Schools Warned to Stay Alert for Bed Bugs
Saturday, October 15, 2011

CHILLICOTHE, OH - Head lice long have been taboo for children and a headache for parents and for schools.

Now, as if those little critters aren't bad enough, there's another nuisance parents and schools might want to be on the lookout for:bedbugs.

While bedbugs don't live directly on the human body as head lice do, they can be carried from an infested home into a school setting by hitching a ride on clothing, a coat, a book bag, and even blankets or pillows.

"Bedbug infestations in schools aren't very common, but schools and child care centers can serve as places where the bugs can jump from the possessions of one student to the possessions of another," said Kelly Spindler, director of environmental health at the Ross County Health District. "In schools, coats and book bags usually hang close together in a tight space, which means they can easily catch a ride to a new home."

Because bedbugs are not thought to carry or spread disease, they are not considered a "public health nuisance," but a nuisance they are. The health district is neither authorized nor required to inspect schools -- or homes -- for the insects and cannot order that they be exterminated if there is an infestation.

Bedbugs are brownish in color and similar in size to an apple seed. However, they usually are flat and can live in very small cracks and crevices, such as behind baseboards and under wallpaper, as well as between mattresses and box springs. They feed on human blood, usually at night, while the host sleeps.

"Bedbugs inject an anesthetic so that the person being bitten will not feel the bite and wake up," Spindler said. "They tend to bite exposed areas of skin, which can be the face, neck, arms, legs, back ... whatever they can get to."

She said the bites affect everyone differently, but often appear in semi-straight lines. The danger comes if a bite site becomes infected through scratching, not to mention the emotional toll an infestation can have on a family.

While schools are not required to report bedbugs, the health district asked them to do so during a recent meeting with the school superintendents.

"Even though we have no authority and no response requirements when it comes to bedbugs, we'd like to know what's going on in the schools," said Rami Yoakum, director of communications for the health district. "What's happening in the schools is certainly an indicator of what's going on in our community as a whole."

Yoakum said the health district is providing information to area schools and is willing to do what it can to help.

Unfortunately, he added, the only way to eliminate bedbugs is through the use of a professional exterminator -- which can be costly.

"We get quite a few calls every month, and we check in periodically with the local pest control people to see how many calls they're getting," he said. "It's important that we all do what we can to prevent their spread. If we allow bedbugs to take hold in our community, we'll all be vulnerable."

He said self-treatment is not recommended. Many of the chemicals are as dangerous to human health as to the insects themselves.