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Bedbug Reports Worry Travelers, Vex Hoteliers Stating Publicity
May Cause Guests Needless Paranoia

By Tom Sharpe, The Santa Fe New MexicanMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 02, 2011--New Mexico is catching up with the rest of the country when it comes to worries about bedbugs. But hotel managers say recent publicity may be making guests needlessly paranoid.

New York City, San Francisco and Cincinnati, Ohio, have made headlines since at least 2006 for bedbug infestations. New Mexico's first major bedbug story didn't break until 2008, when three Santa Fe police officers complained about being bitten while staying at the Days Inn in Farmington.

So far this year, outbreaks of bedbugs have been reported at hotels, motels and campgrounds in Albuquerque, Clovis, Gallup, Las Cruces, Roswell, Taos, Truth or Consequences and Santa Fe.

The Bedbug Registry — a website that provides anonymous reports of bedbugs in various accommodations — was started by computer programmer Maciej Ceglowski in 2006 after what he calls "a traumatic experience in a San Francisco hotel." The website includes tips on how to find, identify and eradicate the pests.

The Bedbug Registry's most recent posting naming a Santa Fe motel concerned the Thunderbird Inn, 1821 Cerrillos Road, on Sept. 18.

"Girlfriend & I checked in on Saturday afternoon and she started itching as soon as we arrived," said the anonymous complainant. "Thinking it was cheap soap we brushed it off until the following morning when we both had bites. We physically picked these critters off the bedspread. We were both bitten multiple times and she actually broke out in hives. We reported this to owner of motel who concurred that he had recently had our room fumigated for bugs!!!"

Ray Bhakda, general manager of the Thunderbird Inn, where rooms start at $30 a night, said this week he had not even heard of the complaint. "No, we never had a problem of this kind," he said. "Nobody complained over here."

Two other Santa Fe area accommodations that were the subject of postings this year — the Lodge at Santa Fe and "Kabin #2" at KOA Kampground — previously told The New Mexican they had taken care of the problems.

A Lodge employee expressed surprise this week that the complaint remained on the website and suggested it might have come from another hotel or someone else wanting to disparage the Lodge.

Among the Taos hotels making The Bedbug Registry this year was the "luxury eco-friendly" El Monte Sagrado Resort, where rooms start at $229 a night.

"Bed bugs emerged from the headboard both nights," wrote an anonymous tipster on June 17 about a visit nine days earlier. "Initially unsure at first of what they were, we killed them. However, in the night we were awoken by the sensation of bugs crawling on us. Additionally, there were welts on my husband's body from the bites. Management denied there were bed bugs and did not address the problem."

An employee of El Monte Sagrado who recalled handling the complaint but did not want to be identified said no bedbugs were found.

"Some people are just paranoid about (bedbugs) or they may be just ill-informed," he said. "Other times, they may be trying to get something out of us because we usually compensate them for their trouble, but in no case have we had any confirmed report. We will send documentation (that a room was treated for bedbugs, but that none were found) to that Bedbug Registry, but they don't ever report that or remove us from their list."

Art Bouffard, executive director of the Santa Fe Lodgers Association and president of the New Mexico Lodgers Association, said that so far, no bedbug infestations have been confirmed at any Santa Fe hotel or motel.

"We've had one or two reports in Santa Fe from people who thought there were bedbugs and immediately they were moved to different rooms," he said. "Pest control was brought in and it was found in both incidents that they were not bedbugs. There were flying insects that had got in the bed and the person got squeamish and ran down and said that they had bedbugs."

Bouffard's assertion drew snickers from Larry Plecha, an entomologist with Biotec Consulting working with New Mexico hotels to eradicate pests. He declined to identify any of the hotels.

"There's hardly a lodging establishment that hasn't been affected by it," he said. "I would have to say that some pest control is going in at least one hotel room every single day in New Mexico. ...

"We're getting hit pretty hard right now. The good news is that at least the hotel people here in New Mexico are trying to be proactive and we're getting a lot of cooperation."

Plecha said bedbug infestations have nothing to do with general cleanliness. Plecha said when he first began to look into bedbug infestations 10 years ago in San Francisco, the hardest-hit hotels were those catering to tourists from Germany and France, including "one of the most famous hotels in America."

The widespread use of DDT virtually wiped out bedbugs in the U.S. in the years following World War II. But after the pesticide was banned in 1972, the pests began to show up again in places frequented by international travelers — estimated to be more than 10 percent of New Mexico's tourists.

"I call tell you why in three words: soft-sided luggage," said Plecha who uses a set of old-style, hard-sided luggage for his own travels. "Bedbugs will gain a purchase on our soft-sided luggage, and we, as guests of hotels and being on airplanes, will transport them around the country. ... To put it in plainer English, they grab on much easier."

Not even Santa Fe's oldest hotel, La Fonda, is exempt from bedbug complaints.

General Manager John Rickey said when some guests recently complained about bedbugs, they were transferred to another room so EcoLab Inc. could inspect for the pests. Even though the exterminators found nothing, Rickey said, he told them to go ahead and begin the expensive eradication procedures.

"I just can't have the reputation," he said. "There's such a negative connotation about it."

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.

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To see more of The Santa Fe New Mexican, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.santafenewmexican.com/.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.




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