Bed Bugs a Pervasive Problem
Thursday, July 26, 2012

It was eight years ago that exterminator Paul Rosario first began receiving calls about bedbugs.

Today, he fields multiple panicked calls a day and the once rare occurrence now accounts for the bulk of his business.

"Eventually, I think that everybody is going to be touched by bedbugs," said Rosario, owner of Plan B Canine Detection and Services, of Bayville, N.J., which serves the Wilmington area. "You've probably sat in a hotel that has them, a movie theater or a rental car, and it's all about the likelihood of bringing them home. They really are all over the place."

Bedbug infestations in Delaware and across the country made headlines a few years ago when what the Centers for Disease Control called "an alarming resurgence" in the bedbug population first came to the public's attention. In Delaware, headlines spotlighted individual discoveries of bedbugs in hotel rooms, homes and even a firehouse.

Every infestation is no longer big news, but experts say the bedbugs remain a significant and pervasive problem.

"We get calls about bedbugs all the time," said Bill Leitzinger, administrator of the Office of Healthy Environments with the Delaware Division of Public Health. "Over the last five years we have seen an increase in bedbug calls, and just like other parts of the country it doesn't seem to be a problem that is decreasing."

In the last two weeks, the DHSS has fielded 19 calls regarding bedbugs, said Leitzinger. He said his office usually receives a dozen or more calls a week, sometimes even a day.

"It's a nationwide situation where years ago people thought bedbugs were a thing of the past and now for some reason they are showing up in different places, due to travel and things of that nature," said Faith Kuehn, a plant regulatory official from the Department of Agriculture.

Bedbugs don't spread disease, but they can result in stress, discomfort and itchy, painful sores, according to the Delaware Department of Agriculture, which attributes the spread of the bugs to increasing travel, people's lack of knowledge on how to prevent and control the pest, and bedbugs' increased resistance to pesticides.

In the past two months, Rosario said he was called to check multiple hotels and nearly a dozen houses in the Wilmington area for bedbugs, performing eight to 10 inspections a week.

"Of every 10 inspections we do, five have bedbugs," he said.

Rosario began using bedbug-detecting dogs five years ago in his growing business. He now has a team of two Belgian Malinois, imported from Holland, that sniff for bedbugs, and has ordered another dog because demand is so high.

Anthony Goines realized he had a problem with bedbugs after he moved into an apartment at The Village at Red Clay nearly a year ago and started getting painful sores on his neck, legs and arms.

"It's nasty and there's no other words for it," Goines said. "It's so nasty, you're waking up in the middle of the night scratching … All over my back I have bites and there's plastic on my bed because that's supposed to be the best way to kill them."

At the Village at Red Clay, manager Mark Wiesel of Raleigh Management, who oversees site managers at about 2,000 apartments in Delaware and New Jersey, said every apartment complex battles bedbug issues. He said only a fraction of The Village's 192 units are affected.

"We cannot control when people come into our apartments with bedbugs from [work]," Wiesel said. "What we can do is be aware of it immediately and try to react."

Mark Veasey, with New Castle County codes enforcement, said it's not unusual to receive complaints about bedbugs in apartments. He said The Village management "has generally been responsive to our directives to have a professional evaluate and treat affected units."

The complex has been trying in recent years to minimize the spread of the insect by replacing carpet with hardwood floors, Wiesel said, thoroughly scrubbing down floors when a new tenant moves in, and working with exterminators to try and ensure constant checks are done on high-risk buildings.

Philip Wilson, owner of Wilson Pest Control in Elsmere and a 40-year veteran of the industry, said bedbugs started to become a serious problem in Delaware in the last four years.

"We're a small company, and we're doing one treatment every third day," said Wilson. "In apartment complexes, it's loaded … The past four years, calls have really started coming in because people are traveling more and hotels are getting infested, movie theaters are getting infested."

Bedbugs now account for about one-sixth of the business done by Advanced Pest Management in Newark, behind intruders like cockroaches, mice and stink bugs, said customer service representative Heidi Artrip.

Two years ago, when the problem was grabbing headlines, the amount of business Advanced Pest was doing for bedbugs was "off the charts," she said. Before that, people didn't know to check their hotel rooms for the bugs, or take precautions against bringing them home, Artrip said.

"Two years ago the numbers were through the roof, and now it's calmed down a little bit," she said. "Treatments are more readily available on the shelves now. We definitely have had an increase in calls and a lot of people who want [to utilize our] free inspection because they are worried. A lot of people who travel for their jobs want us to come in and check often and college kids who get them from college who bring them back from the dorm to the house."

Getting rid of the critters is a lengthy and often expensive ordeal, one that Artrip said involves "about a monthlong process that has us in and out of the house three times."

Wilson estimates those with bedbugs in their home will spend anywhere from $600 to $4,000 to get rid of them, as well as hours of cleaning, discarding furniture and placing covers over furniture and beds.

"They just go from apartment to apartment," he said.