Bed Bugs Make Resurgence in Homes
Telegram.com (Worchester, MA)
Sunday, January 13, 2013
When Brian White and his crew show up to exterminate bedbugs,
which they do often in the city these days, they're sometimes met
with an exasperated show-and-tell from the humans on the menu for
the nocturnal parasites.
"If the tenants are around, they're showing you their arms and legs
and all the bites and saying, 'We never see the bugs. How can they
be doing all this to us?' " Mr. White said.
Sometimes he lifts up the box spring or platform under a mattress
and peels back the felt on the bottom to reveal the tiny
bloodsuckers lurking inside.
"Once I show them, they never want to sleep on that bed again, and
I don't blame them," said Mr. White, owner of Pro-Tech Pest
All but eradicated from developed countries by the middle of the
20th century, bedbugs began making a robust comeback about six
years ago for reasons that aren't entirely understood but may
include increased travel abroad and federal bans on certain
The unpleasant trajectory of the bedbug resurgence in Worcester is
clear in the number of reported infestations logged by the city's
Department of Inspectional Services.
The department got just three calls about bedbugs in 2006. The
number of calls had increased to 20 by 2008 and then to 74 by 2010.
Last year, the city got 96 bedbug calls, according to the
And those are just the cases when a tenant complained to the city.
In other instances, a landlord or property-management company takes
care of the problem without involvement from the city.
"The bedbug issue is one of the more costly pest control issues
we've ever dealt with. It absolutely exploded over the last few
years," said Sandra Katz, president of the Worcester Property
Owners Association. "I had a landlord who spent close to $10,000 on
extermination for just one building."
Pro-Tech's Mr. White also can vouch for the extent of the parasite
problem, which has had the opposite effect on his bottom
"I get a call for bedbugs every single day. That's no joke," Mr.
White said. "There are more bedbugs in the city than roaches. I can
tell you that for sure. It's flipped."
Amanda M. Wilson, Worcester's director of housing and health
inspections, said she's been asked to speak to charity and
community groups about bedbugs as the biting pests become an
increasingly vexing problem for their clients and staff.
"I've seen infestations where, as soon as you flip up the fold at
the edge of the mattress, you see the old shells where they've
molted, live ones, eggs and the clear babies that haven't fed yet,"
Ms. Wilson said. "The other sign is tiny blood spots on the
mattress. After they feed and walk away, they can leave a little
trail of blood."
With bedbugs living inside heated homes near their food source, the
infestations continue to plague residents through the winter. The
department typically learns of bedbug infestations from tenants,
but some cases are reported by visiting nurses, social workers and
even educators who notice children with itchy, red welts on their
arms and legs.
While the city sometimes allows landlords of smaller properties to
take a crack at getting rid of mice or roaches on their own, it
requires professional extermination of bedbugs in every case. The
parasites are tricky to eradicate because they can't be baited with
poison like mice or roaches, and because they can survive months
without feeding, Ms. Wilson said.
Bedbug extermination also entails a much higher degree of
inconvenience for and cooperation from tenants, which isn't always
forthcoming, said Ms. Katz of the Worcester Property Owners
After bedbugs began making a comeback here, the Worcester Housing
Authority grew so concerned that the biting insects would migrate
throughout buildings as tenants visited each other, officials set
up a protocol of regular inspections.
"One day, out of the blue, somebody said, 'Oh, we have some
bedbugs.' It was the first we had ever heard of it, and we had to
start from scratch," WHA Executive Director Raymond V. Mariano
The housing authority found vendors who use specially trained
beagles capable of sniffing out bedbugs and their eggs in bed
frames, walls and other hiding spots. Mr. Mariano said all of the
authority's roughly 3,000 apartments are checked for bedbugs by the
dogs at least once a year now.
"I remember growing up saying, 'What's a bedbug?' I thought it was
just some silly saying. 'Don't let the bedbugs bite.' Now I know
it's not," Mr. Mariano said.
Dominique Nicolay and Andrew Valk of Worcester learned just how
real bedbugs are the hard way a few years ago. They stayed in a
nice hotel in Boston and, in the morning, discovered they weren't
the only guests in the room that night.
"I had a rash with welts all over my stomach," Mr. Valk
Not long after, his son's Boston office had to be treated for
bedbugs, and his daughter moved into a house in Shrewsbury and
started getting bitten. Ms. Nicolay was looking to start a
business, so Mr. Valk suggested she get into what appeared to be a
The couple bought two dogs from a Florida canine academy, completed
the handler training and then got certified by the National
Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association and another industry
Their home-based business, Mass Bed Bug Busters, now has clients
all over the state and region as the bedbug problem spreads and
worsens. They have a beagle named Nicki and a beagle-Jack Russell
terrier mix named Malamar trained to sniff out the elusive, tiny
The dogs have found bedbug infestations in places ranging from
computer keyboards to picture frames. Typically, bedbugs take up
residence near where people sleep or sit still for long periods of
time. Because the bites are painless, people don't have to be
asleep to become dinner for bedbugs.
Ms. Nicolay recently brought her dogs to the home of a woman who
was getting bit but could find no signs of the bugs on her mattress
or bed frame. Following their noses, Nicki and Malamar zeroed in on
"I flipped over the cushion and, sure enough, bedbugs were
scurrying around underneath it. The woman showed me her bites, and
she had welts all over her back," Ms. Nicolay said.
The couple have been hired to bring their dogs to gritty urban
neighborhoods and leafy suburbs alike. They've searched houses,
apartment buildings, residential care facilities, movie theaters,
libraries, buses and cars over the years.
Whether an infestation is discovered by dogs or the people feasted
upon, the next step requires pest-control technicians to get to
work using special pesticides and, in some cases, portable heaters
that kill the insects by baking a room or entire building.
The initial treatment for a typical three-decker costs about
$1,200, and follow-up treatments often are necessary at additional
expense, Mr. White said.
The Worcester Housing Authority handles routine infestations
in-house but calls in pest-control companies in difficult cases.
The agency's treatment protocol requires tenants to have their
clothes and linens commercially laundered at high temperatures.
They also are asked to store possessions in special containers, and
sometimes furniture in the unit has to be sealed in plastic bags
"We rip it up before we throw it out, so people don't pick up the
furniture and bring it back in," Mr. Mariano said. "Bedbugs are
really hard to get rid of if you don't do it right. You wouldn't
want to wish this on your worst enemy."