Who didn’t grow up hearing that children’s limerick? Kansas City Health Department public information officer Jeff Hershberger did. So did Mark Lillis, the Bedbug Division manager for Schendel Pest Services.
And count me in.
None of the three of us thought much of it at the time.
“I just thought it was because any bug in the house could crawl up next to you,” Lillis says. “You don’t think about (actual bedbugs) when you hear that nursery rhyme – I always just thought it was just a nursery rhyme.”
Not after high profile reports of bedbugs in New York hotels, around the country and more recently at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza movie theater.
Because after a 30 or so year hiatus – courtesy of now banned bug killer DDT – bedbugs are back and they’re bad. Really, really bad.
“The bugs were re-introduced in this country about 10 years ago because people don’t use DDT anymore,” Lillis says. “And the bigger problem is these insects are resistant to 95 percent of the pesticides out there today.”
Net result: the growth of the bedbug problem in this country has swelled to epidemic proportion and is still growing.
“Unfortunately that’s where we are right now,” Lillis says. “There are people itching and scratching because they can’t afford to do anything about it and there are scientists that are searching for a solution – a silver bullet – but now the only real, best solution is heat.
“It’s the biggest pest problem in the country but unfortunately most people don’t even know about it. Our company for the past two years has been conducting what we call Bedbug Boot Camps to educate people about bedbugs – where they come from, how to detect them. There’s even a bedbug registry where people can report bedbugs and the last time I heard there were 20,000 reports on there.
“So you can go on there and check and see if the hotel you are going to be staying at is on there. The claims could be false, but if I read there were 10 complaints on there, I’m not going to be staying at that hotel.”
One of the main problems with treating for bedbugs is the only surefire way to eradicate them is to raise the temperature to 120 degrees for at least three hours – Lillis prefers four.
“One hundred and twenty degrees is the lethal temperature for the eggs of bedbugs,” he says. “And the (live) bedbugs will die at 112.9 degrees – 112 won’t kill them – 112.9 will.”
Unfortunately to do that requires the use of heaters and equipment that costs in the neighborhood of $100,000. Meaning consumers will probably have to cough up a thousand to several thousand dollars in fees to treat their homes.
And that’s something many people simply cannot afford.
“I encounter that daily,” Lillis says. “It’s heartbreaking when I see seniors and low income families – people who can’t afford it. I mean, you give them a heart attack sometimes (when they find out the cost of the treatment). And that’s when they try to handle the problem themselves – people have started fires in their homes. I think the most recent was someone who doused their bed with rubbing alcohol while they were smoking a cigarette. But people get desperate.”
“There is early detection and the best technique for that is having a trained canine,” Lillis says. “That’s 97 percent effective based on research by the University of Florida.”
Lillis’ bottom line on the bedbug epidemic sweeping the country:
“Virtually any place people can be, bedbugs can be. That’s how big of a problem they’ve become. And they don’t discriminate between clear or dirty or social economics…I’ve found them in the binders of books at libraries, in 5-star hotels, in what I call no-star hotels, in hospitals, retirement homes, a movie theater.
“Usually by the time I finish one of my presentations, half the people in the in there are scratching themselves. It’s not a health-related risk – bedbugs don’t transmit diseases – and that’s why none of the health departments around the country have ordinances related to bedbugs.
“Nobody is immune to this – no business, no individual – and it is a roller coaster ride. It’s a bigger problem today than it was last year and two years from now it’s going to be a bigger problem than it is today.”