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Global bed bug infestation has 'increased substantially' in Janesville

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Gina Duwe
June 1, 2013

— Michael Baker is spending his nights on the couch because bed bugs have taken over the bedroom in his Janesville apartment.

Baker is squeezing his 6-foot-2-inch frame onto the couch because he started waking up with bug bites after moving into the apartment in March.

“It looks like I walked through a darn large mosquito patch,” he said.

The infestation in the Janesville apartment building is part of an increase seen locally and nationally in recent years. The United States is one of many countries with an “alarming resurgence” in bed bugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cause is unknown, but experts suspect it is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs and the continuing decline or elimination of effective pest control programs at state and local public health agencies, according to the CDC.

“It has increased substantially over the last couple years,” said Kelly Mack, neighborhood development specialist for the city of Janesville. “People move from apartment to apartment, and when you don't treat the bed bugs, they come with you.”

The bugs are big enough to see, and it's a misconception to think they're found only in dirty homes.

The city doesn't collect data specifically on bed bugs, but Mack said city inspectors deal with the problem “fairly frequently” compared to years ago.

“It's such a big deal because it's so expensive to treat,” she said.

When people get cockroaches or fleas, which are common, they can run to the store for chemical treatments.

“You can't really pick up stuff to take care of bed bugs,” she said.

Bob Wilcox, who owns All Pest Control, is in the middle of four bed bug treatment jobs.

“They're here, and they're on the rise,” he said.

His jobs seem to be split between apartments and homes, often rentals, around Rock and Walworth counties, he said. Hotels are concerned about it and take care of the problem right away, he said.

Some pest companies won't even deal with the insects because they're so hard to exterminate, and Wilcox said that's not a bad practice because he's thought the same thing when struggling with them.

The Rock County Health Department sees the problem at hotels around the county. Environmental Health Director Tim Banwell said he's had about two cases reported this year and two cases last year, compared to probably one in each previous year.

He knows it's an increasing problem from talking with landlords, and his department has referred more people with housing complaints to the city in the recent past.

Baker, a tenant at Kennedy Apartments, originally thought the itchy spots on his skin were a reaction to the chemotherapy treatment he is receiving, but then he found the bugs in his mattress. Doctors told him he needed to get out of the place because the bites could cause an infection, he said.

He and his roommate had been seeking help from their landlord, but Baker said they've gotten no response. His apartment was scheduled to be treated by an exterminator Friday after the city issued the landlord an order to correct, Mack said.

Baker and his neighbors in one of the Kennedy Apartments buildings have been living with the bed bugs since at least January, when a resident first complained to the city, Mack said.

The landlord told the city inspector an exterminator was hired, and the resident was told to call the city if it wasn't taken care of, she said. In March, the city received a complaint from a different tenant. A city inspector checked the apartment and contacted the landlord, who hired an exterminator.

By the end of April, the same tenant called the city to say the problem wasn't fixed, so the city April 26 issued a 30-day order to correct, Mack said. The deadline was Tuesday, but the city gave the landlord until Friday, when Baker's apartment was scheduled for treatment.

“Hopefully, that should take care of it,” Mack said. “If it doesn't, we'll make sure to follow up.”

Baker expressed frustration over the landlord's slow actions, but Dan Wooden, the manager of the apartments, said they've been working on the problem the last few months. Two units were treated, and one more was scheduled for Friday, he said earlier this week. Sometimes it's difficult, he said, because tenants aren't prepared for the treatments.

He said he works hard to keep the buildings “above average” and “to have one person complain like that …” he said.

Several rental properties in Janesville have received orders to correct for bed bugs in recent years, said Tim Gorman, city property maintenance specialist.

When the insect is found in a multiunit building, units on both sides and above and below need to be inspected, Wilcox said. He only treats a place if the bug is found.

Treatments range from chemicals to heat. Heat is faster. The infested area is heated to about 120 degrees for six to eight hours, Wilcox said. The insect and its eggs will die. It works “very well,” but is more expensive—anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000, said Wilcox, who does not do heat treatments.

A series of chemical treatments also can be used, and the industry standard is three to six treatments, he said. Spray kills them, but it has a limited life because the bugs are elusive and resistant, he said. Chemicals also can be used to lure the bugs into traps.

Depending on the severity, a series can cost from $400 to $1,000, he said.

TO PREVENT BED BUGS

The Rock County Health Department offered the following advice to avoid a bed bug problem:

At home

- Vacuum your home regularly. If you have bed bugs, make sure you close the vacuum bag tightly and dispose of it outside your home.

- Avoid used mattresses or secondhand upholstered furniture because it's hard to see whether they harbor bed bugs.

- Check secondhand furniture, beds and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation before bringing them home.

- Secondhand clothing should be placed in a sealed, plastic bag and emptied directly into the washing machine. Wash in hot water and dry on high heat setting to kill bed bugs and their eggs.

- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs, which eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Check for holes regularly.

- Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding spots for bed bugs.

While traveling

- In hotel rooms, avoid putting suitcases or belongings on the bed. The best place to put your luggage to avoid bed bugs is the bathroom.

- Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.

- When you get home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.

For more information, visit www.co.rock.wi.us/bedbugs or call 608-757-5440.



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