Bed Bugs Complaints Made at 34 of 64 North KY Hotels
Friday, May 18, 2012

When John Johnson came from Oklahoma to Florence for a work assignment, he had never even seen a bed bug.

After sharing a room with the pests for several days in a local hotel, he hopes he never crosses paths with one again.

"They were biting me all over," Johnson said. "They were on me and in my clothes. It was awful."

Johnson contacted the hotel manager, who moved him to another room, but as bed bugs often do, they hitched a ride to the new digs.

Frustrated, Johnson called the Northern Kentucky Health Department, which came to the hotel and performed an inspection. After finding evidence of bed bugs, the room was taken out of service until it was determined to be bug-free.

The scenario is all too familiar to area hotel owners and the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Since May 2010, 34 of the 64 Northern Kentucky hotels under the scrutiny of the Health District have been the subject of at least one bed bug complaint.

The hotel with the most complaints over the two-year reporting period was the Drawbridge Inn on Royal Drive in Fort Mitchell with 12 findings of bed bug infestation during inspections and follow-ups, from 20 complaints.

The Super 8 Motel, also on Royal Drive in Fort Mitchell, had 12 findings of bed bug infestation from 17 complaints in the reporting period.

Some inspections at these properties indicated infestations in more than one room.

Steve Divine, Environmental Health and Safety Director for the Northern Kentucky Health District, said the complaint-driven inspection requests run the gamut of area hotels.

"It's not just the mom and pop hotels on the side of the road," Divine said. "It's those all the way up to expensive hotels with big operations that can have the issue. It can happen to any hotel or facility, but it's how they handle it that seems to make the difference."

Based on information in complaint reports obtained by The Enquirer through an open records request, that can vary widely.

When the health department responded to the lone complaint at one hotel, the room in question had been inspected by a pest control company and was scheduled to be shut down for a month.

Complaints at other hotels required multiple follow-up visits before the infestation was resolved.

Divine said most hotel owners and managers cooperate with the Health Department.

"For the most part, they don't want to have them either because it's bad for business," Divine said. "They usually have been very receptive of what we are requiring them to do. They know that's just part of doing business, unfortunately, at this point."

Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said bedbugs have become a national problem that is especially hard to eradicate in hotels.

"It's not limited to a particular city or section of the country or state," McInerney said."We put a lot of information on our website and we hold webinars for our members about bed bugs and what you need to do if you find them in your hotel. We've done training with our (housekeepers) about what to look for in the guest rooms and make sure they do a deep cleaning in certain areas. There's only so much you can do about them because you could clean them up today and tomorrow they can come back again because somebody else brought them in."

Ron Harrison, an entomologist and Technical Services Director for Orkin Pest Control, said it's not surprising so many Northern Kentucky hotels have bed bug issues.

Orkin releases rankings for the worst bed bug cities in the United States, based on its number of calls for service and the Cincinnati metropolitan area has ranked first the last two years.

"It's not definitive, but many experts believe the Cincinnati area is kind of a crossroads, with interstates and a lot of traffic from planes, buses and other forms of transportation," Harrison said. "Clearly there are a lot more bed bug issues in Ohio than most other places."

Columbus, Dayton, and Cleveland have also ranked in the top 15 each of the last two years.

"Cultural diversity in the region could also be a factor," Harrison said. "There may be people coming from other parts of the world where bed bugs are more common who may not be so quick to report it or even know you should report it."

Increases in migration and international travel have been widely identified as factors in the re-emergence of active bed bug populations in the United States. The problem was all but eradicated until the turn of the century when the pests began to reappear in increasing numbers.

"The hotel industry was kind of indifferent to it at first, but in about 2005 it hit really hard," Harrison said. "They jumped on it aggressively and they have developed some wonderful training and great programs and policies to deal with the problem."

Harrison said it's important to realize that incidents of bed bug infestation in a hotel are not evidence of poor housekeeping.

"Bed bugs don't come in on critters or other pests; people bring them in and most of the introductions come by guests," Harrison said. "An employee could bring it in to a locker or to the break room, but to migrate all the way up to the rooms would be quite unusual."

A hotel bed bug inspection by the health department includes examining the bedding, the frame of the bed, the headboard, the area immediately around the bed, the mattress and box springs.

"We're looking for live bugs, the casings where they have shed their outer exoskeleton, droppings and other signs of recent activity," Divine said. "We're also going to look at chairs or couches with cushions, the floor itself and the area where the floor and the wall meet along the baseboard, especially along the sleeping area."

If live bugs or bed bug activity is discovered, that room and all adjacent rooms are shut down and must be evaluated by a professional pest control company and treated as necessary. The room cannot be put back on the market until the health department gets notification that the room has been treated and a follow-up inspection is done.

Surprisingly, considering the number of complaints received, none of the most recent routine inspections by the Northern Kentucky Health Department identified instances of bed bug infestation.

Divine, however, said that is not unusual.

"Unless there is a complaint, we're only doing inspections on hotels once a year," Divine said. "We're only looking at 10 percent (of rooms) on any given visit, so it's kind of going to be hit or miss and the odds aren't necessarily in your favor. If somebody calls in a complaint, obviously they have experienced it in a specific room and hopefully very recently."

While inspections are not scheduled, Divine said hotel owners have a general idea when they are likely to occur. They may perform preventive maintenance at that time to avoid having rooms taken off the market because of infestation.