Bed Bugs Being Found in Central Illinois

The State Journal-Register
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, IL - Bed bugs are making inroads in central Illinois.

Cheryl Adams, office manager at Adams Insect Control Inc. in Springfield, said bed-bug calls have slowed down a little this summer, but she still gets four or five a month.

"It generally takes a couple of times to get rid of them," she said. "The chemicals have improved, but we still don't always get them all the first time."

How could little bugs, each less than a quarter-inch long and not known to carry diseases transmittable to humans, wreak such havoc on the senses?

"They are hated more than roaches," says Liz Hartry, owner of ABE's Termite & Pest Control in Dawson.

Hartry, who has been in business since November, says a bed bug call was one of the first jobs she did.

"Probably half the business has been bed bugs," she said.

Bed bugs, parasitic pests that prefer to feed on human blood, were all but eradicated at the end of World War II in the U.S. with the use of DDT. But with an increase in travel - especially international travel - and increased resistance to current pesticides, the biting little critters have made a comeback.

There is no requirement that bed-bug outbreaks be reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"But we do hear anecdotal reports," said agency spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. "There are some concerns about college dormitories, hotels and apartment complexes."

"They certainly are in central Illinois, in scattered locations," said Curt Colwell, an entomologist with the state health department. "The vast majority of the reports we get are from Chicago."

Bed bugs reappeared along the Eastern seaboard seven to 10 years ago, according to Colwell, and have been spreading ever since.

"People forgot about them in the pest-control industry," he said. "Having a steep learning curve allowed them to spread further. Chicago has one of the strongest infestations in the country."

Task force

The Illinois Bed Bug Task Force was created by the legislature in 2010 to study bedbug infestations and make specific recommendations for public policy measures. Colwell is one of nine people on the special subcommittee.

"The task force is happening, slowly but surely," Colwell said. "We will get to the legislature with recommendations on how to curb bed bugs, and public awareness will be the major focus."

Recommendations will be aimed particularly at tenants in rental properties to prevent bed bugs from being brought into multi-unit buildings. The recommendations are due by the end of the year.

Giving the client information on how to control the problem is important to success, said Hartry.

A total of 24 members of Hartry's family have been involved in pest control, in some way, since her grandfather went into business in 1960. There are now nine individually owned businesses throughout the family in Illinois, Connecticut and Florida.

'Bites all over'

Harty said people "are pretty sure" they have bed bugs when they call about the problem.

"They'll have bites all over them," she said. "You can usually find feces in the seams of the mattress or box springs, maybe blood specks on the sheets. But you can tell from the bites alone."

To get rid of bed bugs, first you have to find them.

"We tell them we'll have to turn over dresser drawers, take off all the electrical outlet covers," she said. "They're all dusted, and we spray all the baseboards, cracks and crevices. I tape zippers on the mattress covers."

A HEPA-vac with a super-efficient filter sucks up bed bugs and their eggs and larvae.

Colwell said if someone suspects they have bed bugs in their home or apartment, they need to act fast.

"If left to themselves, they will reproduce and they will spread," he said. "Definitely call a pest-control person. Getting rid of bed bugs requires a high level of experience and expertise, and it's a very laborious process.

"You have to tear everything apart and look in every nook and cranny. Even then, they'll probably miss some and follow-up treatment will be required."

Colwell said the cost of treating an average infestation in an average-size single-family home runs anywhere from $300 to $1,000. A single apartment unit can be treated for $300 to $500.

Bug bomb's a dud

Some over-the counter treatments don't work, "notably the total release aerosol, commonly called the bug bomb or fogger," he said.

"It can even be detrimental," Colwell said. "It will kill bed bugs, maybe, but it creates more of a hazard than necessary and may drive them into hiding." Roach powder, or any other product that requires the bugs to ingest it won't work because bed bugs feed on blood and won't eat the powder.

Bed bugs also "have shown significant resistance" to a class of pesticides known as pyrethroids.

"You almost have to spray them directly on the bed bug, and even then it may take a few days to die," he said.

Professional exterminators use some liquid residual products that aren't available to the public, Colwell said, adding, "There also is a dust formulation and a pyrethroid dust that has been successful. But the average person can't get hold of any of those."

Colwell said bed bug pesticides pose little health hazard "once they're dry and if they are used properly."

You don't have to have a dirty home to have bed bugs, he said.

"Cleanliness isn't a factor, although it may be more difficult to control them in a household with a lot of clutter because they have more hiding places," he said.

Adams said bed bugs know no season.

"They're a year-round problem," she said.

Don't make it worse

Jeffrey White, an entomologist with BedBug Central, a New Jersey-based company that provides information on bed bugs, said people don't know much about bed bugs "because they hadn't been heard from in 50 years."

"The bottom line to any of this is education," White said, noting that people must learn how not to bring them into the home.

"Reject any discarded furniture, and if you buy used furniture, ask if the seller has addressed any of those concerns," he said. "Learn how to inspect your hotel room and what to do with your belongings when you get home."

He said learning how not to spread bed bugs - who are good at hitchhiking on clothing and in luggage - is just as important as getting rid of them.

White also advises contacting a professional exterminator. Do-it-yourselfers have a success rate of around 5 percent, he said.

"You can make it worse by trying to do it yourself," White said. "You can spray your box springs, for example, with some of the products you can buy over the counter. Now, they don't want anything to do with the box springs and they go to the coat closet or another tough place to get to."

If you don't have enough money to hire a professional, "at least do your research," White said.

"Go to BedBug Central or another reputable website and follow their instructions so you don't make the problem worse," he said.

"Bed bugs are tough," Hartry said. "It's a challenge."

She said part of the challenge is that "sometimes, you can't get people to do what they're told to do."

"The key is knowledge for both the customer and the professional," she said. "There's always something new to learn when it comes to bugs."

***

Prevention

To prevent bedbug infestations, the National Pest Management Association recommends you should:

* Vacuum suitcases after returning from a vacation.

*  Check your bed sheets for tell-tale blood spots.

*  Store suitcases in large plastic trash bags when staying in a hotel.

*  Carry a small flashlight to assist you with quick visual inspections.

* Never bring second-hand furniture, especially mattresses and box springs, into a home without thoroughly examining them for signs of a bedbug infestation. Have a pest control professional inspect the furniture - it is difficult to detect an infestation if you are untrained.

* Regularly inspect areas where pets sleep for signs of bedbugs.

Hotel visitors

Professionals will tell you not to put anything on the bed when you first enter a hotel room. Put your luggage in the bathtub, then check behind the headboard for bed bugs.

Bed bug summit

BedBug Central, a New Jersey-based organization that provides public information on bed bugs, is hosting its 2011 North American Bed Bug Summit, Sept. 25-27 in Chicago.

The summit will feature 26 leading entomologists, bed bug and legal experts to lead educational sessions. International bed bug experts will provide a global perspective.

Attendance is capped at 1,400, and last year's conference was filled to capacity, said Calvin Allen, public relations director for BedBug Central. Among those who attended the 2010 conference were representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Department of Veterans' Affairs; housing authorities, colleges and universities; attorneys; pest management professionals; the hospitality industry; building managers; and others.

Allen said Chicago was chosen as the site for this year's conference because of its central location.