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Bed bugs! Oh, my!

5:27 PM, Aug 20, 2010   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida --  Bed bugs have been an unwelcome sleepmate for as long as human history can recall.

The hardy insects seem to be the wonder bug, traveling great distances on your suitcase and surviving in your home for up to one year without a sip of your blood.

"Bed bugs don't care whether you're rich or poor. They don't care whether you're clean or dirty. All they care about is that you have blood," said exterminator Steve Winger with Geiger's Pest Services in St. Petersburg.

Winger estimates calls for bed bug eradication have doubled since last year, with a majority of the calls coming from homeowners and hotels.

But, we may be getting off easy compared to those living up North.

You may have seen the news reports out of New York City where bed bug infested a movie theater, an Abercrombie and Fitch store, Victoria's Secret and Hollister.

Office buildings are also not immune to the problem. USA Today reports more office buildings are experiencing infestations.  The National Pest Management Association tells USA Today, a survey of its pest control services shows 1 in 5 have recently exterminated the blood suckers from the workplace.

Winger tells 10 News office infestations do not seem to be a problem in the Bay area.

At one point, it was thought the pesky blood suckers were nearly eliminated in U.S. households after a dramatic drop in reports during the mid-20th century.

But, the tiny insects are back at an alarming number, according to health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a joint statement earlier this month after a dramatic resurgence of the bug in the United States and abroad.

The CDC says the comeback of the bed bug is the result of the increased resistance to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, a lack of knowledge about the bug and the decline of pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.

But, don't worry. There's no reason to panic.  At least, that's what local pest control services advise.

Winger tells 10 News the first step you can take to protect your home is preventing the bug from getting in, in the first place.

Here are a few recommendations from the EPA:

  • Check secondhand furniture for signs of bed bug infestation (dark spots which are bug excrement, tiny white eggs and eggshells, skins of nymphs as they grow larger, live bed bugs and rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets and mattress)
  • Use a protective cover on your mattress and box spring
  • Reduce clutter in your home and when traveling
  • Use luggage racks
  • Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping and when you return home
  • Unpack into the washing machine right away and check your luggage

If you have think you have an infestation, pest control recommends you take care of the problem quickly before the bug population grows into a full-on infestation.

Winger also recommends hiring a bed sniffing dog to zero in on the insects hiding spots.

The birthplace of the concept of the bed bug sniffing dog is right here in the Bay area, in Safety Harbor.

William Whitstine, with Florida Canine Academy, says he was working with termite sniffing dogs when he was approached by an entomologist from Perdue about the idea of using the dogs to sniff out bed bugs.

"I really thought it was an old wives tale," he smiled.

Turns out, it wasn't.

With the help of another man, they started training the dogs eight years ago.

Since then, Whitstine says he's trained more than 250 bed bug sniffing dogs, which are now working around the world.

"The dogs are in the 90 precent accuracy range.  Humans are about 30 percent," he said.

Most of the bed bug dogs, like his small black terrier, Bernie, are rescue dogs.

And you might say, Bernie is one lucky dog.

"He was going to be put to sleep a couple of years ago and now he's working and having a great life," said Whitstine.

It may be a good thing the dogs consider the sniff all play and no work, because Whitstine says he's been inundated with phone calls after the explosion of news reports on bed bugs.

People are asking him to bring the dogs to sniff out their homes.  In some cases, those with expendable cash are requesting to purchase one of his dogs. 

It can cost a few hundred dollars to have a dog sniff out your home. Eradicating the bugs runs even higher in costs, up into the thousands of dollars range in some cases.

But, the costs are only one part of the problem.

Whitstine and Winger agree the worst part of the infestation is the mental anguish it can cause.

"I equate this to almost, as a former fire marshal, as someone having a fire in their home.  It's just as traumatic," said Whitstine.

There's also the embarrassment factor, although most in the bug world are quick to point out, the bed bug could care less about your social status or level of cleanliness.

"We're finding them in a lot of different places.  Not just hotels, businesses, daycares and storage places," said Whitstine.

Here are few tips from the EPA on what not to do, if you suspect you have bed bugs:

  • Never use a pesticide indoors that is intended for outdoor use. It is very dangerous and won't solve your bed bug problem.
  • Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bed bugs can make you sick, may not solve the problem, and could even make it worse by causing the bed bugs to hide where the pesticide won't reach them.
  • Check if the product is effective against bedbugs -- if a pest isn't listed on the product label, the pesticide has not been tested on that pest and it may not be effective. Don't use a product or allow a pest control operator to treat your home unless bed bugs are named on the product label.
  • Before using any pesticide product, READ THE LABEL FIRST, then follow the directions for use.
  • Keep in mind that any pesticide product without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA, so we haven't determined how well the product works
  • Laura Kadechka, 10 News

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