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The number of calls to state and local health agencies regarding bed bugs has increased significantly in recent months, but media hype could be stoking concerns as much as the tiny blood suckers themselves.
Sara Jo Best, director of Environmental Health Services at Lincoln Trail District Health Department, said calls from throughout her agency’s seven-county region spiked a few months ago, just before the start of the school year.
“That’s about the same time stories about bed bugs started showing up on TV,” Best said. “It’s hard to tell if they’re on the rise, or if they were already here and people didn’t realize what it was.”
Bed bugs slowly have re-staked a claim on the U.S. since 1972.
That’s when the federal government banned the pesticide DDT because of its negative environmental impact. The ban paved the way for a return of the insects.
Prior to that, bed bugs nearly were eradicated from American homes, hospitals, hotels and other places where they are common.
During the past four decades, immigration, travel and intercontinental commerce have contributed to bed bugs’ re-emergence.
While bed bugs are breeding again in America, the attention given to their reappearance may be more than what’s warranted, according to health officials.
“Until the public is educated on bed bugs, they will continue to be a big topic in the media,” said Vonia L. Grabeel, a supervisor of Environmental Health at the Environmental Management Branch in Frankfort.
Answering those public concerns with knowledge, state and local health departments have begun to host informative sessions throughout the region.
About 70 people attended a bed bug class Tuesday in Elizabethtown.
Hosted by the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, the session connected health officials and pest control experts with those concerned with and wanting to know more about bed bugs.
Those attending learned there’s no proof that bed bugs can carry communicable diseases.
That fact makes them less dangerous than ticks or mosquitoes, both of which can carry potentially fatal illnesses.
Some prone to allergic reactions can be ultra-sensitive to a bed bug bite, and those nervous at the thought of critters creeping on their skin at night might lose some sleep.
Aside from causing itching and anxiety, bed bugs do little harm.
Brady Kirby, a manager with Action Pest Control who spoke during Tuesday’s session, pointed out that the pests can thrive outside the bedroom.
“The most surprising case we’ve had was at a call center,” Kirby said.
Eliminating bed bugs can require serious measures.
Action Pest Control uses milder pesticides in combination with a special heat machine to kill a population.
“We heat it up to 120 to 140 degrees,” Kirby explained. “That kills them in all their stages.”
Best said it takes a professional to eradicate a serious bed bug infestation, but the costs can be too high for some families to afford.
“Our biggest challenge is those living on limited incomes,” Best explained. “Especially since there are no sources of assistance.”
The best the health department can do for those families is education on bed bug prevention.
State and local health departments offer tips on bed bug prevention online and through pamphlets, flyers and brochures.
The News-Enterprise also has made that information available today through its website.
For more information about bed bugs, contact the Hardin County office of the Lincoln Trail District Health Department at (270) 769-0312.
Bob White can be reached at (270) 505-1750.