Updated: Tuesday, 19 Oct 2010, 11:48 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 19 Oct 2010, 10:00 PM EDT
By Dani Carlson
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - After months of unexplained, mysterious itchy bites, Dan and Anita Sue Wood discovered their Grand Rapids home was infested with bed bugs.
"They're in so many more places than we ever thought that they were, because we just didn't look there, and (those are) the places that they like to go -- because you have things stacked up, jammed together; that's the places they hide," Anita Sue said. "And there's a lot of them."
The Woods are not alone. Since late summer, Target 8 has visited apartment buildings, hotels and thrift stores across the area.
Bed bugs are in West Michigan, and they can target anyone.
"Bed bugs are here to stay," said Kent Vanderwood, of Mel Trotter Ministries. "In the community, they're everywhere. It's not a reflection on an individual or their cleanliness or their socioeconomic (status). It's the best hotels in town -- it's everywhere."
When Dan and Anita Sue Wood finally figured out the source of their problem, their family home was already overrun.
"I started noticing like, I thought crumbs in the bed," Anita Sue said. "Then, I started seeing little, teeny tiny white bugs that were almost pinpoint and white. And then, they would like, play dead until you like, scooched them along, and then they would like, scatter. What really bugged me (was) when I woke up one day and they were crawling all over my shirt.
"I tried to tough it out in there and sleep as long as I could (but) they just multiplied really fast. It seemed like at the end, they were just like, everywhere. You'd see the molted, the bodies, the carcasses from the molting all over the place."
After more than 50 years without bed bugs, Target 8 asked: Why are they popping up now?
"There's a few things that are different in today's society that weren't really the case when these things were a bane before," said Mark Vanderwerp, a board-certified entomologist at Rose Pest Solutions. "There was a lot of chemistries that were used in the '30s and '40s when these things were a plague before that are no longer on the market."
People travel more, experts said, and they accumulate more possessions.
"You also have more belongings -- bigger houses, more square footage -- so, it takes longer to determine that you have an infestation," Vanderwerp said.
Female bed bugs can lay up to 400 eggs in one year, and when indoors, can breed year-round.
But since their bites don't transmit diseases, no one has to report them to the health department, and there's no way to track who has them.
That's what the Woods think happened to them.
The couple travels across the country week after week to watch their daughter's college soccer games, and said some bed bugs probably hitched a ride at one of the hotels where they stayed.
"The bad thing about it is, they're like little hitchhikers," Dan Wood said. "If [you] get one of them, you can take one somewhere, and once it lays its eggs, you know, all of a sudden you have multiple bed bugs in the area. So, that's why it's important to get rid of them all."
So now, the Woods take steps to prevent the unwelcome guests at every hotel they visit.
"Before we even went in the room, we left our luggage out in the hallway and we brought a big florescent flashlight with us," Dan Wood said. "We brought it in and just [did] a thorough inspection of the room first. We lift the sheets up (and) look underneath the mattress."
For the Woods, the major infestation translated to major changes. They had to wash and dry all their clothes and bedding immediately after discovering the bugs, and get dressed in the garage every morning to contain the spread.
Finally, the Woods called Rose Pest Solutions to come out and basically cook the bugs with a heat treatment, which is a way pest control companies eradicate bed bugs without having to use pesticides.
The company brought vacuums, fans and large heaters to the Woods' home.
They warmed up the house to between 120 and 140 degrees, and kept the temperature high for several hours to kill all the bugs and their eggs.
"What we want to do is get the heaters up to 120 degrees, and when we get them up to 120 degrees, we start our clock and we maintain the heat inside the home for at least six hours -- a minimum of six hours," said Dave Popp, a regional manager at Rose.
The heat treatment costs about $1,000 per 1,000 square feet, but it would be about ten times that price to effectively treat the same space with pesticides.
And experts told 24 Hour News 8 it's nearly impossible to beat the bugs alone.
"A lot of the [store-bought] products labeled to kill bed bugs will kill bed bugs," Vanderwerp said. "Really, the issue here is, it's a matter of knowledge. It's a matter of being doggedly determined to get to every spot that these bugs are hiding."
Officials at Mel Trotter Ministries tried store-bought products several months ago when they first realized they had a bed bug problem. They learned just how hard it was to beat the bugs on their own.
"We started out with sprays," said Pamela Chandler, a shelter coordinator at Mel Trotter. "But we still weren't able to get rid of them until the heat treatment."
Now, the ministry has very strict rules, and frequent re-inspections following that $30,000 treatment -- to ensure the bed bugs stay away.
Among other adjustments, everything gets placed in a modified food warmer and cooked at 140 degrees, officials said.
And so far, everything's been fine. It's been months since a bed bug sighting, but Mel Trotter workers know they'll need to remain vigilant.
There's a similar situation at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, where Target 8 investigators found a bed bug on a mattress.
The adult bed bug was not quite the size of a fingernail, and out in broad daylight, likely looking for food.
"That is definitely a bed bug," Vanderwerp said about the pest Target 8 found. "(There's) absolutely no question about it."
Within minutes of bringing the bug to the Grand Rapids store's attention, the mattress was trashed. Representatives there also said they threw away all the other used bedding at the store, too.
The charity's board president also told 24 Hour News 8 in a statement they've never had a problem with bed bugs before, and they're currently studying the problem.
The charity is considering pre-treating all its used furniture and will call other local thrift stores to see what they do to prevent the pests, the statement also said.
Officials there will take whatever steps are possible to make sure bed bugs never visit the showroom floor again.
"If I have to stop taking beds, I'll stop taking beds, you know?" said Ken, a manager at St. Vincent de Paul.
24 Hour News 8 also spent several weeks visiting various addresses listed on bed bug reporting websites.
The problem we found with those sites, such as bedbugreports.com and bedbugregistry.com, is the anonymous reports are not verified by anyone.
But we verified how people can protect themselves and their families.
Anyone who has been around bed bugs -- or in higher-risk places such as thrift stores or garage sales -- should put the clothes they had on (at the time of the possible exposure) in the dryer for about an hour, experts said, to kill any bugs that might be there.
Putting those clothes in the dryer even before the washing machine should prove to be effective, experts said. Next, anyone possibly exposed is advised to shower.
In hotels -- or even if you have any concerns about mattresses or other furniture -- look for bugs or little black spots in the corners and seams of mattresses and cushions.
The bottom line is to be vigilant and aware, experts said.