Don't let the bedbugs bite your association
The Chicago Tribune
Friday, January 28, 2011
By Pamela Dittmer McKuen, Special to the
Here's another expense community associations need to add to their
budgets: bedbug inspections. Long believed to be almost extinct,
these pesky little night-biters have returned with a vengeance and
are headed for a mattress near you.
Bedbug infestations in recent years have increased dramatically in
all 50 states, according to the National Pest Management
Association, which tracks the critters. In a 2010 survey, 95
percent of responding pest-control professionals reported treating
bedbugs during the previous year. In 2000, the number was 25
Last summer, Terminix pest-control service ranked Chicago as the
fifth-most bedbug-infested city in the country.
Missy Henricksen, the pest management association's spokeswoman
and vice president of public affairs, cited possible causes of the
invasion: People are traveling more often and also to far-flung
locations, and some are bringing the pests home. Also, many bedbug
strains have grown resistant to the pesticides available to treat
The most common species of bedbugs, scientifically known as Cimex
lectularius, are small, brown, nocturnal parasites about the size
of an apple seed. Mostly, they thrive on human blood. They hide out
until they are hungry but can go a year without food. You might not
suspect their presence unless you wake up with reddish welts on
Bedbugs are especially problematic in condominium buildings, said
Sara Kantarovich, technical director and entomologist for
Smithereen Pest Management Services, in Niles.
She explained: Bedbugs lurk everywhere, but they are especially
attracted to environments inhabited by large groups of people,
their primary food source. Those environments include apartments,
condominiums, hotels, hospitals and assisted-living centers.
Bedbugs easily travel from unit to unit through electrical outlets,
under baseboards, across hallways, in luggage and on
"In an apartment building, one owner has the authority to enforce
bedbug services or inspections," she said. "In a condo building,
there's no one authority who can enforce those kinds of
Many condo boards and managers won't even discuss the subject, she
"They want to keep things quiet," she said. "They fear that if
word gets out, the value of their property will decrease."
Condo dwellers will be relieved to learn that bedbugs are not
indicative of poor housekeeping, unlike the presence of German
cockroaches and other scavengers, she said.
"People are stigmatized, but this is not a sanitation issue," she
said. "You can be the cleanest person on earth or live in a
$10million condo. Bedbugs do not see lines of socioeconomic
A cluttered home doesn't invite bedbugs, but it does provide more
hiding places that make treatment more difficult, she said.
Another reassurance is that bedbugs don't transmit disease.
However, they do cause health problems such as varying degrees of
skin irritation, stress
anxiety and insomnia, said Henricksen.
Getting rid of the pests is difficult but not impossible.
Treatment methods depend on how widespread the infestation is.
Among the options are high heat, freezing temperatures,
high-powered vacuuming, steam and pesticides, often used in
combination. Heavy infestations require more treatments than light
ones. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to treat a small
infestation to thousands of dollars for a large, stubborn
It's not a job for amateurs, said Henricksen.
"A lot of things can kill bedbugs," she said. "You can pour things
on them. You can step on them and squish them. But unless you get
in to the walls where they are hiding and reproducing, you're not
treating the problem."
"They are one of our most challenging pests," Kantarovich said.
"It's not like you can put (poison) down, walk away and they are
dead. I would take roaches and ants and rats any day of the week
The professionals said the best control is frequent inspections of
common areas and residential units. If an infestation is found in
one unit, the entire building doesn't have to undergo treatment,
but surrounding units should be inspected.
"Condo buildings that are the most successful with their
elimination strategies often have a strong board who is willing to
mandate regular inspections," Kantarovich said. "The sooner they
start, the more successful they will be."
Learn more about bedbugs on the National Pest Management
Association's website, pestworld.org.