Aug 27, 2010 Ami Olson Uncategorized
They’re tiny bloodsucking pests that infest everything from furniture to picture frames to laptop computers, with no discrimination for race, age or social class, and they may be coming soon to a mattress near you.
This summer alone, bedbugs have been blamed for shutting down a Times Square movie theatre, a handful of major retail stores and offices for CNN and Elle magazine in New York City.
But bedbugs aren’t strictly a NYC problem.
“The Health Department has been experiencing an increase in bedbug calls over the last several years, from one to two a month to one to two a week, most of them from homeowners and tenants with a few insitutions included,” said Kevin Zimmerman, director of environmental health at the Onondaga County Health Department.
They are quickly becoming just as real a threat in Central New York, and Syracuse area residents stand to lose sleep over the issue.
What are bedbugs?
Bedbugs are flat, wingless insects that feed on blood. They follow the trail of CO2 expressed by their victims during their deepest sleep stages, usually right before dawn. Bedbugs inject the bite site to prevent their prey from feeling the gruesome interaction, then they have their fill and scurry back into their hiding spots, usually around the seams of a mattress, inside bed frames or even inside cracks in ceilings and walls.
For most people, the small itchy bumps left behind are the only evidence of bedbugs’ presence in their home — and some people don’t react to the bites.
Translation: you may have them, and not even know it.
Tiny black dots of bedbug waste along mattress seams, or spots of blood on your sheets are also indicators of an infestation.
Where are they?
Since bedbugs love the blood of sleeping humans, its natural that they are most often found where large numbers of people sleep. Like, apartment complexes and dormitories.
This summer brought complaints of bedbugs in senior housing in Skaneateles and Syracuse apartment buildings.
But despite the 7,800 students housed on campus at Syracuse University, only a handful of bedbug invasions have occurred in the last five years.
JD Tessier, director of housing and food services maintenance zone at SU, said of the few cases of bedbugs in SU dorms they’ve all been instances of residents bringing them in from somewhere else. For that, Tessier said he’s been lucky.
The block and concrete construction of most student housing helps deter the bugs, which are fond of structural cracks as well as textiles like bedding, rugs and drapes.
Isolating the infected area, laundering clothing, destroying mattresses and cleaning all surfaces, as well as having the room treated professionally by an exterminator, is part of the SU protocol, whether the pest is bedbugs or lice.
But for that process to be effective, the problem must be easily contained — which means students should alert Tessier to any problem immediately.
“Boy, when that call comes in here that there’s a complaint of bedbugs we run because we don’t want that to expand,” Tessier said.
Getting them gone for good
There are a few key factors that have allowed bedbugs to regain their foothold among household nighttime terrors. The number one factor: we can’t kill ’em.
“The obstacles getting in the way of bed bug control are multi-faceted,” said research entomologist Jeffrey White, of bedbugcentral.com. “One of key reasons is the lack of effective liquid residual pesticides.”
When DDT all but wiped out bedbugs in the mid-20th century, public awareness of the bugs followed suit. But in the meantime, bedbugs have become all resistant to pesticides and DDT has since been outlawed, making humans less of a threat to the bedbug.
Another factor is increased travel. Another is ignorance.
“Public education is going to be tremendously important to abating the spread of bed bugs,” said White.
The Onondaga County Health Department’s monthly newsletter included bedbug tips, but since the bugs are not known to transmit disease, the department does not have enforcement authority for eradication, “except in permitted facilities such as hotels and motels where the sanitary code does not allow any insect infestations,” Zimmerman said.
Arm yourself with information
It will be tough to fight an insect that most people don’t even know exist, but with outreach and education it will not be impossible.
A fact sheet is available online through the health department at ongov.net/health/news. And sites like bedbugcentral.com offer both advice for eliminating infestations and educational information for preventing bedbugs.
Though Gov. Paterson this summer vetoed a law that would have required mattress retailers to sanitize used mattresses to combat against the bugs, lawmakers have also passed a bill onto Paterson that would force landlords to disclose a rental unit’s bedbug history.
Think you have bedbugs?
Don’t panic. Whatever you do, don’t sleep in a different room or pack a bag to take to your friend’s home for the night because you’ll likely take hitchhikers with you.
There are loads of tips for DIY remedies, like placing each leg of your bed frame in a small dish filled with baby oil or liquid soap to keep the bugs from crawling in or out of your bed or lining the doorways into the “infected” room with thick double-sided tape to trap escapees.
But it is almost impossible to eradicate them without help. Even professional exterminators typically apply three pesticide treatments to squash an invasion.
Calling the health department will get residents advice and tips, but there isn’t much else they can do.
“Of course our best advice is to use a professional exterminator,” Zimmerman said.