Waging war against bedbugs
Times Herald-Record (NY)
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Loathsome bedbugs were the last thing Chris,
a 41-year-old professional bodyguard and actor, expected to find in
his rambling old farmhouse in bucolic western Orange County.
There couldn't be hideous bedbugs, not where
the cows roam and there's no one else around his house but him.
"'No way,' I said, 'you got to be kidding
me,'" yelled Chris, when he lifted his bedsheet recently and
spotted a bedbug crawling up his leg. (He's so embarrassed he
didn't want his last name used.
Chris is one of the latest local victims in
a strong comeback by blood-sucking bedbugs that's fueled by
increased travel by people and bedbug resistance to some
"There's now a bedbug epidemic around here,"
says Tim Mills, owner of Middletown-based American Pest Control.
"Five years ago, I'd get one call a year. Now I average one a
And forget the myth that they attack only in
slums. Anyone's blood will do. "They're all over Orange County,"
says Mills. "I've treated for them in the City of Newburgh and in a
mansion in Tuxedo Park."
Why care? After all, medical wisdom has been
that bedbugs don't carry disease.
But Canadian scientists recently discovered
drug-resistant staph bacteria - MRSA - on bedbugs and said that
people who scratch their bites could make breaks in the skin that
might make them more susceptible to germs such as MRSA.
That's all supposition, so far, points out
dermatologist Dr. Steven Wolinsky of Orange Dermatology Associates
in Monroe and Warwick. "Most people who have MRSA don't have bedbug
bites," he says.
Bedbugs do cause extreme mental health
problems, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
which calls bedbugs "pests of significant public health
"People get very upset," says Wolinsky.
"It's the idea of something getting into your bed at night and
Cornwall-based therapist George Toth adds,
"It can be very anxiety-provoking, disorienting, even disabling,
depending on how long it takes to solve," he says. "It affects your
sleep; your life is on hold until they're gone. The insect can seem
to be taking control of your life."
That's because an infestation can also make
you ashamed and desperate. Bedbugs are extremely tenacious and very
expensive to expel.
"I felt like I was dirty, like I couldn't
tell anybody; it was bad," says Chris. "You don't want anybody
"I was freaking out, going nuts, insane," says Chris, who says
he paid hundreds of dollars to get rid of bedbugs that seemed to
crawl out from nowhere. "I'm getting into cabs now and wondering
who was there before me. Someone with bedbugs?"
That ability to get around may explain why
and how bedbugs crawled back from relative obscurity and are now
showing up almost everywhere.
All bedbugs need to get started, says state
entomologist Tim McCabe, "is one pregnant female."
She can lay 200 eggs in two months. Each can
live up to a year. Do the math, and you can see why Mills has found
people "with bedbugs all over the place."
"They're not just in homes," says National
Pest Management Association spokeswoman Missy Henriksen. "They're
in schools, health facilities, offices," just about anywhere a
small, very flat bug about a quarter-inch long can squeeze
That includes, she adds, your window frame
space between the glass and the wood. Even if that looks impossible
to you, Mills has seen bedbugs scramble from hiding after he turned
a hair dryer on the tiny crack between the window glass and
Don't panic is the best advice, says
"People don't want to talk about it," she
says. "They're still stigmatized if they have them."
"First go to a pest control company for a
free estimate to see if you've got bedbugs," says Henriksen.
"Bedbugs might not be your problem."
Calls for help are flooding Hyde Park-based
Craig Thomas Pest Control service manager Bob Gaul. "We've got two
guys doing it eight hours a day," he says.
And they've even got a specially trained
bedbug-sniffing dog whose nose is 96-98 percent accurate in
locating bedbugs, says Gaul. The bedbug-sniffing dog, named
Promise, finds the critters by picking up the beetle's smell (said
to be sort of like coriander).
WHERE TO FIND HELP
The rise in bedbugs is blamed partly on a
lack of public education. Here are some resources where you can
find out practically everything you need to know:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
has extensive facts atwww.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Topics/bedbugs.htm.
• National Pest Management Association
offers videos and what-to-do's at www.pestworld.org/for-consumers/pest-frequently-asked-questions/bedbug-faq.
• The Orange County Health Department
provides good general bedbug information. The county is required to
educate people, but not to control bedbugs. That task is up to
local municipalities, which can require landlords to fix the
• Go online and search "bedbugs and control
and Orange County" for an extensive list of professionals across
the mid-Hudson. This also includes some home remedies.
• Cornell Cooperative Extension in
Middletown accepts bedbugs for identification. Call 344-1234 for
KEEP BEDBUGS AT BAY: WHAT YOU NEED TO
Lou Sorkin is a go-to bedbug expert for the
New York Entomological Society, with his own consulting company,
Entsult Associates of Rye Brook. He's also an entomologist at the
American Museum of Natural History.
