Pest Exterminators Get Lessons on Battling Bedbugs

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Friday, July 29, 2011

ARLINGTON -- You know you're becoming a problem when people get together and spend three days discussing ways to kill you.

Bed bugs, the tiny, nighttime bloodsuckers, are in back in Texas and spreading fast enough to draw 200 pest control companies and vendors to Arlington this week for the first Bedbug Academy of the Southwest.

Hosted by the Texas Pest Control Association and Bedbug Central, a New Jersey company, entomologists and bedbug management experts spent Thursday through Saturday at the Hilton Hotel demonstrating ways to kill the pests.

It was an unusual sight -- stuffed bedbugs lined a vendor tables, videos of the creeping bugs flashed on screens and fake bedrooms and living rooms set up for hands-on treatment sessions.

Notoriously hard to kill, bedbugs hide in mattress crevices, box springs and bed frames, where they lay eggs. They are excellent travelers, hitchhiking in the suitcases of unsuspecting travelers.

Heating chambers, vaporizers and specialized vacuums and steam equipment can be necessary to kill them. It also can cost tens of thousands of dollars for large infestations.

Session leaders spend 90 minutes in the mock bedroom and living room showing attendees how to remove bedbugs from every piece of furniture.

"Texas is a few years behind New York and New Jersey with the bedbug problem because they've only recently started to show up here," said Jeffrey White, a Bedbug Central entomologist. "So you have pest control companies that are encountering them for the first time and are not sure exactly how to handle them."

It is hard to gauge exactly how fast bedbugs are spreading in Texas. Bedbugs do not spread disease and are not considered a health threat so public health departments do not track infestations.

Once almost eradicated, the bugs reemergence is attributed to the banning of pesticides that killed them.

In Tarrant County, they have already wreaked some havoc, forcing the closure of a Fort Worth Housing Authority property. They also have appeared in college dormitories and apartment buildings.

"We get calls every day," said Raymond Porter of Bizzy Bees Pest Control Service in Carrolton. "I would say we're probably doing in the neighborhood of 40 jobs a week. And it's getting worse."

Certified Termite and Pest Control, also in Carrolton, started performing bedbug treatments at apartment properties about 18 months ago, said Scott Young, company president and academy attendee.

"The problem is definitely multiplying rapidly," he said. "You can tell just by talking to the other companies here.

Many infected properties are low income and house some international residents, Young said. Residents from other countries are sometimes more willing to tolerate the pests because they are a more common problems in other counties, he said. So treatment is delayed until the infestation gets really bad and spreads to other units.

"The problem is, you can have two bedbugs turn into 35,000 in just 10 weeks," he said.

Other Texas cities are also dealing with bedbugs, including Houston, Austin and several in west Texas. Brent Berg, a pest control technician in Amarillo, said he had been in the business for 20 years and saw his first bed bug in the field about two years ago.

"Someone called and said they thought they had bedbugs and I thought 'Oh sure, it's probably something else,'" he said. "Then I inspected the mattress and sure enough, they were bedbugs.

"Pretty amazing to go 18 years and not see one and, in the last two years, suddenly you see a lot more regularly."