Bedbugs make an unwelcome comeback in Southern California – Press-Enterprise

Gary Shelton tossed clothes, a wooden bed frame, a directors chair and cardboard boxes stuffed with papers from his community-activist campaigns.

Other clothes the 68-year-old Long Beach man washed, dried and bagged.

Then he waited. And waited. And waited.

An exterminator sprayed his ninth-floor Plymouth West apartment three times for bedbugs December, January and February.

If there is any evidence of bedbugs, they treat again, he said.

Finally, in March, Shelton was given the all-clear.

Its like living out of an overnight case for three months, he said of the lengthy process.

Comeback bug

Experts say the reddish-brown bedbug, which is about the size and shape of an apple seed, has made an extraordinary comeback after a roller coaster of a century.

In the early decades of the 1900s, the bug was widespread across the U.S. But the advent of DDT during World War II changed that, killing off huge numbers in the 1940s and 50s.

We thought it was gone forever, said Dini Miller, professor of entomology at Virginia Tech. When you think about it now, that was kind of stupid.

After lying low for decades, the dreaded insect that was mentioned in medieval European literature has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts since 2000.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, theyre in apartments, houses, shelters, college dormitories, cruise ships, buses and trains. They typically live within an 8-foot crawl of where people sleep.

If you thought your car was a refuge from the blood-sucking pests, guess again. Miller said bedbugs are fond of automobiles for good reason.

The food comes and sits down on a regular basis, she said. And everybody gets something to eat.

But you dont know when your blood is being slurped through the bedbugs version of a straw an elongated beak for a meal. The Centers for Disease Control say the bug injects an anesthetic and anticoagulant that renders its bite painless.

Itchy bite marks can appear in a few days. They are similar to marks from a mosquito or flea bite a slightly swollen and red area, the Centers for Disease Control said.

They do not transmit any diseases, said Dong-Hwan Choe, an urban entomologist and assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside.

The bugs feed mostly at nighttime, which creeps people out, Choe said.

And dont think you can fool them if you work a graveyard shift and sleep during the day.

Sleeping with the lights on is also not likely to deter hungry bed bugs, University of Kentucky entomologist Michael Potter wrote in a 2015 article, Your Guide to Bed Bugs.

A feeding takes three to 10 minutes, according to Potter. Then the bug crawls back into its hiding place to digest the meal. Its flat body enables it to hide in tiny crevices in mattresses, box springs and bed frames.

Unlike other insects, bed bugs cant fly. But they can crawl more than 100 feet in a night.

The nations big bad bedbug blow-up can be traced to a number of factors, experts say: DDT is long gone; the EPA banned it in 1972.

Even so, the bugs were building up resistance to DDT, Miller said. And they are building up a defense against insecticides being used today.

Some have developed thick, protective skins. Others produce enzymes that break down toxic ingredients and render insecticides harmless.

We like to call those the hard drinking bugs, she said.

Still other bedbugs have mutated.

They meet, fall in love and make other genetically immune babies, Miller said.

Inland Empire bedbugs in decline

Bedbug outbreaks reported to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health have actually gone down in recent years, according to spokeswoman Lana Cao.

In 2015, the department received 188 calls regarding bedbugs. In 2016, that had dropped to 163. And as of July 17, the department had heard only 71 complaints.

Cao suspects educational programs offered by the departments mosquito and vector control program are part of why reported outbreaks are declining in San Bernardino County.

The education is super helpful, she said. They let you know what they look like and what to look for.

Still, thats of little comfort to those covered in itchy bites delivered by surprise bedroom guests.

Once you get an infestation, its pretty bad because they spread like wildfire, Cao said. They dont really transmit any diseases. God forbid if it does.

Riverside Countys Department of Environmental Health does not track calls related to bedbugs, but provides educational information and directs callers to pest control companies instead. But calls for service in Riverside County have been going up for Green Dog Pest Service, according to owner Deanna Sparks Kjorlien.

Its gone up, for our inspection business, 50 percent over the past year, Kjorlien said. Were getting twice as many calls for Riverside County.

Her company, which was founded in Hemet, but moved to Solano Beach earlier this year, uses bug-sniffing dogs to detect bedbugs.

She attributes the rise to changes in bedbugs and changes in Inland Empire residents:

The bugs are building up a resistance (to insecticide), and theres a lot more travel, Kjorlien said. Any time you have travelers and anyone who has their luggage with other luggage, going from hotel to hotel, the nature of bed bugs is that theyre hitchhikers.

And even when Inland Empire residents are staying home, more are living closer to other people.

Were not all single-family residences in the Inland Empire any more, Kjorlien said. Theres lots of apartments and shared-wall houses.

And thats especially true at senior living communities, such as the Plymouth West community in Long Beach.

They go from apartment to apartment to see their friends. Or they go to the shared dining hall, Kjorlien said of residents. If one person gets infested, its spread. If you dont get all the apartments treated, everyone gets them.

L.A. region a hot spot

As for the region overall, Los Angeles is the nations sixth-worst metro area for bedbugs, according to Atlanta-based Orkin. In the pest control firms 2017 ranking, L.A. followed Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Columbus, Ohio.

For the Orkin survey, the L.A. area was defined as Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Miller noted Terminix puts out an annual ranking, too. In its most recent report, Detroit was No. 1 on the list. L.A. was No. 4.

You have to take all of this with a grain of salt, Miller said. But, its one of the few indicators that we have.

Theres no denying that Sheltons home is in one of the hardest-hit properties.

Davis said 84 of Plymouth Wests 196 units have been treated in the past 12 months.

Some units have been treated multiple times.

A friend was over and noticed a live bug in the middle of the bed spread, Shelton said.

He was stunned. I wasnt getting bites that I was aware of, he said. But he promptly called the apartment manager.

After seeing one, he started seeing a lot more bugs.

Once you see them, youll see them in your mind, Shelton said. Youll see them everywhere.

Staff writer Beau Yarbrough contributed to this story.

Size:1mm to 7mm, roughly the size of Lincolns head on a penny

Color:Reddish brown, similar in coloration to apple seed

Food:Human blood

Home:Within 8 feet of sleeping quarters. Known to live in apartments, houses, hotels, shelters, cruise ships, buses, trains and dormitories

Travel:Cant fly or jump, but can crawl fast up to 100 feet per day

Bite:Similar to mosquito, flea bites; does not carry disease

Evidence of presence: Bedbugs in folds of mattresses and sheets, rusty-colored blood spots; a sweet, musty odor

Treatment:insecticide, heat; significant preparation required of home occupants in advance; professional treatment recommended

No-nos:Do not spray bed sheets, blankets or clothes; do not apply bleach or alcohol. Applications of rubbing alcohol have sparked fires.

Sources:U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Your Guide to Bed Bugs, by Michael Potter; news reports

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Bedbugs make an unwelcome comeback in Southern California – Press-Enterprise

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