Dayton was ranked the eighth most-infested bed bug city in U.S. in 2010.
Complaints about bed bugs have significantly increased in Warren County in 2012 and have remained steady or increased in much of the Miami Valley this year as pest control specialists search for new methods of treatment and companies look for new products to test.
Experts say a lack of effective treatments and the high cost of available treatments continue to frustrate residents or property owners who struggle with bed bugs. The 1/4- to 3/8-inch, brown, oval-shaped bugs are not known to carry disease, but their bites that feed on blood cause itching and irritation. They can travel on clothing to move from place to place, and their treatment requires patience.
The Dayton Daily News researched Dayton-area counties to determine the extent of the bed bugs issue in the area. County health departments track complaints about bed bugs differently — and some not at all — so a comparison is impossible.
The Daily News found that:
• In Warren County, complaints in 2012 (25) have already surpassed the totals for entire years 2010 (12) and 2011 (18).
• Complaints in Miami County rose from 13 in 2010 to 26 in 2011.
• Montgomery County began tracking calls in 2010 on a bed bugs information line. It averaged 45 calls per month for the portion of 2010 it tracked and 33 calls per month in 2011, although officials said that doesn’t necessarily signal a decrease because some residents might have already determined the county’s assistance line was information only, not an option for inspection or enforcement.
• The Middletown City Health District received 175 calls in 2010 and 94 in 2011.
• Greene County does not track calls or complaints about bed bugs.
A national survey by the pest control company Terminix ranked Dayton the country’s eighth-most-infested bed bug city in 2010, although it dropped to 12th in 2011.
“I think people are just more aware,” said Dennis Murray, director of environmental health for the Warren County Combined Health District. “The counties are doing a better job of educating for what to look for, but then you have to find some treatment.”
Looking for solutions
Those treatment options can be expensive. A typical chemical treatment for a two-story, three-bedroom, cape cod-style home is priced between $500 and $750, said Hank Althaus, president of the Ohio Pest Management Association and general manager of Scherzinger Pest Control, which operates in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky.
A heat treatment in the same home is priced between $2,500 and $3,500, although pricing varies based on the size of the home or the infestation. In a heat treatment, a mixture of mobile heaters fueled by a generator focus temperatures of about 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit on an infested area.
Althaus said the lack of progress against bed bugs has led to a search for new treatments and pesticides.
“The manufacturers are economically driven,” he said. “As bed bugs become a bigger problem, that brings more and more focus on new products. But we’re not there yet.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that it has seen an increase in interest to produce and test new bed bugs-controlling products and that several applications are “currently pending review.”
Others said that fear of litigation could keep large companies from developing new products.
“Because of that, we haven’t been able to go to the main chemical manufacturers and say, ‘Please do something,’ ” said Jay Moran, president of A-Abel Exterminating
Moran said his company is “still in battle mode” with bed bugs heading into the year’s warmer months.
Althaus said it is generally accepted that bed bugs were not a problem for many years because stronger pesticides were sold over the counter. Those stronger products have since been taken off the market because their ingredients are potentially harmful, which has led to an increase in bed bugs.
Pest control companies have since proceeded with the products available.
“With bed bugs, there is no magic bullet,” said Jeff Koehl, director of environmental health for Miami County Public Health. “You can’t order the place to be treated, come back in two weeks and treat it again and feel confident you’ve eliminated the problem.
“That works with cockroaches, not with bed bugs.”
Effect of bed bugs
Because the bed bugs cause few physical problems beyond itchy skin, they don’t often lead to hospital visits. Jeff Delahunt, director of environmental services and dietetics at Children’s Medical Center of Dayton, said the hospital will do a thorough cleaning of any area where a child brought in for another reason is discovered to have bed bug bites. The hospital also uses a bed bug-sniffing Beagle in its attempts to regularly check the hospital.
Delahunt said the effects of bed bugs can often be as mental as they are physical.
“You can sit in a room and all you do it say ‘bed bugs’ and you can see people start to fidget in their chairs and scratch their arms,” he said. “It can be psychological.”
The continuing issue has researchers working to test potential tools or treatments, including Dr. Susan Jones, an associate professor of entomology at Ohio State. Jones recently presented a session on a bed bugs-detecting tool known as Verifi at the National Pest Management Association Legislative Day in Washington, D.C.
Verifi uses chemicals to entice bed bugs into a trap, where residents can confirm an infestation. It is one of several devices or pesticides Jones and her group have tested recently while looking for new answers.
“There is a lot of interest,” Jones said of developing new tools.
“But a lot of smaller companies come up with new devices and don’t have the money to do independent testing. It seems like (new product development) is going to be an ongoing thing.”