Q. What should people do to stop
A. They must be vigilant and knowledgeable.
Get them in the early stages of infestation. Look behind
headboards, pull ruffles around the bed. But bedbugs can sometimes
be 10-30 feet away from the bed. They can be in a couch or comfy
chair, and also luggage and backpacks, and that's how they can be
transported - even to offices. Bedbugs can crawl to you in bed from
closets - typically close to where people stay for long periods of
time. If there are especially heavy infestations, they can be out
in the open - most people don't think about that. They've been
found in picture frames, moldings above the bed, and on walls and
ceilings with wrinkles and cracks, and stucco surfaces.
Q. Can you fight this blood sucker yourself?
Diatomaceous earth (ground up diatoms) works?
A. That works, but never buy the pool grade;
it's like asbestos because it's crystalline. Get the food grade
labeled for pest control, which works well. It dehydrates them.
Also, put pesticide-impregnated cloth on box springs and
encasements of mattresses, but especially covering box springs. A
vacuum cleaner is also very helpful to remove exposed bugs. Eggs
are glued in place and you have to scrape these off. Low vapor
steam systems are also used to treat floors and furniture. The
clothes dryer, even more than the clothes washer, is a very
important tool. You can find a lot of these things online.
Q. Is itching a sign?
A. I don't itch. But many people do. There
can be slight to no hives. That's the whole problem with diagnosis.
There can be slight to no hives to very rare anaphylactic
Q. Is it always expensive to fight them?
A. It's very expensive - that's one of the
biggest problems. But the pest control company will provide
instructions for the homeowner, and there is lots they can do in
preparation before treatment (like bagging all clothing).
Q. Do all bedbugs look alike?
A. You probably don't realize it, but there
are different stages. One is a just-hatched 1-millimeter
pale-colored stage that is often missed because people are told
they're all about a quarter-inch long, or bigger, reddish-brown and
flat. The pale nymph stages show blood color through their pale
skin during feeding.
Q. At least bedbugs bite at night - you're
safe during the day?
A. Feeding can take place any time in light
or dark. You're not safe in bed in the daytime. People think if
they turn on the light, that dissuades them. That's not true at
Q. Where do they come from?
A. Probably evolved from a bat parasite in
the Mediterranean. The Romans used sulfur and other chemicals they
burned that were probably dangerous to us and smelled very bad, but
Q. Do they have natural enemies we can
A. None that can do much. There are house
centipedes and a masked bedbug hunter, some ants and spiders, but
they don't really make a dent.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE: MYTH OR FACT?
MYTH: Bedbugs are a thing of the past.
FACT: Bedbugs came into America with the
early settlers and were common in Colonial times.
In the past decade, bedbugs have been found
in every state in America, and are becoming a major problem in big
cities and small towns across the country.
MYTH: Bedbugs only live in filthy homes.
FACT: Bedbugs have been found in every type
of dwelling, from five-star hotels, apartment buildings and college
dorms to single-family homes and everywhere in between. They are
more interested in places to hide where humans are present than in
MYTH: I'll only get bedbugs if I travel in
the Third World.
FACT: While international travel may
increase your risk of transporting bedbugs, they regularly
hitchhike from hotels that are closer to home. Hotels and motels
can be bedbug havens because of the fresh crop of people each night
and the opportunity to climb aboard luggage.
MYTH: Bedbugs only live in the bedroom.
FACT: While the bedroom is a great place for
nocturnal insects like bedbugs, as infestations become more severe,
bedbugs will move into furniture, fabrics, wall crevices and
flooring cracks throughout your home.
A licensed pest management professional will
carefully inspect your entire dwelling for signs of infestations
while making a treatment plan.
MYTH: I can get rid of bedbugs by leaving my
house empty for a few weeks.
FACT: Adult bedbugs can live as long as 12
months without a meal, so a long vacation won't provide you with
relief. The only way to deal with the problem is to treat it
directly and monitor results over the long haul.
A licensed pest management professional will
help you eliminate bedbugs from your home.
MYTH: Bedbugs are so embarrassing that I
should never tell anyone that I had a problem.
FACT: Having a bedbug infestation in your
home can cause emotional stress. If you need help, seek help. But
keeping an infestation secret from your friends and neighbors can
lead to further spread, especially in apartment buildings,
dormitories and other multi-unit living arrangements.
Keep in mind you didn't go out and purposely
bring bedbugs home. They are insects of opportunity, and they found
you or your personal belongings and came home with you. In many
cases it's friends, relatives, workers etc., who may bring bedbugs
into a home ... not always the homeowner.
To stop the spread, consider telling your
landlord, school housing administration or building manager, and
have them get in touch with a pest management professional right
away. Keep in mind that if you try to get rid of them yourself and
choose the wrong product you could chase or move the bugs to
adjoining apartments or living areas.
Do-it-yourself efforts often make matters
worse and can lead to further spread of an infestation.
Professionals use a variety of products in well-thought-out
strategies to gain control.
Source: The Bedbug Institute; www.bedbuginstitute.com