Friday, January 28, 2011
By Pamela Dittmer McKuen, Special to the TribuneJanuary 28, 2011
Here’s another expense community associations need to add to their budgets: bedbug inspections. Long believed to be almost extinct, these pesky little night-biters have returned with a vengeance and are headed for a mattress near you.
Bedbug infestations in recent years have increased dramatically in all 50 states, according to the National Pest Management Association, which tracks the critters. In a 2010 survey, 95 percent of responding pest-control professionals reported treating bedbugs during the previous year. In 2000, the number was 25 percent.
Last summer, Terminix pest-control service ranked Chicago as the fifth-most bedbug-infested city in the country.
Missy Henricksen, the pest management association’s spokeswoman and vice president of public affairs, cited possible causes of the invasion: People are traveling more often and also to far-flung locations, and some are bringing the pests home. Also, many bedbug strains have grown resistant to the pesticides available to treat them.
The most common species of bedbugs, scientifically known as Cimex lectularius, are small, brown, nocturnal parasites about the size of an apple seed. Mostly, they thrive on human blood. They hide out until they are hungry but can go a year without food. You might not suspect their presence unless you wake up with reddish welts on your skin.
Bedbugs are especially problematic in condominium buildings, said Sara Kantarovich, technical director and entomologist for Smithereen Pest Management Services, in Niles.
She explained: Bedbugs lurk everywhere, but they are especially attracted to environments inhabited by large groups of people, their primary food source. Those environments include apartments, condominiums, hotels, hospitals and assisted-living centers. Bedbugs easily travel from unit to unit through electrical outlets, under baseboards, across hallways, in luggage and on clothing.
“In an apartment building, one owner has the authority to enforce bedbug services or inspections,” she said. “In a condo building, there’s no one authority who can enforce those kinds of procedures.”
Many condo boards and managers won’t even discuss the subject, she said.
“They want to keep things quiet,” she said. “They fear that if word gets out, the value of their property will decrease.”
Condo dwellers will be relieved to learn that bedbugs are not indicative of poor housekeeping, unlike the presence of German cockroaches and other scavengers, she said.
“People are stigmatized, but this is not a sanitation issue,” she said. “You can be the cleanest person on earth or live in a $10million condo. Bedbugs do not see lines of socioeconomic class.”
A cluttered home doesn’t invite bedbugs, but it does provide more hiding places that make treatment more difficult, she said.
Another reassurance is that bedbugs don’t transmit disease. However, they do cause health problems such as varying degrees of skin irritation, stress, anxiety and insomnia, said Henricksen.
Getting rid of the pests is difficult but not impossible. Treatment methods depend on how widespread the infestation is. Among the options are high heat, freezing temperatures, high-powered vacuuming, steam and pesticides, often used in combination. Heavy infestations require more treatments than light ones. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to treat a small infestation to thousands of dollars for a large, stubborn one.
It’s not a job for amateurs, said Henricksen.
“A lot of things can kill bedbugs,” she said. “You can pour things on them. You can step on them and squish them. But unless you get in to the walls where they are hiding and reproducing, you’re not treating the problem.”
“They are one of our most challenging pests,” Kantarovich said. “It’s not like you can put (poison) down, walk away and they are dead. I would take roaches and ants and rats any day of the week over bedbugs.”
The professionals said the best control is frequent inspections of common areas and residential units. If an infestation is found in one unit, the entire building doesn’t have to undergo treatment, but surrounding units should be inspected.
“Condo buildings that are the most successful with their elimination strategies often have a strong board who is willing to mandate regular inspections,” Kantarovich said. “The sooner they start, the more successful they will be.”
Learn more about bedbugs on the National Pest Management Association’s website, pestworld.org.