Landlords invited to bedbug seminar in Laconia on May 21; new law assigns responsibilities to both owners & tenants
Published DateLACONIA — Shawn Riley took his first bed bug call about four years ago, shortly after coming to the city as deputy fire chief and health officer. Since then, he estimates, he's fielded more than 150 calls, some weeks one every day, about the nocturnal pests. It's a problem that is on the rise, he said.
"It's definitely trending upwards," Riley said of the spread of the parasites. Over the years, Riley has become something of a bed bug expert, giving several presentations at emergency medical service conferences and classes. "I've been all over the place speaking about these guys."
Although bed bugs had been relegated to good-night wishes for a couple of generations, Riley's research has taught him that the parasites have been pestering humans since cave-dwelling days. When homo sapiens walked out of the cave, they brought their unwanted house guests with them. For much of human history, humans were as likely to be bitten by bed bugs as they were to be subjected to mosquito bites. "We had a holiday from it," said Riley, a break provided by the now-notorious pesticide DDT, which is remarkably effective on nuisance insects but proved equally devastating on bird populations.
Since the cessation of DDT use, bed bugs have been on the rebound, aided by international travel and the transfer of used furniture and mattresses. Riley has seen countless infestations in Laconia, in both single-family homes, apartment buildings and group homes. No reports of the bed bugs in city hotels, though, he emphasized.
Bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans. However sharing one's bedroom with the parasites can be a cause for distress. Someone living in a severe infestation could be bitten as much as 500 times in a night, said Riley. The bug, most active in the early morning hours, will crawl out of its hiding place and make its way to a sleeping mammal. Once the bug has found a good place to take a long drink of blood, it will inject an anaesthetic, to keep the host from feeling the bite, and an anti-coagulent to prevent the blood from clotting. A bed bug can drink as much as three times its weight in a single meal, and although adults prefer to feed every few days, an adult bed bug can survive for up to a year without feeding.
What happens the next day depends on the specific host. Some people react strongly to the bites, with red, itchy welts of various sizes. Others, as much as a third of the population, said Riley, won't have any reaction. In one Laconia case, he said, an adult that shared a bed with a child couldn't understand why the bugs weren't biting her but her granddaughter woke up every morning covered in bites. Riley told her that they both were feeding the bugs, but that only the child was experiencing a reaction.
Without the use of DDT, eliminating bed bugs from a building can be a difficult and expensive affair. Pest service companies can kill the bugs by heating the building to a sustained 160 degrees, which has proven effective. What's not effective, insists Riley, is any over-the-counter remedy. "Bug Bombs" or other chemical treatments available to non-licensed consumers are ineffective against bugs and dangerous to humans. In multi-family buildings, he said, the chemicals will only serve to irritate the bugs, driving them from one unit to the next, only to return once the chemical has dissipated. "I've seen this time and time again," said Riley. "They only make the problem worse."
If bed bugs are present in a residence, Riley said humans can avoid becoming a sleeping buffet by "making their bed an island" – move it away from the wall or other furniture, use a bed bug resistant mattress cover, and place bed bug intercepting trays beneath all four feet of the bed. Though deft hiders, bed bugs are poor climbers and cannot jump or fly.
Sheri Minor is on the board of the Lakes Region Rental Association, the organization that is co-sponsoring the seminar on May 21. She wanted to put on the event in light of both the bed bug problem, which she acknowledged seems to be growing, and because of the state legislation, which is awaiting the Governor's signature and January 1, 2014, before it comes into effect.
About the proliferation of bed bugs, Minor said, "I think it's getting a little worse. A lot of people don't want to acknowledge it, also." It's a difficult problem to deal with, though she added, ignoring it doesn't make it go away. Next year, once the new law comes into effect, landlords will have a specific legal obligation to attend to the problem, though they'll be able to seek compensation from tenants if it can be proved that they brought the infestation into the building.
"I don't want to have to deal with it, and I don't want my tenants to be bitten by bed bugs," said Minor, who urged anyone in the rental business to attend the seminar. "Take some information from it, it will benefit. Everyone will come out of it knowing something."