Bed Bugs Bedevil Valley Kids At Science Camp
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sixth-grade camp comes with the usual risks of the great outdoors - mosquito bites, ticks, poison oak, sunburns, slips, splinters, scrapes. Now, add bedbugs to the list.

Foothills Horizons outdoor school takes precautions, but roughly one out of its 200 weekly visitors still gets bitten, said Stanislaus County Office of Education administrator Bob Gausman.

Last week, that one was a student at Mountain View Middle School in the Chatom Union School District in Turlock.

The girl, whose mother asked that her name not be used, has a severe case and will miss more than a week of school. Inflamed, itchy bites are on her face, and her hands are too blistered to hold a pencil, her mother said.

Bedbug woes have scurried across the valley as well. The Sacramento-to-Modesto area rated 41st in the nation for infestations in an ABC News report last week. In 2010, the stretch ranked 65th.

Gausman said the county office, which operates the camp, knows about the recent case and sympathizes. "Even 99 percent (no-bites rate) isn't good enough," he said. A paper explaining how to avoid and treat bedbugs is sent home before kids come.

The bloodsuckers do not naturally occur in the wild, so the camp's first bedbugs likely rode in on a visitor's sleeping bag in 2009, Gausman said.

He said his office works with the Tuolumne County Health Department and a pest management company. The camp has no carpets or curtains, no upholstered couches and all mattresses are encased in plastic. Kids bring their bedding, towels and clothing.

But the bugs' eggs, roughly the size of pepper grains, can hide in cracks in wood or behind light switches. They can live hidden in cracks for months, and newcomers can creep in with the next batch of unsuspecting campers.

"They're so tenacious," he said.

Gausman said all the buildings are cleaned after each group leaves, with night checks for the tiny nocturnal critters. If there are any reports of bites, those buildings get a deep heat treatment to kill bugs and eggs. Safety regulations limit pesticide use in student areas.