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Bed bugs are biting in Buffalo

It was really hard not to get the heebie-jeebies when researching a story this week on bed bugs.

I can’t remember how many times my parents told me “don’t let the bed bugs bite” as I was heading off to bed for the night. Of course, I never really thought too much about the actually words that now make me shudder.

Unless you’ve been hiding in a box, you’ve certainly read about the resurgence of bed bugs in major cities across the country.

In addition to generally creeping me out, now I hear they can actually drive you crazy, or at least trigger anxiety. That’s according to a researcher from the New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Dr. Evan Rieder, a psychiatry resident, presented an unpublished study at an American Psychiatric Association conference about the stress of bed bugs.

As reported by MedPage Today, Rieder studied 10 patient cases associated with bed bugs. The patients had diagnoses that included anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, as well as monosymptomatic delusional disorder — imagining that one is crawling with pests, even though no infestation exists.

Rieder said worry about bed bugs has risen along with the prevalence of bedbug infestations.

“There’s something about the sanctity of the bedroom and the fact that bedbugs are attracted to warmth and blood that violates something that’s really personal,” he said. “Mice and rats aren’t taking a blood meal from human beings.”

Buffalo is not immune, according to pest control companies. I had a chance recently to catch up with John Zimmerman, general manager of Buffalo Exterminating, after I received his Linkedin invite.

Zimmerman and I had talked a little about bed bugs last year when I wrote a profile on the company, but this time he said the situation has definitely gotten worse. Here’s something you don’t want to ever hear from the guys in charge of killing the bugs:

“Overall, I think the bed bugs are winning the battle for the time being.”

Ugh! Zimmerman was exaggerating a bit, but it definitely has gotten worse here. The problem is, bed bugs are so tiny they’re hard to spot. And they can and do easily hitch a ride on luggage, so you might have the cleanest house in the world but come back from a business trip or vacation with a few extra little friends.

And if you have kids in college who live in a dorm or an apartment building, you’re especially at risk: College students aren’t known to be the most efficient when it comes to doing laundry or vacuuming....

According to Zimmerman, college dorms and apartment buildings made up the majority of work last year for the company’s full-time bed bug teams. In 2011, the company expects to respond to 350-400 calls.

Whether or not the problem is getting worse here in the Buffalo area is hard to determine, since the county health departments only respond and inspect temporary housing sites, like hotels, motels and B&Bs. I was surprised to hear that since bed bugs aren’t known to carry disease, they’re not actually considered a public health threat, so the only statistics kept are number of total complaints.

Daniel Stapleton, Niagara County’s public health commissioner, says hotel/motel owners are doing what they can to keep the problem under control, with many using plastic mattress covers. His office received just 9 complaints last year, with eight inspections turning up no bugs.

That’s pretty good - maybe too good - especially considering all the hotel rooms in Niagara Falls, and the fact that visitors come from all over the world - including many countries where bugs are more of a common occurrence. Erie County had 133 complaints last year, up from 73 in 2009.

I have a hard time believing there aren’t more cases than that, especially considering the volume of calls coming into places like Buffalo Exterminating. I was not surprised Zimmerman could not find a client willing to speak with me, even to say they had the place checked out and found clean. And when we were planning a photo for Friday’s story, we had to swear secrecy on the photo location at an area college dorm room, which were being checked out as part of the post-semester cleaning process.

So how can you make sure you’re safe when traveling or staying in an unfamiliar bed? Tons of websites can tell you want to look for, or a little research ahead of time is probably a good idea, such as the Bedbug Registry, a free, public database of bedbug sightings in the U.S. and Canada. The site lists about 20,000 bed bug reports dating back to 2006, including nine for hotels in Buffalo and 10 for hotels in Niagara Falls. But the site also says it cannot guarantee the accuracy of reports. A quick read of some of the reports submitted had me shuddering.

Just something to think of if you’re planning a trip for the holiday weekend.... Remember: Don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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