Bed bugs are here, there and all over

August 13, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Washington County is getting its share of a national nuisance: bed bugs.

David Barnhart, the director of environmental health for the Washington County Health Department, said many group living facilities and motels are experiencing the problem.

The Alexander House in Hagerstown, a 95-unit apartment building for low-income senior citizens, is coping with bed bugs, said Jack Byers, the president of the nonprofit organization's board.

The Hagerstown Housing Authority, which operates low-income housing units, has seen occasional bed bug infestations, usually a room or two at a time, Executive Director Ted Shankle said.


Bed bugs are small insects that bite. Barnhart said they're not as serious as ticks, spiders or lice, which can carry disease, but they're a nuisance.

Bed bugs are a more modern annoyance in communities across the country.

Michael J. Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland in College Park, cited two main reasons for the recent rise of bed bugs.

About 10 years ago, group living facilities began using traps instead of pesticides to get rid of ants and cockroaches. The spray also had kept bed bugs away, he said.

Also, Americans now travel more to countries with bed bugs and unknowingly bring them back in luggage and clothing, Raupp said.

"During the depression, bed bugs were commonplace in homes, apartments, and boarding houses in this country," Raupp wrote at a website he maintains. "With the advent of insecticides such as DDT after the Second World War, the incidence of indoor pests such as bed bugs was greatly reduced in this country and abroad.

"However, in recent years, there has been a marked increase in reports of bed bugs in homes, apartments, college dormitories, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, and motels."

The Hagerstown Housing Authority has had sporadic bouts of bed bugs for a few years, Shankle said.

"To get rid of them is a major, major problem ...," he said. "It's very expensive."

Chris Howlett, the Housing Authority's director of maintenance, said Potomac Towers and Walnut Towers -- densely populated, high-turnover buildings -- have problems more often.

Howlett said an exterminator examines a room within 24 hours after a complaint is reported. Within a week, the room is sprayed while the resident leaves for at least a few hours, he said.

"The goal, when you identify it, is to treat as soon as possible," Howlett said.

At the Alexander House, "we immediately call the exterminator" when bed bugs are reported, Byers said.

The situation is "not as bad as it was," but remained a problem last month, he said.

Bed bugs can get into picture frames, bed boards and other tight spots, Barnhart said.

It's best to fumigate not just the affected room but adjacent rooms, too, or bed bugs will move from one room to the next, he said.

Tips to fight bed bugs

The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips for preventing bed beg bites and infestations.

Preventing bites

o Cover up. Because bed bugs don't tend to burrow under clothing, you might be able to avoid bites by wearing pajamas that cover as much skin as possible.

o Bug spray. Insect repellents designed to protect against mosquitos or ticks aren't very effective against bedbugs.

o Mosquito netting. Some studies indicate that bed nets impregnated with the pesticide permethrin might help protect sleepers against bed bug bites. However, this practice might help bed bugs develop resistance to this pesticide.

Preventing infestations

o Secondhand items. Inspect used mattresses or upholstered furniture carefully before bringing them into your home.

o Hotel precautions. Check mattress seams for bed bug excrement and place your luggage on tables or dressers instead of on the floor.

o Birds and bats. Eliminate any neighboring bird and bat habitats that might serve as a refuge for bed bugs, especially following an extermination attempt.


The Harvard School of Public Health offers the following advice for travelers who suspect they might have encountered bed bugs while away from home.

o Wash clothing as soon as possible after returning home.

o Inspect suitcases, scrub them with a stiff brush and thoroughly vacuum them. Leaving such luggage for several hours in a closed vehicle in full summer sun might render the items bug free.


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