Bed bug infestation forces Florida man Carlos Ibanez to leave for Colombia

10:25 AM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
Carlos Ibanez says bed bugs have infested his Renaissance Preserve Senior public housing in Fort Myers. Ibanez keeps his belongings in plastic bags in an effort to contain the bugs. Photo courtesy Kinfay Moroti/Fort Myers News-Press
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Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Life for Carlos Ibanez is found in a series of bags.

It's where he keeps the majority of his personal belongings - not because he wants to but because he's been ordered to do so.

Ibanez, 68, moved into a unit at the Renaissance Preserve Senior Apartments in May. He considers himself quite lucky to have scored such a beautiful unit; the building was built in 2009, the first phase of Southwest Florida's largest public housing development.

But days after he moved, Ibanez noticed that something was wrong: The unit had bed bugs.

"I was so happy because this place is so beautiful, it's like a five-star hotel," said Ibanez in Spanish, his native and predominant language. "It's pretty, but it's a problem. It's full of those little animals."

Ibanez said he learned the previous tenant lived in that unit infested with bed bugs but never reported it. The management company that runs the senior apartments has given the unit six chemical treatments.

The bugs just won't go away.

"As with anywhere, there are bed bugs everywhere across the country," said Sherri Campanale, director of housing of operations for the Fort Myers Housing Authority. "Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do to prevent them either."

Campanale said every resident that is placed in a home by the housing authority is briefed on the ways to prevent bed bugs. Among the suggestions: Don't buy used furniture.

The unit in which Ibanez moved into was certified by a pest control company as being bug free, she said. Campanale also confirmed the unit had been treated six times: four times before Ibanez moved in, and twice since.

The management company also gave him tokens to do his laundry. They asked him to bag up his laundry and wash it in hot water. But staffers say Ibanez didn't prepare his apartment like he was asked to, which prolongs the presence of bugs.

Campanale added that reports of bed bugs throughout the housing authority's units are not a rarity, because bugs are now an epidemic. And John Goll, of Pestmasters Pest Control, agrees.

Goll said that most apartments and condos in Southwest Florida - including private ones - have dealt with bed bugs within the past five years. But the resurgence of bed bugs is now old news, which is why no one really hears about them anymore.

"They haven't gone away," he said. "We get more and more bed-bug related calls."

Goll said that Pestmasters receives three times as many phone calls as it did about three years ago, concerning bugs. That averages out to five to 10 calls a week.

"They can travel fairly easily," he said. "They're not like fleas in the fact that people are hosts. They can travel on your bag and your purse."

There is no magic bullet that kills bed bugs, Goll said. The only proven treatment is heat.

The way Pestmasters handles bugs is by heating up a house or unit to 130 degrees. That kills the bugs on the sheets and carpets, but also those that are hiding behind cracks and picture frames.

For the most part, bed bugs stay close to their source of food: nightstands, bed frames, couches and chairs. But when a unit is infested, bugs spread out everywhere.

Ibanez, for example, found bugs near his kitchen cabinets Friday. He sprayed them with alcohol.

A representative of Accolade Property Management, the third-party company that manages the senior units, declined to go into details of how the apartment was treated. She said the unit had been appropriately treated and certified by a pest control company.

In the meantime, Ibanez temporarily has fled to his native Colombia. After telling his daughter of his ordeal, he was offered an escape trip in hopes that the bugs will starve during his few weeks away.

He was told the unit would be treated once again during his absence.

When asked if he has considered returning to Colombia for good, Ibanez said it was out of the question. He first moved to the states to New Jersey in 1969. This is his home, he said.

"This is a marvelous country," the retired truck driver said. "I have nothing over in Colombia."

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