Bed Bugs at University of Denver, Second Incident of Academic Year

DenverPost.com
Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The University of Denver housing authorities are busy quelling student concerns following the second round of bedbugs found in residence halls this academic year.

"It's quite possible that we've had some small incidents before but never received the publicity of these," said Dr. Patricia Helton, associate provost for student life.

Two rooms and four students were impacted when bedbugs were discovered in Centennial Towers on March 22. The event unfolded during the campus' spring break, and the rooms have been cleared of pests. This past fall, 16 rooms and 30 students were impacted by a bedbug infestation in Johnson-McFarlane residence hall. Both facilities primarily house first- and second-year students.

"When people hear 'bedbugs,' they kind of freak out," Helton said. "Oftentimes they're so elusive, students don't even know they have them."

The reddish brown, flat-backed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. Their greatest threat is a skin bite that can leave a red, irritated mark and may cause an allergic reaction for some.Helton said that not all cases are reported on campus, as students may never see the bugs and assume they were bitten by something else.

"Here in Colorado, bugs aren't real bad, but places like Florida I know have huge issues," Helton said. "Now that we've had some experiences with a few, we're getting better protocol to deal with them."

DU is working to improve their systems of both preparation and response. An important aspect of prevention is clarifying the true risks and debunking the myths.

"It has nothing to do with people being dirty, although if it is cluttered then these bugs have more places to go," Helton said.

The university discourages students from bringing furniture into the halls, as they may carry bugs in with them, which is why the rooms are furnished.

"There's really no way to know where they came from," Helton said. "They tend to hitch a ride on any sort of fabric."

Infected fabrics must be heated to 120 degrees to kill bedbugs. The university has purchased heating tents for people's clothing and bedding, but that does not always get rid of the problem.

"If the students are sloppy and don't get everything clean, then we have a problem," Helton said. "Even if you vacuum, you need to get rid of the vacuum bag."

There are three processes - vapor strips, a form of freezing, and fumigation - that the university has in its arsenal for eradicating the pests, a decision that is made with the impacted student's desires in mind.

"It really is just a huge inconvenience for the students," Helton said. "Right now we are just working on a bit of education for everyone."