Area expert engages bed bug battle

BY ANTHONY LOMBARDI - alombardi@perutribune.com
A handful of Peru residents could sleep a little tighter tonight after attending a free bed bug workshop on Wednesday at the Riverview Event Center. 
Lee Green, a vector-borne epidemiologist for the Indiana State Department of Health, led the seminar and shared more than a decade of experience with the blood-sucking pest. 
“I’ve done 40 of these presentations since last spring,” Green said. “About 30 percent of the calls I get these days (involve) bed bugs.” 
Organized by the United Way of Miami County as part of an effort to rid the community of bed bugs, Green started his PowerPoint presentation with a history lesson about how the nasty critters arrived in America.
As it turns out, they were stowaways on early 18th Century sailing ships when colonists first crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the vessels were so notoriously infested, Green said, that passengers weren’t allowed to bring bedding on board.
The bugs hide behind baseboards and in cracks and crevices, which made the old, wooden ships an ideal means of transportation. 
By the early 20th Century, bed bugs were rated among the top three pests in the country and as many as one third of all residences were infested, Green said. 
Now they’re often found in folded areas of beds, bedding and furniture, especially mattresses and box springs, and lay two to three eggs a day.
But around 3 a.m., these nocturnal creatures venture from their hiding places to feed on blood. The bug senses body heat and will travel across your home to be near it.
That why it won’t help to sleep in a different part of your house to get away from them, Green said. You can’t. 
Everyone also reacts differently to being bitten by bed bugs, and the insect can be more attracted to one person than another.
If you suspect you have an infestation and can afford it, call a pest control professional. Several options to kill the pests are available, including spray and heat treatment. Spray treatment is the cheaper of the two options, but usually takes longer to eradicate the problem. Without some form of treatment they won’t go away, either. Green said bed bugs can go as long as 10 months without eating. 
Green also doesn’t encourage people to take matters into their own hands. He told a story of a father who sprayed a chemical around the house and ended up accidentally killing his wife and two children. 
During the mid-1950s, bed bugs went from a major issue to almost non-existent after the invention of DDT, one of the first chemicals in widespread use as a pesticide. The chemical has since been banned for health reasons, among others. 
The critter returned in greater numbers, and in 2002-03 the pest-control company Orkin reported a 500 percent increase in bed bug calls. They’re now found in all 50 states.
Green attributed the bug’s resurgence to several factors, such as people traveling to highly-infested countries such as Afghanistan, Fiji, Thailand and Iraq. He also thinks the economic crash in the mid-2000s played a role, since people were more apt to purchase used furniture then. 
Miami County Environmental Health Specialist Kayla Madden recently told the Peru Tribune that, on average, the health department receives about 10 calls a month from residents asking how to eliminate an infestation.
United Way previously received a $5,773 grant through the Indiana State Association of the United Way, which helped purchase mattress covers, pillow cases and the spray treatment of several homes. 
Wallick said she’s closed nine bed bug cases already, and there are still nine cases open. 
“Some of the cases that I have … they’ve picked up the items out of the alley and put them in their home,” Wallick told the Peru Tribune on July 11. “Then, they got bed bugs and transferred it to another person.”
United Way plans to distribute 1,250 fliers around the city in about a week that contains information on how to detect, treat and avoid an infestation. 
The flier will also contain tips for preparation before treatment, such as using airtight protective vinyl bags to seal your mattress, box spring and pillows or using a hot water washer and high heat dryer to kill the bugs on clothes and blankets, which could prove useful in eliminating an infestation and making sure the bugs don’t return. 
The fliers will be available at locations such as city common council and doctors’ offices, Dukes Memorial Hospital, the health department, the YMCA, hotels and schools.
“We want to take on this health initiative to see if we can get rid of the bed bugs here in Miami County,” Wallick said. “Our goal is to make sure that we live in a healthy place. We hope that by doing this we can educate the residents on prevention, treatment and detection.”