Bedbugs unwelcome camp guests

Omaha World Herald
Saturday, June 25, 2011

You expect bugs at summer camp. The usual suspects - mosquitoes, gnats and flies - always make an appearance amid the fun and adventure of camp.

But a summer camp in Gretna for children with diabetes was cut short this week after bedbugs made an unexpected and unwelcome appearance.

The small bloodsuckers have made big news in recent years and just never went away, pest experts say.

Exterminators in the Omaha area say they get two to three bedbug calls a day, and Douglas County health officials say there have been more overall bedbug cases this year.

About 100 campers at Camp Floyd Rogers were forced to leave early from the Eastern Nebraska 4-H Center because of a bedbug infestation in at least two cabins, said Jared Parker, director of the 4-H center in Gretna.

Bedbugs are flat, tiny insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their bites cause itchy reactions, but they are not known to spread diseases.

The bugs were spotted by campers on Tuesday, and by Thursday, the group was gone - two days earlier than planned, Parker said.

"When the camp was terminated early, many tears were shed," said Pamela Lawson, of Papillion, whose 14-year-old granddaughter, Chloe Lamprecht, attended the camp.

"She looks forward to reuniting with her friends all year ... It was disappointing," Lawson said.

Clothing and bedding were bagged up to prevent the spread of any bedbug hitchhikers. Families were told to wash and dry their clothing on high temperature.

The 4-H center then used heat, chemicals and a bedbug-sniffing dog to root out all the critters.

All 10 cabins will be purged before the next group of campers arrives on Monday, Parker said.

Parents of those campers are being alerted to the bedbug situation, he said.

Reid Steinkraus, Douglas County's supervisor of sanitation control, said the bedbug problem has remained steady since its resurgence around 2008.

Very few hotels have had infestations this summer, Steinkraus said, but there have been extensive bedbug problems in some Omaha Housing Authority towers.

Monty West, owner of Omaha Pest Control Inc., said he's responded to infestations at day camps, child care facilities, movie theaters and residences.

John Wanninger, owner of Pest Solutions 365, has seen bedbugs mostly in assisted-living facilities and apartment complexes.

Earlier this month, bedbugs turned up on the third floor of Nebraska Hall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

And in May, the itty-bitty biting bugs were found on furniture in a Des Moines fire station. A public hospital in Des Moines also fell victim to the hardy insects in March.

"They'll hide anywhere. The seams of a mattress, the nightstand, headboard, on the baseboard trim, in outlets, children's toys and cribs," Wanninger said.

He said a big issue is that some people can't afford the cost of eradicating bedbugs, which can run from $400 to $2,000 depending on the treatment and size of the infected area.

Wanninger was recently called out to a home with four elderly residents that was overrun with bedbugs. Even after lowering the price to cost only, the residents couldn't afford it. He said he is working with the residents' family members to raise the amount needed.

"Some people are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have extra money. It happens two to three times a week," he said. "It's a bad situation."

West said he doesn't believe bedbugs will ever go away because they spread by stowing away with people who travel. They can also spread from room to room in apartments and hotels, according to the National Pest Management Association.

Health officials in Nebraska and Iowa say no community has been spared from having a bedbug infestation and that, contrary to common belief, everyone is at risk of getting bedbugs.