BY ELLEN CREAGER
FREE PRESS TRAVEL WRITER
It's enough to make your skin crawl.
A bedbug outbreak this month at Riverfront apartments in Detroit and a federal conference Wednesday on bedbug problems in the state of Ohio are symptoms of something bigger -- a worsening nationwide bedbug
"The problem has grown in a huge way. We were rarely seeing cases five years ago. Today, we are seeing several thousands over the course of the year," said Russell Ives, president of Rose Pest Solutions in Troy.
The tiny insect vampires suck blood after dark and often leave little red rashes on victims. They don't spread disease, but they spread disgust.
Bedbug calls rose 180% in metro Detroit between 2008 and 2009, according to data from Orkin Pest Control. It ranks Detroit as the nation's fifth-worst city for bedbugs, behind Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Chicago and Denver.
Officials in Ohio, dubbed the nation's worst bedbug state, and federal officials discussed ways to control
Unwanted souvenirs easy to pick up Bedbugs can crawl into your luggage or hitch a ride on your clothes. They can lurk on airplane seats or hide in your hotel bedspread. You can pick them up unknowingly on vacation and bring them back to your house, apartment or dorm.
And "in three months, an infestation of two adult bedbugs can grow into an infestation of 302 bedbugs," said Ron Harrison, director of technical services for Orkin Pest Control in Atlanta. The rebound in bedbugs in Michigan and nationwide is partly the result of more international travel, experts say. But the bugs don't stay in your suitcase when you get home.
An estimated 75% of bedbug treatments in metro Detroit are for multi-family housing, especially assisted living centers and apartment complexes, according to data from Orkin's four metro branches. About 22% are for single-family homes, and 2%-3% are for hotels and motels.
Bedbugs feed on blood, biting victims at night. There have been scattered reports of people being bitten on cruise ships and airplanes -- plus retail shops and movie theaters in New York City and even a library in Denver.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association in Washington, D.C., which speaks for the hotel industry, has urged member hotels to train housekeeping and pest-control staffs to watch for bedbugs. When hotels get bedbugs, they usually rely on insecticides.
In Michigan, "most hotels are working very hard to be responsive to the situation," said Russell Ives, president of Rose Pest Solutions in Troy. "But a room can be free of bedbugs one night, and then the next day have bedbugs in it, brought in by a traveler, and the traveler may not even know."
Over time, the problem may get better -- or worse. In nature, bugs tend to adjust to their environment, peaking then declining as predators move in. But what predator feasts on bedbugs?
"We're not aware of any," Ives said.
Travelers can minimize their chance of bringing home bedbugs. College students can use these tips in the dorm:
- Even at a really nice lodging, check for bedbugs. Cleanliness and price don't protect you.
- Hang clothes in closets far from the bed. In a hotel, don't put clothes in drawers. Keep your suitcase on a rack.
- Bring a little flashlight, pull back the bedspread and check the edges of the mattress for little black or red spots. Check the headboard, frame, nightstand, curtains, edges of carpets, loose wallpaper, plaster cracks, even crevices of TVs, clocks and telephones.
- When you get home, vacuum your suitcase before bringing it in the house.