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Bedbug population booming across U.S.

By Gary Stoller


Frequent business traveler Neil Kelley says bedbug bites were “all over my legs,” and he was awakened in the middle of the night by a cockroach that crawled across his face at a resort two years ago.

“I itched like crazy,” recalls Kelley, who was attending a food industry conference and volunteers information as a USA TODAY Road Warrior. “I would never go back to that hotel.”

Staff at many hotels have heard guests like Kelley complain about bedbugs.

“Most chains have experienced bedbugs,” says John Barcay, a senior scientist at Ecolab,a company with a pest-management division that services hotels. “Bedbugs are more prevalent in hotels with high occupancy rates and in high tourist areas.”

Barcay says a hotel’s sanitation standards are unrelated to bedbug infestations, and any hotel — whether budget or luxury — can have bedbugs. They are brought into hotels in guests’ belongings, he says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says bedbug infestations usually occur near where people sleep — in hotels, apartments and other dwellings — and America is one of many countries “now experiencing an alarming resurgence” in the bedbug population.

Experts suspect the recent resurgence, the CDC says, is linked to several factors, including bedbugs’ increased resistance to pesticides and increased international and domestic travel.

The good news for travelers is that bedbugs — parasites that feed on human blood — are not known to transmit disease. Their bites, which affect each person differently, can cause itching and loss of sleep, the CDC says.

The bites can also cause allergic reactions, including a “whole-body reaction,” and lead to skin infections, the agency says, while some people may not show any physical signs of a bite.

Jerry Barnes, the general manager of the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill., says bedbugs are a problem throughout the hotel industry.

“I have worked for many hotels in the past and dealt with bedbugs for 20 years,” Barnes says. “All 14 hotels I have worked for have, at one time or another, incurred bedbugs. Any hotel who says it has never encountered bedbugs is not telling the truth.”

Barnes says the Pheasant Run Resort has contracted a pest-control company since 2008 and will institute a program requiring quarterly inspection of each guest room for bedbugs.

A website, The Bedbug Registry, says it has received about 20,000 reports of bedbugs in hotels and apartments since it launched in 2006. The website, which states it hasn’t confirmed any reports, shows that bedbugs have been reported in rooms of nearly all hotel chains, including budget and luxury ones.

Though bedbugs are a common problem, many hotels and guests erroneously report bedbug infestations, Barcay says. He estimates that more than half of the times hotels and motels have hired Ecolab to eradicate bedbugs, there were no bedbugs.

A survey last year by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky found that 75% of the 251 pest-management companies surveyed said they treated at least one hotel or motel for bedbugs in 2012. More than 95% of the companies said they treated bedbug infestations in at least one apartment/condominium and one single-family home.

Kathryn Potter, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, says “hoteliers have long been aware and vigilant of this particular pest.”

The trade group provides information and resources to help hotel managers identify and treat bedbug problems, she says.

Road Warrior Tim Orris lives in hotels year-round and says he has been bitten by bedbugs in three hotels or motels in the past three years.

Last year, he says he was bitten in the eyelid by a bedbug at a motel in Maryland.

The three incidents, he says, have changed his hotel routine. He now keeps his suitcase in his car and takes into the hotel a change of clothes in a plastic bag. The next day, he puts on the clothes in the plastic bag and seals the previous day’s clothes in the bag. The used clothes are then brought to a dry cleaner.

George Banta, the owner of Super 8 in Middletown, N.Y., says bedbugs are a problem for hotels and other businesses.

Banta says his hotel takes “preventative actions” to decrease the chances of bedbug issues, including training housekeeping staff how to detect the pests, installing protective covers on mattresses and regularly using an exterminator to treat guest rooms.

Such measures “do not guarantee that a business will never have to deal with the issue of bedbugs,” because they are brought into the hotel from outside, he says.

Despite hotel guests’ reports about bedbugs and his company’s efforts to eradicate them, Barcay says bedbugs won’t spread disease, and traveler shouldn’t be overly worried about them.

“Don’t change your travel plans,” Barcay says. “Bedbugs are only in a very small fraction of hotel rooms.”

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