FALMOUTH - They hide during the day, only to
emerge when you fall asleep, so they can suck your blood under the
cover of darkness.
"There's sort of a boogeyman effect to them,
because they come and feed on you while you're sleeping," said
Thomas Lacey, executive director of the Falmouth Housing Authority,
about bedbugs, which were found at the Harborview Apartments on
Scranton Avenue about three weeks ago.
The housing authority immediately took
corrective measures after residents and building staff discovered
the parasites in the laundry room and at least two units in the
building that's home to elderly and disabled residents, Lacey
Last week, one of the two units was
successfully treated, and dogs trained to track bedbugs found none
outside the other affected unit, which is also scheduled for
treatment, he added.
As the resurgence of bedbugs continues to
leave a trail of itchy bites
across the country, the scourge is beginning
to affect public housing on Cape Cod.
While few infestations have been reported,
officials across the region are preparing for what some see as
inevitable: the need to rid their buildings of the bugs.
"It's like a bad horror flick," said Richard
Pollack, a public health entomologist at Harvard University's
School of Public Health.
Some of the former remedies for bedbugs were
nightmarish. The early 1950s, for instance, brought forth an era
where strong insecticides, such as DDT, were widely sold at low
prices and used in households on a regular basis, Pollack said.
"We know now that ... wasn't such a good
idea," Pollack said, referring to the practice's tendency to leave
lingering, dangerous chemicals for people to inhale.
In the past three years or so, the
prevalence of these pests has grown from barely noticeable to
full-blown, especially in multi-family homes and hotel rooms.
"It's just everywhere; the Cape is no
exception," said Barbara Thurston, Bourne Housing Authority
Thurston experienced the problem firsthand
in early spring when four units at the Continental Apartments,
public housing for elderly residents in Buzzards Bay, became
infested. The housing authority shelled out $250 per hour for a dog
to find the bugs and then $1,000 per unit to eradicate them,
The pricey extermination method used at the
Continental Apartments is a non-toxic one that heats affected rooms
to about 140 degrees, said Sandy Rubenstein, who owns Pure Heat, a
company that provides this service. The heat kills all bedbugs and
eggs without using chemicals, Rubenstein said. Chemical treatments
also remain a popular method for eradicating the bugs.
Bedbugs typically use humans as vehicles to
travel, and they reproduce wherever they land, said Pollack. They
can crawl into clothing or suitcases left unattended in an infested
room and find a new home in a mattress, couch or other places where
they might find something on which to feed. Their methods of
spreading makes places like hotels and apartment buildings
especially vulnerable to the species' proliferation.
"We are preparing in case it does happen,"
said Sandee Perry, executive director of the Barnstable Housing
"(Bedbugs) are around when you have a lot of
people," Perry said. "Unfortunately, it's inevitable."
Staying in front of the problem, Perry is in
contact with other housing authority directors who have dealt with
infestations and sends her employees to training sessions that
teach them how to identify the pesky insects, find where the bugs
came from, and educate residents on how to keep them from
While the small, flat, reddish-brown
creatures are more prevalent than in past years, Pollack said
hysteria over bedbugs has caused many people who seek out his
pest-identifying business, IdentifyUs LLC, to show him samples of
things like table lint, convinced they are bedbugs.
"It's something (on which) we just need to
educate ourselves to deal with in a rational way," Pollack said.
"In many cases, they've already spent $5,000 or more to treat their
home" before discovering it isn't infested.
Pollack also stressed that, contrary to some
social stigmas that only dirty or dilapidated homes become
infested, bedbugs don't discriminate between victims.
"Bedbugs don't care how thick your wallet is
... how clean your house is, or how much you shower," he said.