Bedbugs are not ‘going to go away’

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2nd public forum stresses problem, how to handle it

By Lisa King

Sounding a public alarm for the second time in six months, officials in Shelby County brought together Thursday experts who offered pesky news: That infestation of bedbugs plaguing the county won’t be going away anytime soon.

“There is no magic bullet now that can get rid of them; it’s a combination of things that’s going to do it,” said Steve Sims, a branch manager of the Kentucky State Department of Agriculture, pointing to a giant image of a gruesome-looking bedbug displayed during a workshop at Stratton Center.

The evening included presentations from the North Central Health Department, University of Kentucky Entomology, city and county officials, first responders, and pest control companies, and about 70, including some landlords, gathered to learn more about the growing bedbug problem and what could be done about it.

Retired veterinarian Carl Pippin, who is on the board of directors of the Shelby County Health Department, stressed to the group that many other communities are plagued by bedbugs.

“This is a real problem that is not confined to Shelby County,” he said. “They [bedbugs] are everywhere, and they’re not going to go away.”

The National Pest Management Association reported that in 2012, 95 percent of U.S. pest management companies encountered a bedbug infestation, and that before 2000, only 25 percent ever had encountered one.

Those infestations occur in residences (homes and apartments) 89 percent of the time; in hotels, 67 percent; college dorms, 35 percent; on public transportation, 9; in public laundries, 5 percent; and in movie theaters, 4 percent.

Bedbugs were widespread in the United States until the 1950s, and a resurgence occurred in the 1990s, because of an increase in immigration and international travel.

Pippin, who is also on the board of the charitable organization A Place to Sleep, which furnishes beds for children, said that organization has several beds available but can’t install them because of bedbug problems.

He said the group even knows of woman who sleeps in her yard or garage because of a bedbug infestation she can’t get eradicate.


Professional help required

So, they’re here – now how can we get rid of them?

One important thing that must occur before the problem can be brought under control is public attitude about bedbugs, said Darrell Willard of Shelbyville Code Enforcement, the agency that hosted the presentation.

“The thing is, people are ashamed to admit they have them, so they try to eliminate bedbugs themselves, rather than go to a pest-control company and have somebody know they have bedbugs. And they are impossible to get rid of by yourself, so before you know it, you have an infestation,” he said.

Brett Partin, training director with OPC Pest Control, an exterminating company, told the crowd that there is no product available over the counter that will kill bedbugs.

“You can’t get rid of them by yourself,” he said.

Sims emphasized that point and pointed out that no one even is allowed to spray any kind of pesticide in a dwelling unless they are a certified exterminator.

“You have to be certified to apply a pesticide anyplace other than your own home where you live,” he said.

Willard said he asked Sims to emphasize that point to get that message across to the many landlords in the audience, who try to treat apartment houses or other such dwellings themselves and end up making the situation even worse.

How can they make it worse?

Spraying chemicals that don’t kill bedbugs will make the bugs even more resistant to the chemicals that are used to kill them, making them that much hard to eradicate, UK officials said.


Some tips to help

Officials acknowledged that professional pest control companies are expensive and that not everyone can afford them. So they offered some advice on some measures people could take themselves that can help somewhat.

The most effective thing people can do themselves is buy plastic covers for their mattresses and box springs, which are available at many stores. Bedbugs can’t climb on slippery surfaces and cannot climb the plastic to get to sleepers. Because the bedbugs are nocturnal, if bedbugs cannot feed on sleepers at night, they will starve and die.

Partin also recommended putting glue boards under the foot of the bed to trap the bugs if they try to climb up on the bed. Also blankets must not touch the floor.

Another thing residents can do is to calk every crack and crevice they can find. That’s because when pesticides are sprayed, the bugs will hid in the cracks, and go dormant, sometimes for months, until the poison is gone, and then they came back out.   


Landlords take note

Willard said he was very pleased with the turnout and with the questions that observers asked.

 “This was our way at taking a proactive look at this problem,” he said. “I think it made the people that came last [Thursday] night realize how easy it is to get bedbugs. The people from the University of Kentucky, they really know their bedbugs.

“There were some landlords there, too, and what I wanted to convey to them is that they have to be certified to spray. Steve Sims did a good job of making that point.”

Willard said that code enforcement officials may revisit the issue again later this year to see if things have improved.

“This is something we may be doing every now and then, because it is so important to educate the public,” he said.


§       Lay one to five eggs in a day and more than 500 in a lifetime.

§       Can survive for several months without eating.

§       Can withstand a wide range of temperatures, from nearly freezing to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

§       Draw blood for about five minutes before retreating to digest.

§       Have hatchlings so small they can pass through a stitch-hole in a mattress.

§       Can ingest seven times their own weight in blood, which would be the equivalent of an average-sized male drinking 120 gallons of liquid.

§       Are found in all 50 U.S. states.