Friday, March 5, 2010

Bedbug colonies on rise in county
Source: Natalya Stanko, For the CDT

The old saying “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” isn’t just a good-night wish, but an uncomfortable reality for an increasing number of Americans.

Bedbugs are making a comeback, nationally and locally.

Penn State Housing has been tracking the change. Since 2006, there have been 22 reported cases of bedbugs on the University Park campus, including nine this academic year, said David Manos, assistant director of housing for East Halls dormitories. Manos, who joined the housing department in 1991, knows of no incidences of bedbugs on campus before 2006, he said.

Bedbugs were nearly wiped out in the United States after World War II due to the widespread use of pesticides such as DDT. But now that experts use less toxic chemicals, the bugs are multiplying, said Ed Rajotte, an entomology professor at Penn State.

Bedbugs, which are wingless, reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed, feed on human blood like a mosquito. They are mostly active at night.

Bedbugs are hitchhikers that easily move from one place to another in baggage, furniture and clothing, said Manos. They can live up to 18 months without feeding. In State College, they have infested not only dormitories, but also hotels and apartments.

That,s why
bedbugs are a community issue that needs to be addressed cooperatively, Manos said.

Penn State Housing, in collaboration with about 10 local landowners, recently formed the Centre Region Bedbug Coalition. The coalition’s goal is to educate both on-and off-campus tenants about how to quickly identify and report bedbugs, said borough health inspector Kevin Kassab.

“There’s no shame in having (bedbugs),” Kassab said. “But the problem only gets worse if you ignore it.”

To check for bedbugs, examine the entire bed, including the folds of the sheet and the seams of the mattress, Manos said. Look for dark blood spots about the size of a pencil point. If you suspect

you’ve already been bitten, check your skin for itchy red bumps.

Bedbugs are not a serious health concern, and they are not known to transfer diseases, Rajotte said. But they can be psychologically draining. The Web site tracks bedbug alerts nationwide, including seven from the State College area over the past few years. The site, however, does not vouch for the accuracy of reports made there.

To treat bedbugs, Rajotte recommends to “never do just one thing, but attack with multiple tactics.” Once the bugs have been identified, quarantine the infected rooms.

Wash and dry all soft objects, such as clothing and blankets, using hot water. Bedbugs die when heated to 113 degrees.

Be wary of over-the-counter pesticides, Rajotte said. Overuse of common pesticides has made some bedbugs resistant to them.

“If you have a major infestation, contact a professional pest control service, which has access to a much wider array of chemicals,” he added.

Penn State practices Integrated Pest Management, which encourages pesticide use only as a last resort, said Rajotte, coordinator of the program.

Penn State treats infested nonwashable belongings, such as laptops and other electronic equipment, by placing them in a “hot box” made from a 4- by 8-foot Styrofoam insulation that houses electric heaters, Manos said. Occupants are asked to shower.

Penn State limits its chemical use to the pesticides Bedlam and Phantom and the alcohol-based aerosol product Sterifab. According to BASF Chemical Co., the two pesticides are slightly toxic to humans when inhaled and very toxic to aquatic and terrestrial animals.

In preparation for spring break next week, Penn State Housing is posting fliers in dormitories and bathrooms to warn students to check for bugs when traveling internationally, where the bugs are more prevalent.

“The best deterrent isn’t chemical,” Manos said. “It’s educational.”