Refugees Batting Apartments' Bed Bugs
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exterminators have been called to combat a bedbug problem at a Northwest Side apartment complex reserved for refugees seeking asylum.

The outbreak was reported Tuesday at the Dove Tree apartments in the 4500 block of Gardendale. Dove Tree is one of several San Antonio complexes where refugees settle after arriving through the United States Refugee Resettlement Program.

Catholic Charities is helping provide exterminators to spray affected units Friday, according to a source. The organization had no comment Tuesday night.

The pest problem has been reported to affect several buildings.

Nye Reh, from Myanmar, lives with his wife and five other relatives in a two-bedroom unit where a spray of insect droppings covers the corner of a mattress.

Reh said through a relative interpreting for him that he itches throughout the day.

Damanti Biswa said she sleeps near her front door to get away from the bugs.  Tika Biswa interpreted for her, saying she's had the problem for the past month and hadn't reported the bugs to apartment management yet - her husband bought a can of pesticide that has kept the bugs under control so far.

The resurgence of bedbugs has been a problem throughout the United States, not only in apartments but also in the nicest hotels, said  Roseann Vivanco, clinical instructor at the  University of Texas Health Science Center.

Vivanco oversees the  San Antonio Refugee Health Clinic, a student-run free clinic where refugees go for checkups and educational classes.

"We've seen several children come in with what appeared to be insect bites," Vivanco said. "And talking with parents, they confirmed they were bedbug bites. It's been a growing problem, and they're difficult to get rid of."

Last year, the students offered a six-part presentation called "It's a Bug's Life," which covered how to deal with fleas, roaches and bedbugs. They plan to hold another series this summer, Vivanco said.

After the exterminator fumigates the units, she said, the tenants will need to continue cleaning, wash bedsheets with hot water, use vacuum cleaners and steam-clean the furniture - and that takes money that a lot of them don't have.

"Bedbugs don't mean a person is dirty; they don't discriminate between the rich or poor," Vivanco said. "There does need to be some education, continuous cleaning, and they'll need assistance with that. I'm glad to see that Catholic Charities has stepped up to the plate to help out."