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Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite

Bed bugs have become more common in the United States since the ban of harsh pesticides, like DDT.

Bed bugs have become more common in the United States since the ban of harsh pesticides, like DDT.

“We’re getting more calls than we ever have,” says Corliss Brecht, nurse epidemiologist with El Paso County Public Health. “But we don’t have any statistics or data, because bed bugs, though annoying, are not a public health risk. They don’t carry diseases. We do everything we can to help callers, to educate them and give them advice, but we don’t investigate complaints.”

Let’s face it. We’re transient. Soldiers and other military personnel come and go, sometimes from third-world places. Lots of people move here from other states. We have lots of tourism and our residents tend to be travelers. A few of those people are bound to carry pests, on occasion.

“When we get a call that involves a rental property, like an apartment, we can send them to Code Enforcement,” Brecht says. “If the situation is bad, they can investigate and make the landlord clean the place up.”

Ken Lewis, the city’s Code Enforcement supervisor, says the bed bug problem has been growing in the past five years, but seems to be leveling off.
If the complaint is about a multi-family dwelling, the city’s housing code regarding pests (including cockroaches and mice) goes into effect and the landlord must take care of the problem. If the complaint is about an individual family dwelling, the tenant is responsible.

“Either way, the tenant needs to be involved” in the eradication process, he says.

Nobody, however, is charged with inspecting hotels or motels. Though none we contacted wanted to talk about the subject, they assured us they have their own protocols for preventing, checking and treating, if necessary.

Signs of the Times

Bed bugs – tiny parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood – almost disappeared in the second half of the 20th century, Brecht says, and many think it was because of deadly pesticides like DDT. However, since those chemicals have been banned from use, the critters are making a big comeback. The question becomes: Would you rather have bed bugs or poisoned apples?

“It’s a trade-off,” Brecht says.

If you suspect you have bed bugs, look for them to be active at night. During the day, they hide in the seams of mattresses, in bed frames, baseboards and even behind wallpaper. If you can slip a credit card into a crack, a bedbug can get in there, too. They’re about the size of an apple seed, but can flatten themselves to almost nothing.

Most often, people don’t know they have them till they get bites. Some people just get small red spots; others get welts. Each person is different. Usually, the bites will heal fairly quickly. If you scratch them and introduce bacteria, they can get infected, however. Then you should see a doctor, Brecht says.

There are lots of home remedies and some products available on the Internet to get rid of them, but if you can afford it, Brecht strongly suggests hiring a professional pest management company to get rid of the pests safely and prevent them from coming back. “I’ve even heard some have bed-bug sniffing dogs!”

Ways to prevent bed bugs fall mostly into the “common sense” category. Wash bed linens and vacuum often. Keep clutter (hiding places) out of the house. Check used furniture well before you take or buy it. And when you travel, always put your suitcase on a stand, not on the floor. If it must go on the floor, keep it zipped shut.

Orkin, one of the nation’s largest pest management companies, gets calls daily to come check them out in the Pikes Peak region, says local branch manager Daniel Kaupp. Cases here have increased in the past few years.

“They can be fairly hard to find,” he says, “especially when they’re newly hatched.”

But the local Orkin company has a secret weapon. Her name is May and she’s a bed bug-sniffing German shepherd. She comes to Colorado Springs at least once a week to show off her talent.

“She can find a single bed bug,” Kaupp says. “She’s just phenomenal.”

More on Bugs

If you want to see if your apartment complex or hotel has had any bed bug reports, visit www.bedbugreports.com/city/co-colorado_springs.
The Center for Disease Control also has some good information at www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/.
And find our local Public Health factsheet at www.elpasocountyhealth.org/sites/default/files/files/services/infectious-diseases/BedbugsFactsheet2011.pdf.