|By Carol Biliczky, The Akron Beacon
Journal, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 21, 2008 --As you check into a hotel for vacation this summer, keep this sobering thought in mind:
Ohio has a big and growing problem with bedbugs at hotels, as well as at hospitals, nursing homes, jails and even homes -- any place people sleep, no matter how posh or pricey.
Last month, a state legislator introduced a bill to promote bedbug awareness, education and prevention -- a first effort to get a grip on the problem.
With more than 30 legislative co-sponsors and shrieks of horror from constituents, Rep. Dale Mallory, D-Cincinnati, is confident his bill is resonating statewide.
"This is out of control and it's getting worse," he said. "I've toured at least five apartment buildings with infestations, and I can tell you it's a traumatic experience."
Mallory's bill would use $335,000 in state funds to establish a bedbug program in the Ohio Department of Health.
His proposal would educate hotel owners about the difference between bedbugs and other types of vermin so they can be treated appropriately.
A toll-free number also would be set up so residents could report infestations and ask for information.
The apple seed-sized blood-suckers were almost exterminated in this country in the 1950s thanks to the chemical DDT, vacuum cleaners and better hygiene.
Why the bugs have re-emerged in recent years is a mystery, but it might be because of the popularity of travel to other countries, where the vermin were never eliminated, said Susan Jones, an entomologist with the Ohio State Extension Service.
Americans returning from other countries or foreigners coming here might unknowingly bring the little hitchhikers into this country in their luggage, purses or backpacks.
While the Barberton and Summit County health departments report no complaints and the Akron Health Department gets only one or two calls about bedbugs a year, many other urban areas have been hard hit.
"Gateway" cities like New York, San Francisco and Cincinnati, which attract lots of travelers and have many multi-family housing units, have proved to be especially welcoming to the bugs.
With more than 800 bedbug complaints last year, Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County was arguably the fifth-most-infested urban area nationwide, Jones said. New York is universally acclaimed to be No. 1.
Jones has received complaints from New Philadelphia, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Dublin, Westerville and all parts in between.
"People move a lot," she said. "If they move from an infested (apartment) unit, they take their bedbugs with them. Now we get calls from people in single-family dwellings, which we didn't use to get."
Cases not reported
But the rankings might not mean too much because of the general ignorance of bedbugs in the population, experts say. Many people today simply didn't grow up with frequent exposure to insects.
People don't realize the bites on their bodies are from bedbugs, so they don't take action. Or they hire an exterminator but don't notify the local health department. Or they learn to live with the bugs.
There is no Ohio law that requires the reporting of bedbug infestations. There's not even a statewide place to report them, although a bedbug task force has set up a hot line in greater Cincinnati.
Since the mahogany-colored bugs don't come out until 2 or 3 a.m., they're not apparent in the daytime when people are most watchful.
The only obvious clues might be the trail of sticky, black fecal matter they leave behind on mattresses, sheets, floorboards and headboards.
Mallory, the state legislator, had never even seen a bedbug until leaders from the Cincinnati Council on Aging told him the insects were biting incapacitated seniors.
And earlier this month, he learned that a woman in a wheelchair boarded a bus in Cincinnati with bedbugs clinging to her clothes. The bus had to be taken off-line and treated.
When these things happen, "people are ashamed. They're embarrassed. They're branded as being filthy or poor," said Mallory, even though bedbugs are no respecters of socioeconomic class.
Hard to exterminate
As for treatment, effective remediation can take weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars in a multi-unit apartment building, said Scott Steckel, president of the Ohio Pest Control Association.
The problems the exterminators face are manifold. They don't have chemicals to effectively treat the bugs. Before it was removed from the market in the 1970s, even DDT was losing its effectiveness against bedbugs.
"We don't have a silver bullet," Steckel said. "It may take three or four times before you get to a comfort level that there won't be a reintroduction."
Steckel was working with a health-care provider that was worried about giving up revenue while a room was being treated.
But employees made the problem worse by taking bedding out of the infested room and into another, introducing the bugs to a whole new area, he said.
"You have to be sure what leaves the room doesn't have any bedbugs," Steckel said, "and what comes in doesn't have any."
Many people worry that the bugs carry disease, but so far they are not known to.
What they do bring is disgust -- tons of it.
"Once you hear the horror stories," Mallory said, "you'll itch
and scratch like everyone else."
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or email@example.com.
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