Sleep tight? Not when bedbugs bite

By Kristine gill


They’re here.

Despite the nightly adage of “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” the insects have found their way to your beds.

“Three years ago, I didn’t know what they were,” said Jayde Corley, who has worked for Grace Services Inc., a local exterminating company, for more than three years. “I thought my parents lied to me.”

The six-legged blood suckers have been feasting on humans all across the country recently with the most publicized cases in New York City and Ohio. Now exterminators in the Youngstown area say they’re getting more calls than ever to purge homes, hotels and apartment complexes of the pests.

Brad Grace, president of Grace Services Inc., said he’s responding to double the bedbug calls he did around this time last year.

“Four years ago, we weren’t doing any,” Grace said. “It’s a couple jobs a week now. It’s definitely coming this way.”

Time magazine went so far as to crown Ohio the bedbug capital of the United States — saying Cincinnati residents had taken to sleeping in the streets.

Health officials in Cincinnati say that’s not true.

Rocky Merz, public information officer for the Cincinnati Health Department, said taking a proactive stance when the bugs were found in 2007 made its bedbug problem seem bigger, but the bugs don’t favor certain cities.

“It’s no worse here than other cities,” Merz said. “They all have major bedbug problems. They don’t come to Cincinnati for the chili or New York for the pizza.”

In 2007, the city launched its bedbug task force, and the state followed suit this year.

In August, members from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense met to discuss the issue of bedbugs in the state.

The ODA is still asking the EPA to allow residential use of the pesticide propoxur despite concerns that it’s toxic to children.

The Youngstown Health District has not received an increase in calls reporting commercial bedbug problems in the city. Sanitarian Cicero Davis said hotels and apartment complexes usually report problems to the city, but private homeowners do not.

“Our area may be a little slow going because people don’t recognize that they have a bedbug problem,” Davis said.

Davis said a potential problem for the city could be deciding which party will pay for extermination in a tenant-landlord situation.

“Everyone is pointing the finger for who is responsible for cleanup. Who is going to pay for the financial burden,” Davis said.

Four hotels in the Youngstown area said they have not had problems with bedbugs.

The Country Inn and Suites at 5570 Interstate Blvd. had a problem a few years back, but three treatments to the affected room and nine adjacent ones cleared that up.

Youngstown State University has not spotted the bugs in student housing, either, but did replace all 860 mattresses in the dorms this past year.

Danielle Meyer, director of Housing and Residence Life at the university, said there is a policy in place that requires all furniture brought to the dorms by students be inspected for obvious contamination or exposed holes that might invite pests.

An extermination service by Grace’s company can run between $300 and $3,000 based on the number of rooms and visits required to finish the job.

Homeowners usually are asked to leave the house for a few hours after Grace’s team treats the home with spray chemicals.

“There is a fair amount of paranoia going on right now,” Grace said. “Somebody scratches and itches, and they say, ‘Come out and look.’”

But the bugs they’re looking for are tough to spot. About the size of an apple seed, bedbugs hide inside mattresses and can lay eggs daily in floorboards and wall coverings.

“You know how easy it is to lose your cell phone, wallet and keys?” Grace said. Looking for bedbugs is “like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Bedbugs hide during the day and creep out at night, drawn to the carbon dioxide released by their sleeping host.

Bites can be difficult to distinguish from those of spiders or mosquitoes, and so, the problem can go unnoticed for some time.

Ferenc de Szalay, an entomologist at Kent State University, said bedbugs spread by traveling in a host’s luggage or clothing but don’t transmit disease to humans.

“I don’t think of them as important disease vectors here in North American like mosquitoes or lice,” de Szalay said.

So what’s the big deal? The critters won’t make you sick, and extermination is costly and intensive. Why not just deal with the unwelcome visitors?

“There’s a huge creep factor there,” said David Hersh, president of Hersh Exterminating Services in Youngstown. “I don’t think anyone likes the idea of something feeding from their body.”

The Ohio Department of Health writes that bedbugs can cause anxiety, stress and insomnia.

At least one Grace Services Inc. customer can attest to that.

“I feel violated, as if somebody had robbed me. I’m uncomfortable in my own house,” said the Warren man who did not wish to be identified. “I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since I’ve had this problem.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.