Bedbugs are here, but help is at hand

The Register-Guard (OR)
Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't be alarmed, but bedbugs are here in Lane County.

No government agency or industry source keeps count of the number of infestations, but there are reports from all around the county of the blood-sucking insects.

A Lane County health inspector found the bugs at a motel at the coast. A St. Vincent de Paul employee found some on a donated hide-a-bed in a thrift store drive-thru. A pest management company reports finding bugs on rented furniture in three separate instances. A Eugene man got a stubborn infestation after taking home a mattress he found in an alley. And two affordable housing apartments saw infestations.

The age-old pest, which had been all but eradicated in this country in the 1940s, has made a resurgence in the past decade and scientists can't say exactly why.

Heavy infestations have been reported in New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland. Travel is dispersing the bugs, because they're adept at hitching rides on luggage and clothing.

Now, every state in the country is reporting their presence.

A survey of 7,000 members of the National Pest Management Association found 95 percent had treated bedbugs, up from 25 percent in 2000.

"It's pretty much an everyday thing anymore," said Mike Mulloy, Eugene branch manager for Sprague Pest Solutions.

The bedbugs go wherever people do - and not just to places with lax housekeeping. Niketown in Manhattan, for instance, was closed for four days in September because of a bedbug infestation.

"They've been on trains, busses. Just before Christmas, we had a guy who had them in the cab of his pickup truck," Mulloy said. "We're getting more and more office buildings."

State and Multnomah County officials formed a task force four months ago to figure out how prevalent the bugs are in Oregon. Its goal is to publish recommendations in the next two years for county health departments for handling infestations, said Eric Pippert, section manager in the Oregon Office of Environmental Health.

Here's why you shouldn't panic: The biggest danger with bedbug infestations, so far, arises when homeowners panic and misapply pesticides - or hire unqualified pest contractors - that make them sick, public health officials say.

"People will do anything to get rid of bedbugs," said Missy Henriksen, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association.

Nationally, people have been sickened by dousing themselves, their hair, their bedding, their mattress and their children with insecticide, according to the Oregon State University-based National Pesticide Information Center.

At least four times in the past year Oregonians reported they've been sickened by pesticides used to kill bedbugs, said Paul Khokhar, coordinator of the Oregon Pesticide Analytical Response Center. In one case, a Marion County man said his children got rashes after his house was treated for bedbugs a dozen times between June 2010 and February 2011.

The symptoms have included headaches, nausea, sore throats and tightness in the chest, Khokhar said, "It could possibly be dangerous to them."

In some instances, sickness has followed treatment by a pesticide company, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

"There have been cases throughout the country of pest control companies that were misapplying pesticides in people's homes when they were treating for bedbugs," said the center's pesticide specialist Bryan Harper.

The bedbugs themselves, while creepy, are considered fairly benign, Pippert said. The exception is for people with allergies who may have severe reactions to bites.

Bedbugs carry some diseases, but they don't share them with their human hosts, Pippert said.

"It's not the biggest public health problem. It's arguable whether it is a public health problem," he said. "They've been around a long time and its not been shown that they transmit disease."

The first thing needed to eradicate bedbugs is patience, Khokhar said.

Homeowners who try to get rid of bedbugs often inadvertently scatter the infestation, government and industry experts say.

Foggers, for instance, don't kill the bugs but chase them into the walls, where they scamper along electric wires or water pipes to adjacent rooms.

"All you're doing is getting chemical all over the place," said Dave Ottovich, owner of "Ask the Bug Man" Pest Management Services in Eugene.

It's important for home owners to vet pest management companies before hiring them, Ottovich said. Although there are just over a dozen such companies based in Lane County, as many as 40 send crews to work in the county.

"Do your research on companies. Get three or more estimates. Get references," Ottovich said.

Also check the Better Business Bureau for complaints. Homeowners who are uneasy about using chemicals can seek out a company that primarily uses heat and other mechanical control techniques. Insecticides with low toxicity also are available.

The Corvallis-based National Pesticide Information Center offers free telephone consultations.

The center's job is to provide nonbiased, scientific information about pesticides in everyday terms, Harper said.

If a homeowner calls with the name of an insecticide a pest company proposes to use, the center will walk them through the health and environmental risks associated with the chemical - and give them tips about how to minimize exposure to children and pets.

Don't despair, Henriksen said. Homeowners can rid themselves of bedbugs,

"A variety of treatment methods are very effective," she said. "Properly applied pesticides that are right for the right strain, heat (treatments), freezing and steam are effective.

"Sometimes it will take a combination of methods to get rid of bedbugs. Very often it will take more than one treatment to fully eliminate bedbugs."

BED BUG INFORMATION

Illustrated guide: Best_bed-bug-guide_NYC.pdf

National Pesticide Information Center: http://npic.orst.edu/

National Pest Management Association: pestworld.org/bed-bugs

Federal take: www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html

Oregon health: http://public.health.oregon.gov/HealthyEnvironments/Recreation/PoolsLodging/Pages/index.aspx

Bed Bugs Northwest: www.bedbugsnorthwest.com/