In the fall of 2007, I was talking with a director of engineering in the lobby of his oceanside hotel in Rhode Island. I asked him about his current priorities for the facility. He said energy was a concern and another was . . . then he whispered something so softly that I could not understand him. I had to lean forward in my chair and ask him twice to repeat it before I heard him say bedbugs.
That was the first time I appreciated how serious an issue this pest has become. In my childhood I thought a bedbug was a kind of mythological creature due to the rhyme, “Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
News on social media travels a lot farther and faster than childhood rhymes. Last year, when Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said he was bedbugged in an Oklahoma City hotel, the resulting social buzz was unwelcome for the hotel, which issued an apology. Public awareness of the pest has been heightened by annual rankings of metro areas based on the number of bedbug treatments. Orkin recently released its “Top 50” list – a dubious honor – for 2016. It featured four new members.
Once thought to be nearly eradicated, bedbugs have made a comeback due to pesticide resistance and the banning of pesticides like DDT. They are a real bugger because they are tiny and can survive without feeding (on blood, their exclusive diet) for more than a year. They retreat to hiding places once nourished for as long as five to seven days. Thus they spend only a fraction of their lives feeding in the open. Some people have no visible reaction if bitten. Bedbugs are accomplished hitchhikers, so even if an area has been treated, the pests can easily reintroduce themselves. They reproduce at prodigious rates, so better to look regularly for early signs of infestation rather than wait until occupants discover them.
In December the EPA posted new information on getting bedbugs out and keeping them out (epa.gov/bedbugs). The FM in Rhode Island told me that he had had success with bedbug-sniffing dogs. Previously at a different facility, he had used termite-sniffing dogs able to detect hidden termite nests, thus avoiding the destruction of walls in order to find and eradicate them.
As for the Oklahoma City hotel, it told ESPN that its bedbug problem was isolated to the one room occupied by Irving and that “all necessary steps have been taken” for remediation. However, another pro basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, is reportedly no longer frequenting the same hotel, but for a different reason – two players heard strange bangs and bumps through the night. The hotel is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a former maid named Effie.
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