Area hotels work to avoid the bedbugs' bite
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Todd Nelson usually sits in his unmarked, windowless white van
to watch the hotel room mere paces away, closely monitoring the
interior by placing devices inside that transmit to his laptop.
But for Tuesday's stakeout, he's hiding in the next hotel room
with his laptop and extra matchbox-sized devices fitted snugly into
the foam of a large plastic case. He's been waiting three
"Anything above red is dead," Nelson says, pointing at the
It's time to enter the room he's been watching. The couch is
turned on its side and propped against the wall. Kitchen cabinets
and drawers are all open. The headboard is off the wall, and the
mattress is against the wall, the thin ticking on the bottom cut
open. And the inside door handle is hot to the touch. The room
itself is like a sauna.
No one's here. But something is.
That's why Nelson is at this Henderson motel. While still not
publicizing the fact, many valley hoteliers have begun to
aggressively fight the tiny bugs, realizing it's a pest that won't
go away on its own but only multiply.
"This hotel owner called me and said, 'I got some complaints.
Get down here,' " said Nelson, general manager of Bed Bug Thermal
Solutions, who charges $1,000 per hotel room to get rid of the
bugs. "Hotels weren't so proactive a couple years ago."
Nelson uses a generator, 125-pound heaters and fans to kill the
country's most difficult pest to exterminate. His computer monitors
temperatures throughout the room, making sure every square foot is
Hot enough is 130 degrees.
"At 115, they come looking for the meal," he said. "At 120, they
start dying out."
Such unusual practices are needed because bedbugs have grown
resistant to "almost all pesticides" made to treat them, according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead,
exterminators manually vacuum the bugs and eggs or use heat.
RESURGENCE FROM THE EAST
The CDC reports that bedbugs were nearly eradicated in
industrialized countries such as the United States up until a few
years ago. The first U.S. reports of the resurgence came from the
East Coast. Bedbugs infested more than a dozen New York City
schools and part of the Empire State Building.
About three years ago, Las Vegas exterminators noticed an uptick
in bedbug calls, according to Gregg Wears, environmental health
supervisor for the Southern Nevada Health District. The exact
extent of Las Vegas' infestations remains unknown. All the evidence
is anecdotal because neither the district nor any U.S. agency
tracks bedbug cases. And hotels -- well known as the source of many
infestations -- aren't required to report cases.
That's because until a couple days ago, bedbugs weren't known to
spread diseases, unlike other bloodsuckers.
"They are a nuisance," Wears said. "They itch like the dickens
but aren't a health concern."
NOT TIME TO PUSH THE PANIC BUTTON'
However, Canadian scientists detected drug-resistant staph
bacteria in bedbugs from three hospital patients in a downtrodden
Vancouver, British Columbia, neighborhood, according to a CDC
report released last week.
"It's not time to push the panic button," said Marc Romney, one
of the study's authors, adding that it's unclear whether the
bacteria originated with the bedbugs or were merely picked up from
the people. The bacteria often are seen in hospitals.
"This is an eye opener," said Wears, adding that it might be
cause for the CDC to initiate a bedbug tracking system, depending
on findings of follow-up research. "We're in wait-and-see mode
Nevertheless, Wears hypothesizes that bedbugs are on the decline
in the Las Vegas area based on continually decreasing bedbug
complaints. In large part, this is attributable to hotels no longer
trying to sweep bedbugs under the rug, so to speak, as they were
during the initial boom of a few years ago, said Wears, who was the
Strip supervisor for the past 6½ years. More and more hotels are
dealing with bedbugs head on, which is the only way to eradicate
the persistent and quickly multiplying bug.
Nelson works with hotels on a regular basis, ranging from
mom-and-pop operations to megaresorts, and has also noticed a
shifting in many Las Vegas hoteliers' attitudes -- out of
necessity. That's because the public has awakened to the bedbug
invasion. And they want to know what their hotel is doing about
A hotel Nelson worked for received 30 cancellations because the
front-desk person gave the wrong answer to a question about
"The odds of getting bedbugs is like pulling the slots lever
here in Vegas," Nelson said. "It's just bad luck. But every one
right now is assuming that everyone has them."
One in five Americans has experienced a bedbug infestation or
knows someone who has encountered bedbugs, according to the
National Pest Management Association, which surveyed adults across
the country in November. The association also surveyed 1,000 pest
exterminators last spring and found that 95 percent encountered
bedbug infestations in the past year, also forcing them to become
educated on a pest many had never seen before.
TAKING THE OFFENSIVE
Many local hotels have realized that to keep their image
untarnished they can no longer ignore bedbugs but must embrace
their resurgence, according to Nevada State Entomologist Jeff
Knight, who often speaks to hotels on the issue. He said many
hotels are developing bedbug programs so that when guests ask,
they're prepared with the right answer. These programs often entail
a quarterly check by exterminators, training housekeepers to spot
bedbugs and training customer service employees on answering
Wynn Resorts is doing all of this and more. The hotel has its
own canine unit for sniffing out bedbugs.
"In light of our efforts, we can state with confidence that our
resorts are free of bedbugs," spokeswoman Deanna Pettit said.
MGM Resorts International, which has 35,200 rooms on the Strip,
designs its rooms to give bedbugs the fewest places to hide, trains
staff to inspect rooms and hires professionals to quarterly check
its rooms. As a result, MGM claims it hasn't seen an increase in
bedbugs despite the national resurgence, according to spokeswoman
This proactive approach is encouraging to Kurt Trombetti,
president of the Nevada Pest Control Association and owner of
Enviro Safe Pest Control. Otherwise, it wouldn't take long for Las
Vegas to be overrun.
"Where you have travel, you're going to have bedbugs," he said
of the parasites that hitchhike on people's clothing. "And we're an
entertainment capital of the world. Frankly, we have to be pro
He has definitely noticed more bedbug business in recent years
but nowhere near the boom back East. He attributes that to Las
Vegas hoteliers moving to the front lines, not hiding and hoping to
go unnoticed and unharmed. For example, the state pest control
association is hosting a bedbug workshop on May 24 for hotels and
property managers. Trombetti said he expects representatives from
every major hotel there, about 500 total.
The workshop is being repeated at 15 cities across the country
through May, the first effort of its kind solely to battle bedbugs,
a spokesperson for the National Pest Management Association
MORE JOBS THAN HE CAN HANDLE
That's good news for Nelson who has more jobs than he and his
white van can handle. He received four Las Vegas house calls while
working at the Henderson hotel Tuesday and has to drive to
Pocatello, Idaho, by Thursday. Then, it's off to Jackson Hole,
"Jesus, I'm never going to get home," he said.
You might see him driving down the road with a magnetic sign
reading "Bed Bug Thermal Solutions" stuck to the side of his van.
But within five miles of any job, he stops and pulls the magnet
off. Time to go undercover.