2010.09.22 "Summer of Bedbugs" is a good time to stay home

Written by David Green.

“Summer of Bedbugs” good time to stay home 

By RICH FOLEY

I’ve been dealing with some issues with my back for about six weeks now. As a result, I haven’t done much traveling, or getting out at all, except for work, during that time.

Normally, I would be a bit depressed about that, especially since I hadn’t yet taken a vacation this year and the window for warm, sunny days is slamming shut. But after seeing several television reports and reading a few newspaper stories, at least I can be thankful that I haven’t put myself at risk for encountering the dreaded bedbug.

Yes, bedbugs are not just a parental warning at bedtime anymore. This is starting to look like it’s a good year to be a shut-in. What’s even worse, it appears that Michigan and Ohio are two of the hot spots for infestations of the dreaded insects. And not only that, they are now showing up in places with no beds in sight.

Bedbugs used to be a problem confined to motels, apartment complexes and homes. But a New York Times article quotes pest control companies that have found them in “office buildings, movie theaters, clothing stores, food plants, factories and even airplanes.” That kind of cuts down on safe options to avoid the bugs, doesn’t it?

And how about airplanes being on the list? Wouldn’t you just love to be flying somewhere and discover bedbugs? It’s not like they can stop the plane like a taxi and let you off. How scary would the rest of that flight be? In fact, that gives me an idea for a movie: “Bedbugs on a Plane.” What do you think? Of course, since movie theaters are also on the list, who’s going to be brave enough to go see it? Maybe I’ll have to take it straight to video.

I’m not trying to scare you from leaving home, but according to the Times article, bedbugs could turn up anywhere. Abercrombie & Fitch had to close two stores in New York City in July for several days to deal with infestations, including disposing of an undisclosed amount of merchandise.

A San Francisco hotel estimates that dealing with bedbugs costs an extra $2,500 per incident. Their procedure includes removing the infested room and adjacent rooms from service, destroying their mattresses and cleaning and chemically treating the rooms.

In addition, the hotel has an employee called a “bedbug technician” whose job consists of going from room to room looking for bedbugs. As an extra precaution, the hotel offers a bounty of $10 paid to any employee who finds one.

The Orkin pest control company reports that their commercial business has tripled since 2008. Doing even better is the bedbug-sniffing beagle business. Yes, I said bedbug-sniffing beagles.

It seems the breed is the most popular to train for finding hidden bedbugs, and is the most effective detection technique. It costs about $250 for a dog to check out a 1,200 square foot store, up to $10,000 for a million square foot department store. Quarterly inspections are recommended.

The Times article tells about a woman who lost her job at Verizon and decided to enter the bedbug detection business. She bought a trained beagle and made back his cost in only three months, doing from one to three inspections per week.

Eliminating an infestation includes charges for killing the bugs, placing all the contents of the space into a heat chamber to kill any other bedbugs, plus spraying additional pesticide into the rooms before returning the contents.

Some lawyers are now starting to advertise themselves as specialists in bedbug litigation. A common target is rental companies, as many clients claim that rented furniture contained the bugs. Another lawyer has consulted on cases involving hotels, movie theaters, nursing homes and cruise ships. Cruise ships? I feel another movie idea coming on... 

Even though I’ve been feeling a lot better lately, after reading and watching all these bedbug stories, I’m not in any hurry to go on a plane, ship, or even to a hotel. But I’ve got another idea. Since I’ve learned that bedbugs die at 120 degrees, how about starting a resort inside a dome kept at, say, a constant 125 degrees? A little sweltering, for sure, but at least it would be bedbug free. On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay home a while longer.

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