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Islanders should prepare for potential bed bug infestation

By Staff | Oct 27, 2010

In between stitches of a mattress, evidence of bed bugs present — including shed skin and excrement — can be easily seen.

With the traditional beginning of tourist season just around the corner, and with the number of “snowbirds” returning to the islands, a few local professionals are warning local residents and businesses of another possible visitor to Sanibel and Captiva: bed bugs.

Many people have already heard about the infestation of these blood-sucking parasites in several northern cities and regions, most notably New York City and Ohio, but they may be unaware that their presence has already been seen throughout Lee County.

“We haven’t gotten any calls pertaining to bed bugs on Sanibel or Captiva yet, but we are ready if and when they do come here,” said Darcy Small, Chief Operations Officer of Fort Myers Pest Control, which has served the islands since 1966. “We’re not entirely sure how they’re going to impact Southwest Florida, but we’re prepared in case we start getting calls.”

Small’s business recently attended a “Bed Bug University” seminar for pest control professionals, gathering information about the re-emerging insect — which feeds off of humans, domesticated animals and other warm-blooded animals.

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Entomology and Nematology, bed bugs are suspected carriers of leprosy, oriental sore, Q-fever, and brucellosis but have never been implicated in the spread of disease to humans. After the development and use of modern insecticides, such as DDT, bed bug infestations had virtually disappeared.

Fort Myers Pest Control technicians perform a home inspection for bed bugs.

However, in the past decade, pest management professionals have noticed an increase in bed bug-related complaints.

“I don’t remember prior to 2010 that we ever got a call for bed bugs,” said Small. “But in the past four or five months, we’ve gotten more than 100 calls. And now we’re getting calls on a daily basis.”

Small said that with the beginning of seasonal residents and tourists returning to the islands for the holidays, there is great potential for bed bugs being a potential problem for islanders, especially in the hotel and condominium industry. People traveling from other areas of the country may unknowingly be bringing bed bugs with them, in their packed luggage, on their clothing, in mattresses or furniture.

Bed bugs, which are most active at night, are small (6 to 9 mm) insects, brown or reddish in color with flattened bodies. Although they may be difficult to spot, they do leave behind evidence — including excrement and shed skin — of their presence. If they are feeding on humans, a rash is often another telltale sign.

If people should encounter evidence of bed bugs in their homes, Small suggests calling a professional to inspect and rid the area of the nuisance.

Ivan Starkey, Chuck Bradley and Danny Mallow of Fort Myers Pest Control use mattress encasements to prevent further infestation.

“A pest control professional will inspect their home for bed bugs, checking any cracks and crevices, beds and sofas,” she said. “A low infestation is 20 or less, a moderate one is 21 to 99 and a heavy infestation is 100 or more.”

Her company has visited and treated many bed bug infestations in Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres and other areas of Lee County, but hasn’t been called for any cases on the islands. However, it is best to be prepared in case the critters do begin to show up here.

Small, who doesn’t recommend any of the “do it yourself” sprays or foggers available at grocery or home improvement stores, suggests that mattresses and boxsprings should be covered in special encasements (which prevent bed bugs from getting in or out). Also, climb-ups may be added underneath all furniture legs where bed bugs might crawl up or down. The device, coated with talcum powder, prevents the insects from getting any traction and traps them inside.

“People shouldn’t bring their suitcases inside,” Small added. “Leave them outside or in the garage. Without a host, the bed bugs will starve.”

She also suggested removing all bedding, clothing or other fabrics which may be infested and running them through a dryer for at least 20 minutes on high heat. That should kill any of the vermin present.

Climb-ups can be added underneath the legs of beds, end tables, sofas or other furniture.

For additional information or to schedule an inspection, contact Fort Myers Pest Control at 239-543-3100. They also offer free educational seminars for groups or businesses. Send an e-mail to info@fmpc.net‘>info@fmpc.net.