Sacramento may not know it, but the bed bugs are here
The shape of a flax seed and the color of blood, they hide in cracks and crevices, crawling out for a blood meal in the dark of night.
They're well known in San Francisco, where the health department has its own bedbug regulations. And in New York, where a bedbug attack early this month forced temporary shutdowns at two Abercrombie & Fitch stores.
In Sacramento, the quarter-inch parasites have yet to surface in the mainstream. Yet they're still there, hiding.
"It's on the rise. There have been more calls about it because people are getting infestations in their rental units," said Tom Curl, county code enforcement officer.
The National Pest Management Association reported a 71 percent rise in U.S. infestations since 2001. And a University of Kentucky study found that 91 percent of pest professionals had noted a bedbug increase. "It's a problem of almost epidemic proportions being reported in each of the 50 states," said spokeswoman Missy Henriksen.
Unlike San Francisco, officials in Sacramento don't track bedbug cases.
"I don't think Sacramento city or county does a good job to make sure it's easy for a person to report a bedbug problem," said Bill Gaither, director of Pest Control Operators of California.
The county's health officer, Dr. Glennah Trochet, said reporting bedbugs isn't required. "No one is responsible for keeping tabs on it because bedbugs don't cause diseases," she said.
Property owners in the city can face initial fines of $1,400 for failing to eradicate pests such as cockroaches. But they get a pass on bedbugs, which are considered a civil problem between landlords and tenants, said code enforcement officer Bill Hutcheon.
Curl said the county is taking small steps to deal with bedbugs. "We recently received direction that we do respond to bedbugs. Even though it's not a vector, it's a nuisance and it's going to spread to other rental units." Curl said the department can charge property owners with improper maintenance fees if bedbugs go untreated.
"It's not as reported here, but it's just as big a problem as in San Francisco," said Martyn Hopper of Pest Control Operators.
Chuck Ehmann, the department head of Clark Pest Control, said that two years ago he received a maximum of 10 bedbug calls a year. Today, he gets that many calls a month.
"We didn't know if this was going to be a little visit from the past or a new reality. They're not going away," said Jim Steed, owner of Neighborly Pest Management. Bedbug treatments account for a fraction of Steed's business, but the issue is high on the psychological radar, he said.
The mental impact sneaks up in the form of insomnia, phantom sensations and paranoia that the creatures are lodged in personal belongings. Most bedbugs are found in or near beds, according to the University of California's Pest Notes. The rest hide in upholstered furniture, bedroom cabinets, baseboards, wallpaper and carpets.
"Professionals who treat them say they are the single most difficult pest to eradicate -- worse than termites, ants and rodents," said Henriksen. The problem lies in their ability to hide in cracks as thin as a credit card.
Professionals have traditionally used chemical Insecticides but are researching less toxic and more effective methods such as heating a living space to about 140 degrees for a few hours and setting up traps. But bedbugs, which can lay up to 500 eggs in a four-month lifetime, are notorious repeat offenders, sometimes forcing pest control officers to apply several treatments to a single unit. Costs can swing from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand. As part of the treatment, residents must remove clothing and bedding from their living quarters.
Pest control providers say infestations are usually no one's fault. Clean and clutter-free living spaces help abate infestation, but as the New York Times Magazine reported in an article about the spread of bedbugs in an affluent New York neighborhood, bedbugs are equal-opportunity pests.
"You'd think that cheaper motels would be bigger targets but that's not the case," said Hopper.
The bedbug can increase landlord-tenant stress. The Rental Housing Association responded to the crisis by creating a bedbug addendum to its standard lease agreement last year. "It provides a layer of protection for the owner or manager," said senior deputy director Cory Koehler. "The resident shouldn't be able to come into a rental unit that is pristine and not follow good housekeeping standards."
Advocates with Legal Aid of Northern California said bedbug addendums have grown in popularity, but they maintain that the pests are an owner's responsibility. "Even with an addendum, you have to prove that it's the tenant's fault," said Martha Valles, a housing paralegal, and the parasite's elusive behavior can make that difficult.
The annoying insect that can leave itchy red welts, cause psychological damage, and trigger a slew of economic and legal complications has the potential to become lethal, some experts warn.
"We're lucky they haven't been inside of disease cycles yet," said Dr. Vernard Lewis, a University of California, Berkeley, entomologist. "Can the situation of bedbugs turn for the worst? Of course it can because evolution happens."
Source: www.sacbee.com Copyright (c) 2010, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.