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Unwelcome bedfellows

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Two years ago, bloodsucking critters crawled under the doors and into the beds of Miami County residents – and they never left.

“We’re still trying to fight it,” said United Way of Miami County Executive Director Debi Wallick, who is organizing the battle against bed bugs. “To make it cleaner and safer and to make things better in our community.”

Public officials met this week to cover the basics: what bed bugs are, how the situation has progressed and what the next steps will be.

Bed bugs are brown, wingless insects that live solely on blood. The pests can be hard to eliminate because of their nearly invisible size and ability to live up to a year without a blood meal.

“They’re the nastiest creatures; they hide in the craziest places,” Wallick said.

Since 2016, United Way and St. Vincent de Paul have spearheaded the pest control effort.

United Way received a nearly $6,000 grant from the Indiana State Association of United Way to provide heat and chemical treatments to homes – but the dollars dispersed within months.

United Way then partnered with St. Vincent de Paul to provide bed and pillowcase covers, and mattress when available, to more than 100 affected residents last year – a number that doesn’t reflect the amount of people they had to turn away, according to Wallick.  

At that time, United Way identified bed bugs as the number one health issue in the area through its 2-1-1 service.

About six months ago, United Way created brochures and flyers and distributed them across the city’s nonprofits, government agencies and hospital offices. The awareness material provides information on how to identify bed bugs, who to call in the case of infestation, and how to prepare a house to be treated.

And now, “we’re constantly looking for grants,” Wallick said.

Beyond securing funds for the heat and chemical treatments – which can cost $1,800 each – Wallick said the city may begin identifying bed bug-infected furniture and other items in alleys with orange marks, so people know not to touch them.

“We don’t want people to grab something that’s been in the alley for three weeks and put it in their home,” Wallick said.

Wallick said residents also have some power to tackle the situation on their own.

Bed bugs can be identified by unexplained bites, blood stains on sheets or pillowcases, dark spots on the bedding or walls, or an offensive odor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heat, chemicals and mattress encasements are the most common methods of eliminating bed bugs.

Heat is a natural exterminator, and steaming is the best method. It’s a slow process: the homeowner or a technician must cover every inch of surface inside the home to eliminate the intruders, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Heat can also be a protective measure.  If you’re exposed to a potential bed bug environment, then throw all of your clothes into the dryer as soon as you get home to kill the bugs. ““The heat kills them instantly,” Wallick said.

Chemicals shouldn’t be a first choice, as insecticides are harmful to human health and are often unable to kill the highly resistant larvae, according to the EPA.  

Mattress and pillowcase covers are effective at killing the insects through suffocation – and can also work to prevent the bugs from infesting your bed in the first place.

There are other preventative measures. People really need to be careful when purchasing furniture, clothes and really any item from a stranger.  

“(Bed bugs) hide in picture frames, they hide in the crevice of light plates,” Wallick said.

People also need to be cautious about setting their handbags down on floors or upholstered furniture in unfamiliar environments.

“I don’t want people to be scared, but always be aware of your surroundings,” Wallick said. “They can be there and they can travel with you.”

Cleanliness is also an important tool in the fight.

A vacuumed, clutter-free home eliminates hiding places and can help individuals more easily identify bed bugs, according to EPA.

Bed bugs still enter immaculate homes – “you can get bed bugs and be the cleanest person,” Wallick said – but a clean home is easier to treat.