Bed Bugs Aren't Biting Locally
Saturday, March 10, 2012

Across the country, they've been found at luxury hotels and movie theaters and seemingly every place in between in the past two years - with one national news program going so far as to call them the "scourge of America."

But with the bedbug invasion afoot, how badly did the quarter-inch-long insects hit Fort Wayne?

It's hard to tell, but if reports to various agencies are any indication, bedbugs either didn't make it here in droves or are being vastly underreported by those who live in city apartment complexes or have stayed in area hotels.

While bedbugs do not infect humans with diseases, the insects can leave bites on a person that can cause itching and discomfort.

The bigger a bedbug infestation, the more someone might be on the wrong end of bites, which typically result in small red welts.

Only three apartment complexes were cited for having bedbugs in 2011, according to records provided by Neighborhood Code, which is responsible for looking into bedbug problems in city apartment complexes and hotels.

That's up from two apartment complexes cited in 2010, but, all in all, officials at Neighborhood Code have found little evidence of the bug amidst the heavy national news blitz that reported outbreaks in bigger cities such as New York and Boston.

That might be because apartment managers were aggressive in getting ahead of the problem and the national media blitz helped educate people early on in preventing and eradicating bedbugs, according to Cindy Joyner, head of Neighborhood Code.

"We were actually very, very fortunate," Joyner said.

Bedbugs have been around since humans were created and were probably brought to North America by the Europeans, according to Marc Lame, entomology professor at Indiana University and one of the few experts on bedbugs in the state.

'Bad for business'

Transported by humans, bedbugs were all but eradicated with pesticides by the 1980s, Lame said.

But with international travel increasing through the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of the bugs, much to the chagrin of many communities, Lame said.

"In general, communities don't want to talk about bedbugs," he said. "Down here in Bloomington, it's something they see, but if they bring it out in the open too much, it's bad for business."

Despite the low reports of the bug to Fort Wayne officials, there have been some other cases with at least one other agency.

The Fort Wayne Housing Authority, which provides low-income housing, received 65 complaints about bedbugs from 2009 to 2011. Nineteen of those complaints turned out to be cases in which the housing authority had to intervene to take care of the problem.

"Bedbugs are actually a recurring nuisance," said Maynard Scales, executive director of the housing authority.

According to Scales, the housing authority pays for treating an apartment for bedbugs the first time.

That means hiring an exterminator, whose price will vary depending on how widespread the infestation is and where the bedbugs are located.

Scales also said the housing authority makes sure all apartments are free of pests before residents move in.

Residents are also given an extensive checklist on how to handle bedbugs should they be found: mainly that heat kills them and that anything found with bedbugs should be washed extensively.

If bedbugs are found repeatedly in the same apartment, the residents of that apartment might not have their lease renewed, Scales said.

"There is some responsibility on their part," he said.

Stemming the tide

According to Joyner, the lack of bedbugs found in Fort Wayne was due to an aggressive approach from Neighborhood Code, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and the Fort Wayne Apartment Association.

Meetings were conducted to educate managers and residents, to tell them to be wary of bedbugs and what they should do if they encounter the insect.

"Because of how hard Chicago, New York, Indianapolis and Detroit were hit, we wanted to be proactive as possible," said Beth Wyatt, the executive director of the Fort Wayne Apartment Association. "Hopefully, having taken all these steps, we stemmed the tide compared to other areas."

The media blitz - with reports of bedbugs in nearly every newspaper and on every television station across the nation - may have also helped.

"The media did a great job at educating the public," Joyner said.

"They knew it wasn't just an apartment owner's issue, but the tenant also had a responsibility. It had to be an active participation."

Aggressive action

Apartment complexes that did have bedbug problems in recent years were quick to react and cooperated with city officials, according to Joyner.

Managers for one complex, East Central Towers in the 900 block of East Washington Boulevard, dropped off exterminator reports to city officials weekly in 2010 and early 2011 after bedbugs infested several apartments, according to city records.

Owners of other apartments on Shady Brook Drive and Fairfield Avenue cleaned up problems after being cited and before fines were issued, according to city records.

"For the most part, apartment owners were very aggressive and took action," Joyner said.

And squashing any problem early on is the only way to adequately fight bedbugs, said Lame, the IU professor.

He called the bugs "human hitchhikers" and said that if the problem isn't dealt with effectively, any infestation will only get bigger.

"For communities, the best thing they can do is create awareness," Lame said. "They won't go away by themselves."