be traumatic.

“It’s such an emotional issue with a lot of people,” Meitler said. “It really affects people in an odd way. Sometimes I think we’re part psychologist.”

He said once when he arrived at a house that had been infested after a college student brought the bugs home from a dorm room, he was greeted by a smoldering pile of burned mattresses and furniture on the driveway.

“They’d torn up the carpet and drug everything out and took a match to it,” Meitler said. “When you are getting eaten up every night or your baby is bit, sometimes people want to burn the house down. They don’t want to live there anymore.”

Really hard to treat

Before Tox-Eol purchased the machine, Meitler said, the company had been “slowly losing the battle” against bed bugs, which are more reclusive and harder to treat than fleas and other household pests.

“To be honest, our tool box didn’t have anything in it,” he said. “A lot of companies are passing on work. It’s an uncommon thing to have companies passing up work. That shows what an anomaly this is in our industry.”

The generator-powered machine, which the company has been operating for about three weeks, heats rooms to 120 to 135 degrees, and fans push the hot air into cracks and crevices where bed bugs like to live. The heat treatment kills bugs that may be living inside mattresses or couch cushions saving the expense of replacing furniture, Meitler said.

Bed bugs are becoming a more common complaint right at the time the state suspended its hotel inspection program because of budget cuts.

Be sure you don’t …

Don Sayler, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said the Kansas Senate recently passed a bill that would restore funding for complaint-based inspections of lodging facilities and new construction. The bill will still need to be passed by the House to take effect.

He was there to testify in favor of the bill.

“Our concern is it’s a perception issue,” he said. “If people have a complaint, they need somewhere to call.”

Before the state budget crunch caused the Kansas Department of Agriculture to move its hotel inspectors into restaurant inspections in December, 132 lodging complaints were investigated last year. Thirty-five of those complaints were of bed bugs, and 11 were determined to be valid, Sayler said.

When you consider there are more than 800 lodging facilities licensed in the state, the number of bed bug complaints is not large, he said.

“As an industry, we’re going to have to continue to be observant and proactive if signs are found,” he said. “When you find it, you’ve got to treat it. You can’t just ignore it.”

But Sayler said the fact that bed bugs may be in a room should not reflect poorly on a hotel or motel.

“They have nothing to do with the cleanliness of the property,” he said. “They are transported in through people’s luggage.”

Coast-to-coast bites

If a traveler picks up bugs in New York City, for example, and then stays in three different hotels on his way to the West Coast, he is likely to introduce them to three new environments, Sayler said. If he uses the same suitcase two weeks later on a second trip and there are still active bugs in the bag, he will likely spread them farther.

Pest control professionals agreed that even high-end hotel rooms are susceptible to bed bugs.

“If you’re staying at a motel, it could be top-of-the-line and still have bed bugs,” Lacy said. “Bed bugs don’t care.”

Sayler said the new heat treatment makes sense for hotels and motels. The cost is comparable to traditional chemical treatments and the room can be put back in service the next day, rather than being out of service for about two weeks, he said.

Geissinger said travelers need to be educated about the possibility of bed bugs and keep their eyes open for signs. Take steps to avoid exposure as much as possible by keeping clothes off beds and floors and suitcases closed and on luggage stands, he said. But be aware that the bugs are small enough to inhabit the seams on the outside of a suitcase undetected, he said.

Stopped on the porch

He said recently, about 100 pest control professionals met in McPherson. Many of them stayed at a local motel. The next day over breakfast, he said, they were discussing how hard it was to get the bed headboards away from the wall to check for signs of bed bugs.

Working at bed bug-infested sites is a professional hazard, Meitler said.

“My wife makes me take my clothes off on the front porch if I’ve been working with bed bugs,” he said. “They go right into the washing machine, and I take a shower.”

n Reporter Erin Mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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New Meaning says….
Gives new meaning to the old phrase, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

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