Since the 1950s, experts considered bed bugs an eradicated nuisance. They were the topics people born before that time talked about in disgusted remembrance, especially if they grew up in low-income housing. For the people after that time, however, bed bugs were simply words parents used when tucking their kids in at night. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” were words people said with love.
In 2010, however, after the reemergence of bed bugs into the public limelight during a massive outbreak in New York City, that phrase took on a whole new meaning. Since that time, cities and towns in all 50 states across the nation have faced, or are facing, bed bug outbreaks.
“Nearly all (99.6 percent) pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year, unchanged from 2013, but higher compared to five, 10, and 15 years ago,” stated experts with Pest World.org, a National Pest Management Association agency.
Two local pest control experts, Benny Salinas with Bug Experts Pest Control and Rex Davis with Rex Pest Control, confirmed this statement. They said San Angelo is facing a major increase in bed bug infestations.
The Increasing Problem
Salinas said 15 days into the new year, he has treated three homes for bed bugs, and that doesn’t include all the calls he’s actually received. He said he’s received about 10 calls.
“Some are just inquiring. Some allow you to come out and do an inspection, and want to know how much it costs and what they [have to] do,” Salinas stated.
Out of those calls, half showed signs of bed bugs.
“Not all of them are going to be active [infestations], but the majority of them were,” he said.
Last January, Salinas stated around the same time, and in the same time frame, he treated approximately 10 homes.
“I’ve been doing this for 16, going on 17, years, but in the last three to five, I’ve seen it gradually get worse,” Salinas said.
Aside from his regular pest control treatments, Salinas said bed bug eradication makes up 10 to 20 percent of his business.
During his 20 years of pest control experience, Davis said he has read a lot about bed bugs, but he never experienced working with them until about seven years ago.
“It’s an epidemic,” he said. “There’s been a major increase in the past three years. My son does most of our bed bug work, and we’re doing at least one a day.”
Davis said there are also times his company can work two and three bed bug jobs a day.
The Misconceptions and Origins of Bed Bugs
Many people believe bed bugs are a result of poverty and dirty living conditions. Although that can increase the chances of getting bed bugs, they are no longer “the poor man’s bug.” These insects frequent all types of homes, top of the line hotels, nursing homes, businesses and more.
“They’re in every part [of the city],” Davis said. “There are more in the lower-income housing parts of the city, but we treat them in very expensive homes and in run-down homes. We treat them in run-down apartments, really nice apartments and in nursing homes.”
Salinas added that bed bugs are brought into the home. They’re not something that just emerge.
“They don’t just appear,” he explained. “They have to be brought in.”
Salinas said most people carry them in from hotels, motels, or by staying at someone’s house. That person may have an infestation but may not know it.
“They get on your clothes. They get in your suitcases,” Salinas continued. “Then you bring your stuff home, and low and behold, you have them.”
Salinas said he knew of a woman who got bed bugs simply by getting donated books from someone. He also said many people got them from purchasing items at garage sales.
Davis said, “They don’t run across neighborhoods on their own. They’re definitely hitchhikers.”
A Growing Immunity to Treatment
After the 1950s, the pesticides used in treating bed bugs, especially DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical that included mercury and arsenic, were banned because of health concerns. This chemical is what kept the problem at bay for many years.
That’s not the case with newer chemicals.
In August 2015, during a discussion about the bed bug resurgence, Theodore Rosen, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine, said, “Insecticides currently in use have little effect on bed bugs which have developed mutations that increase their immunity to toxins that are safe to use around humans.”
Although that’s the case, Salinas said there are still a lot of good products out there made that, if applied correctly by a trained pest control operator, people can get rid of the problem. It just has to be done a certain way.
Davis said he’s been at a few jobs where he definitely knew there was a resistance because the bed bugs were hard to get rid of.
“Now, we have a material that has two active ingredients in it, and you have to have two classes of chemicals, two different actives,” he explained. “We’ve had pretty good luck with it.”
A Problem with Self Treating Due to Cost
Another part of the problem in the growing issue of bed bugs includes people trying to control the problem on their own because of the cost to treat the problem. Salinas said his company charges approximately $450 per room because of all the steps involved in eradicating infestations.
Davis said he doesn’t give a price on treatment, just a ballpark price, until he sees a home because it depends on the infestation and amount of clutter in a home.
“If you walk into a house, and you have a lot of clutter, it’s a pain [to treat],” he said.
Thus, because of the price to treat, people try over-the-counter methods to treat their homes.
“Most people don’t have a clue on how to get rid of the problem, so that’s why we recommend a trained operator to come in and do an inspection,” Salinas stated. “If they do have them, treat them with the right chemicals and problem solved.”
Salinas said he’s sure there are some over-the-counter pesticides that may solve the problem, and the internet has many resources to educate people on how to get rid of them, but nine times out of 10, he receives calls from people who try to do it themselves, and they end up having to call anyway.
“If you’re a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to do what you have to do and find the funds to get [treatment] taken care of,” he said.
Davis added, “I’m not being smart or anything, but you can’t get them on your own. It does take a professional to do so.”
By attempting to treat their own homes, people cause bed bugs to spread and become resistant to chemicals.
Overall, if unchecked, the houses can become completely overrun with bed bugs. Davis said his worst case was a house that had bed bugs inside alarm clocks, behind pictures on the walls, and in the kitchen on the cabinets.
How to Identify Bed Bugs and How to Avoid Bringing Them Home
Salinas said to check for bed bugs, people can take a flashlight and look around their mattress.
“A lot of times when you sleep, you’ll roll over onto them and you’ll see blood smears on the bed,” he said. “That’s one sign of them other than the bites.”
He said main places to look are underneath the mattress, in the corners of them, and in the crevices. People can also look on their headboards and base boards underneath (they may have to tear the material to look). They can also find them in the rails.
“They also glow with a UV or black light,” Salinas continued. “When rooms are real dark, you go in there with these UV flashlights, and you can see them.”
Davis said bed bugs are very noticeable.
“Many people think they can’t see them, but they can,” he stated. “They’re like 3/16th of an inch long, and they remind you of a small, flat tick.”
Also, when traveling, people want to pull down their beds and go over it with a flashlight. If they notice bites on their body, they more than likely have them. Also, to be on the safe side, they want to take their clothing and bags straight to the wash room and put them in the washer and dryer to keep from bringing possible bed bugs into the home, Salinas stated.
Davis said many people can also put their stuff in Ziplock bags when they travel to help minimize the risk.
Is San Angelo Facing an Outbreak?
Salinas said with massive outbreaks, some cities have protocols in place to deal with the problem.
Sandra Villarreal, health services director for City of San Angelo, said while her office gets a complaint “from time to time,” she would hesitate to call this increase of bed bugs an outbreak.
Villarreal said, however, if there were an outbreak, the city’s plans are for communicable diseases and does not cover bed bugs. If a true outbreak were to occur at a particular hotel or motel though, officials could shutter the place through state statutes and with legal assistance.
“As of now though, our complaints are mainly focused on one room per a complainant,” she said about these types of infestations. “We address and ask to see records from exterminators as we seek professional ways of dealing with their issues versus over-the-counter measures.”
Overall, both Salinas and Davis said they don’t think a massive outbreak will occur, but with the problem of bed bug infestations steadily growing, people need to be educated on the topic to keep such an occurrence from taking place.
Salinas said, “Hopefully, that will help. These customers can get to know what these are, how to treat them, and hopefully, get this to stop. I hope that something can be done about this so it doesn’t become more widespread because it is a problem.”
For more bed bug facts and statistics, click here.