Baltimore starts campaign to battle bedbugs

Community events to be held around city

September 29, 2010|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Are landlords required to hire exterminators for bedbugs? Do bedbugs attack pets? How can you avoid them in movie theaters?

With bedbug infestations on the rise, Baltimore health officials launched a series of meetings Wednesday to answer such questions from residents, property managers and others — and to tell everyone not to panic.

"I'm here to assure you we will all be fine," Dr. Madeleine Shea, a deputy health commissioner, said at a meeting at the War Memorial Building. "We have had bedbugs before, and there are simple ways to combat them and prevent them."

Shea stressed that bedbugs affect everyone, regardless of economic status or race.

But she warned that approaches used to kill other insects don't work on these pests. A bedbug, the size of an apple seed, can hide in crevices as thin as a credit card — including electrical outlets and picture frames. Bombs and foggers do not penetrate deeply enough.

And because the bugs can crawl through shared walls and spaces, neighbors must work together to keep them at bay, she said.

The descendants of bugs that feed on bats, these bloodsuckers have likely been preying on humans since they lived in caves, said Michael O'Leary, deputy director of community initiatives for the Healthy Homes and Communities Division. Bedbugs prefer humans; they could bite pets, but usually won't.

Baltimore's 311 operators fielded 446 calls about bedbugs in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Health Department. City inspectors checked 120 homes during that fiscal year — triple the number in the previous 12-month period. They also inspected 29 other buildings.

Most of the calls have come from the southeastern part of the city, said Michael Boeck, a pest management expert in the Health Department. Residents in other areas could have infestations as well, but might not be calling, he said.

The best way to prevent infestations is to kill bugs early, Boeck said, noting that one pregnant bedbug can multiply into nearly 32,000 within six months.

Residents should inspect their beds regularly for bloodstains. They can also buy bedbug-proof mattress covers, and wash and dry linens and clothes at high heat settings to kill any that might be present. To monitor for early signs of an infestation, people can also use bedbug interceptors — cups filled with talc that bugs can't crawl out of — or sticky traps.

Boeck recommended that residents work with Maryland-certified exterminators, who are required by law to carry their license.

Genevieve Birkby of the Healthy Homes division said that landlords of multifamily housing — with three or more units — must respond to infestations when more than one unit is affected. Landlords of single-family homes do not have the same responsibility.

Health officials will schedule 10 meetings to spread the word about bedbug prevention and treatment.

Clay Kimball, a contractor who works in the Fells Point area, said he appreciated Wednesday's meeting. "We've been fighting this without any help for five years."

Avoiding bedbugs:

• Inspect hotel mattresses for bugs and blood spatters.

• Wash clothes and check luggage after returning home from trips.

• Don't take furniture or appliances from street corners or alleys.

• Use caution when buying used furniture.

If bedbugs are in your home:

• Vacuum mattresses, carpets, floors and crevices; encase vacuum bag in plastic and quickly dispose of it in an outside garbage can.

• Seal mattresses and box springs in impermeable plastic or vinyl cases.

♦ Wash and dry all clothing and linens in high heat, or have them dry-cleaned.

• Eliminate clutter and dispose of items that cannot be cleaned.

• Seal cracks and remove loose wallpaper.

• Choose pest removal companies that have extensive experience with bedbugs.

• Only use pesticides clearly labeled for bedbugs; avoid pesticide foggers.

• Destroy or post warnings on discarded furniture or other items.

• Work with your neighbors to combat the problem.

Sources: Baltimore and New York City health departments

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