Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Yuck! Bad bedbugs biting bigtime

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

Source: Oklahoma State University Department of Entomology

LANSING – Forget letting the bedbugs bite – even having them in your home is a danger.

The entire United States is dealing with a resurgence of these pesky parasites, which feed on human blood.

“They can cause red itchy lesions,” said Kim Signs, a zoonotic disease epidemiologist with the state’s Department of Community Health. She studies diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

It’s especially bad in neighboring Ohio, where a bedbug-targeting task force has formed and legislators are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse a federal ban on a pesticide to help fight the bugs.

According to Signs, Michigan has now has its own bedbug workgroup, including state and local health departments and pest management companies.

But bedbugs aren’t a new phenomenon, according to Howard Russell, an entomologist with diagnostic services at Michigan State University.

“There have always been bedbugs. Even 15 years ago I got the occasional sample of bedbugs. They’d been around even in Michigan before the current outbreak,” he said.

Russell identifies bedbug samples he receives directly or through Michigan State University Extension. And he’s had more bugs to identify recently.

“I’m getting more calls than I have in past years,” said Russell.

Don Burns, president of Expert Pest Control in Detroit, gets more inquiries too. But that doesn’t mean more business.

“We get a lot of calls, but nobody wants to pay the money” for extermination services, he said.

Signs said there’s no public money available to help individuals coping with bedbugs.

“Funding is an issue that we’re coming up against repeatedly,” she said.

And a lot of commercial pesticides won’t control bedbugs, so many times professional companies are needed.

“It’s very expensive to have them treated right,” said Signs.

Burns said his fees depend on the size of the house and the homeowner’s insurance, but it’s between $650 and $700 to start.

Detroit is an at-risk area in terms of bedbugs.

“The more people you have, that increases your odds of any county having more bedbugs- so certainly Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties,” said Russell.

It doesn’t help that these counties are close to an airport. Most bedbug infestations result from travel, experts say.

“A lot of people visit and stay overnight at a hotel or a friend’s and bring the bugs back home via their luggage,” said Russell.

Russell said bedbugs are resistant to some typical pesticides, and a professional extermination company has a wider variety of tools.

“We use heat,” said Burns.

That process consists of heating a house to temperatures that are lethal to bedbugs.

The bottom line, however, is that bedbugs are easy to get and hard to get rid of.

“They’re all over the place, not just Ohio or Detroit. They’re all over the place, everywhere,” said Burns.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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