12/19/10 — Health officials: Few bed bug issues

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Health officials: Few bed bug issues

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 19, 2010 1:50 AM

Calls about bed bugs in Wayne County have been minimal, health officials say, despite rumblings in the national news.

In recent months across the U.S., there have been more cases reported in hotels, homes and college dormitories.

Kevin Whitley, director of environmental health, which conducts many inspections locally, recently attended a meeting at the state level on how to approach the situation.

"They're an increasing problem and we have had some complaints in the county about bed bugs," he told the Board of Health Wednesday. "There have been hotels in Wayne County that have bed bugs. We went and had to follow up on any complaints because environmental health does those inspections.

"They had hired a pest control company to come in and treat the problem. Most people, especially hotels, as soon a there's a problem, they're pretty much on top of it."

Should the bugs find their way into homes, residents are advised to call a professional, Whitley said. The "bug bombs" and store remedies are not as effective, he said.

"For us, what the state has told us as far as treating them, basically you have to hire people," he said. "The best thing to do is call a pesticide person to come in. There's no way you can do it effectively with over-the-counter things."

One reason to seek a professional, Whitley said, is because bed bugs are such "quick movers" -- adult bugs can crawl about four feet in a minute, making their way from a hotel room TV stand to a pillow in about two and one-half minutes. With the most basic products, oftentimes it simply forces the bugs into the walls and ceilings.

"They can get behind baseboards, into light sockets," he said. "There's no easy way to get rid of them. You need a comprehensive way to get rid of them."

Bed bugs used to be much more common, particularly before World War II. The pesticide DDT was introduced in the 1940s and 1950s, which virtually eradicated the problem until DDT was banned in 1972.

"The industry as a whole went to non-chemical methods," Whitley said.

While there are professional insecticidal remedies -- dusts, sprays and fumigants -- the non-chemical treatments include mattress encasements, traps and steaming. Mechanical drying is also effective, he said, explaining that as putting clothes into a dryer on high heat or in the freezer, both which can kill the bugs.

Important to note, the health officials said, is that there are no known health problems associated with bed bugs.

"The good news is they don't transmit any bacterial or viral diseases that we know of yet," said James Roosen, health director. "The bad news is that they're very prevalent and causing a lot of problems at hotels and apartments."

The main thing is that bed bugs are seeking a blood source, Whitley said, resulting in bites to humans.

"Bed bugs have not been proven to transmit any disease such as HIV," he said. "Basically, they're just a nuisance that causes sleepless nights and psychological stress as far as thinking about them."

Dr. Ashton Griffin, medical director for the Health Department, also had a word of caution to alleviate widespread fear.

"I have never seen bed bugs and I have never seen a trail of bites like that but flea bites look like that, so if you have got a row of bites, and you have a dog, it might be that," he said.