NEWARK — Bed bugs: They’re everywhere. And they’re not just under your covers.
They could be in your floorboards, your nightstands, your luggage, the hotel you stayed at, the hospital you visited.
“It’s across the country, it’s everywhere,” said Robert Amore, owner of Independent Termite and Pest Control, based in Newark. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Last week, the community was stirred up about a couple of bed bugs found at Newark High School. Hundreds of students were pulled out of school and a social-media frenzy ensued. The district said it took extra measures during the weekend to make sure the affected classrooms were cleaned.
But it was only a matter of time before a student brought bed bugs to school, said Richard Amore, owner of Helmick’s Exterminating Co., based in Newark, and brother of Robert Amore. The prevalence of bed bugs in Licking County, central Ohio and the rest of the state and country has steadily grown in recent years.
Although the district took heat from parents, the fact is bed bugs can happen anywhere to anyone, experts said. And unless stronger chemicals are approved or cheaper extermination methods develop, there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to stop them besides being more watchful, experts said.
Richard Amore said he’s fielding 10 calls a day about local bed bug problems. Robert Amore said he takes 12 to 15 bed bug calls per week.
Bed bugs showed up in force in Cincinnati and have spread north, said Mark Beal, chief of the Division of Plant Health for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The people who commented for this story all agreed: Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers.
“(Bed bugs) are spreading throughout the rural areas,” Beal said. “It’s a problem and a serious problem.”
The impending crisis caused the formation of the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force in 2008, which was an attempt to head off the bed bug infestation, said Paul Wenning, the chairman of the task force who retired from the Franklin County Health Department.
The group, which lists a wide range of partners including law enforcement, schools, health centers and housing groups, provides information to those groups and the general public on its website. The task force is set to hold its sixth annual Bed Bug Summit on Oct. 11 in Grove City.
Bed bugs are expensive
Anywhere people are, bed bugs are.
Richard Amore said they’ve been found in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. Beal said they’ve been found in library books and electronic devices.
And once bed bugs are found, they’re not cheap to get rid of. Wenning said a single treatment for a single-family home averages $800 to $1,000, and it could take four to six treatments to take care of the problem.
So even though the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force has set out to dispel the rumor that bed bugs are a low-income problem, addressing infestation has become a question of affordability.
“A whole lot of people can’t afford to do anything, so you keep them,” Richard Amore said.
Extermination costs so much because multiple chemicals are used and bed bugs are usually holed up in the nooks and crannies of a residence, Wenning said. They only live indoors and can live without feeding for months, said Susan Jones, an associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University who specializes in bed bugs.
“They’re the most well-adapted parasite we have,” said Jones, who is also a member of the bed bug task force.
Plus, some pesticides that kill bed bugs have not been approved for residential use. No one chemical can eradicate them all, and over-the-counter methods aren’t effective, Jones said.
“They’re the most-expensive insect to deal with,” she said.
Beal said the state Department of Agriculture requested permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to authorize for residential use the chemical propoxur, which is supposed to be effective against bed bugs. The state has not heard back from the EPA since 2009, when the request was submitted.
Area institutions take action
Anywhere people congregate, bed bugs could be exchanged.
At some other populous Licking County institutions, procedures have been adopted to attempt to prevent such invasions.
Jeanne Emmons, infection prevention director for Licking Memorial Hospital, said staff members have seen an increase of patients with bed bugs in the past year and a half.
If it appears a patient has bed bugs — staff are trained look for the signs, Emmons said — the patients are bathed and their belongings are quarantined in a plastic bag.
Emmons said the hospital uses extermination services at least weekly to keep the hospital free of any insects. Emmons said she wanted to emphasize the hospital is not a place from which people will come and pick up bed bugs.
“We have such a heightened awareness. We’re vigilant about them,” she said. “The public is safe to come here.”
Another potential problem area is colleges with dorms. At Denison University, there has been only one documented incident of bed bugs, in 2009, according to a statement provided by media relations manager Ginny Sharkey. In that incident, the room was sealed and heat-treated.
According to the statement, if bed bugs were reported in a dorm room, building service crews would check the room and mattress. The legs of the bed would be placed in detection cups, or small bowls filled with talcum powder, in an effort to trap bugs trying to climb up the legs of the bed.
Keeping them out
What can be done to prevent bed bugs in your home? Education is the best weapon we have, experts said.
“(It’s about) realizing it is a problem, realize it can happen to you,” Beal said.
Knowing the visual evidence of bed bugs to catch them early is important, such as little blood spatters on bed sheets or the bites they leave on your skin, Beal said.
But what if you want to stop them from coming in at all? It could take a nuanced routine if you’re serious about it, Richard Amore said.
If you come home from a trip, you’ll need to disrobe in an outer area such as a garage, seal your clothes in some type of plastic container and throw them into a dryer, he said. Drying clothes on high heat is supposed to kill the bugs and any of their eggs.
Wenning said clothes bought at a flea market or thrift store need to be sealed in a plastic bag until they have been dried in a dryer for 30 minutes. He also recommended against buying used furniture.
And there’s nothing wrong with being too cautious, Wenning said.
“If you think it’s a bed bug, find out quickly and get treatment right away,” he said.
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