Bed Bugs - Back & Biting
Herald-Palladium, SW MichiganBedbugs sound like creatures from a bad horror movie. They can be most anywhere, they feed on human blood, they give people the creeps and the lesions from their bites itch like crazy.
Last seen in great numbers before World War II, bedbugs have made a big comeback worldwide, including Southwest Michigan.
"The past 12 months there has been a significant increase," said Bob Seske, manager of the Rose Pest Solutions in Niles. "It probably has doubled from the year before. That probably has been the trend for the last three to four years."
He said the Niles branch, which covers an area extending from South Haven to Kokomo, Ind., now averages three to five bedbug inquiries a week.
Contrast that to the 1990s, when the entire Rose Pest Solutions company "didn't do a single bedbug job," he said. The Troy, Mich.-based company serves people with bug problems in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
When Johnnie Howard started Howard Pest Control Services Ltd. in the 1980s, "you heard more about ticks, fleas, ants and roaches," he said. "This year we are treating more bedbugs than ever."
He said his Benton Harbor company averages three or four treatments for bedbugs a month.
Bedbugs are no more than a quarter-inch long, reddish-brown and wingless. They don't transmit disease, but their bites can cause infections and allergic reactions in some people.
Unlike some insects, they don't take a winter vacation. "Bedbugs are year-round," Howard said.
Seske said bedbugs have been found in airliners, homes, apartments and cars - "anywhere where people sit for an extended period of time." They've also been found in movie theaters, though not in this area, he said.
Bedbugs don't fly - unless it's on an airliner - so how do they get from place to place? A Detroit News article this week said they can hide in suitcases, pant seams and even inside laptop computer keys.
Seske said affluent people are more likely to travel, and as a result may get or spread bedbugs. "They (bedbugs) have nothing to do with sanitation."
Once in a house, they can travel from room to room, Howard said. "They get in your furniture. They can be anywhere. They hide until someone sits there and they come out and bite them."
Typically they become a problem anywhere where large numbers of people live - apartments, assisted living, college dormitories and hotels.
The Herald-Palladium reported in September 2008 on an infestation at Lakecrest Shoreline Apartments in St. Joseph. An apartment complex representative said there's no current bedbug problem.
Getting rid of bedbugs is "very difficult," Howard said. While information on some consumer insect sprays states they work on bedbugs, the application only forces the insects to go elsewhere rather than killing them.
He said plastic mattress covers can work, because if the bedbugs trapped inside can't get out to feed on humans, they will die.
Seske said "probably the best choice is heat treatment." Heat works on all of the life cycles, from eggs to adults. Heaters increase the temperature inside a house or apartment to at least 120 degrees. He said that in an apartment building heat is used in the infested apartment and, if needed, in neighboring apartments.
But the Detroit News said the heat method takes about six hours and can cost $1,000 per room.
One difficulty in controlling bedbugs is lack of chemical controls. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has removed many pesticides from the market to protect the environment and public health, and approval of new chemicals is a lengthy process.
Dini Miller, an entomologist at Virginia Tech, was quoted in an Associated Press article as saying the resurgence of bedbugs is worldwide. She said until 2001 the only bedbugs she had seen were on microscope slides dating from the 1950s. Now she gets several calls a day from people desperate to deal with the problem.
In a 2006 NBC report, Dr. Miller said the pest's resurgence began with an uptick in international travel, with the bugs getting free rides from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
"I can't tell you how many people have spent the night in their bathtubs because they are so freaked out by bedbugs," she said.
Story: Michael Eliasohn, H-P Correspondent
Photo: Bedbugs are shown swarming after feeding on blood. A.L. Szalanski / GNU Free Documentation License / Wikipedia.org
Herald-Palladium, SW Michigan