Tampa area exterminators see uptick in bed bugs

Seth Garber, co-owner of Nvirotect Pest Control Services in Lutz, Fla., says the most dangerous thing about bed bugs isn't related to health or cleanliness — but denial. "When we see a horrible infestation, it's often because people didn't want to admit they had them," he says. "They'll try to take care of it with over-the-counter products, and by the time we come in, it's too late."

Efforts after World War II nearly wiped out the common bed bug 60 years ago. Now, several large cities across the country are reporting massive infestations. While Tampa has been spared the worst of it, highly rated exterminators on Angie's List say their bed bug calls have increased significantly in recent years.

University of Florida entomologist Roberto Pereira says bed bugs have been on the way back for a decade. He says nobody's completely sure why, but increased travel, lack of public awareness and resistance to modern pesticides play a role.

Randall Bennett, manager of Thonotosassa-based Cross Pest Control of Tampa, Fla., expects the worst is yet to come. "In a few years, we'll be as bad as the big cities up north," he says.

David Bailey, owner of Bullseye Termite & Pest Control in New Port Richey, Fla., says the social stigma arises from misinformation. "The first thing people think is that they must be dirty, but it has nothing to do with trash," he says. "You carry them back when you travel. I've seen people catch them from both low-end and high-end hotels." The stigma is so strong that service providers say none of their clients will speak to the media, and no Angie's List members in Tampa have written reports about bed bug service.

The critters live only on blood, so they go to wherever people are — hence their propensity for sleeping spaces. "They've evolved into extremely effective hitchhikers," says entomologist Jeffrey White of BedBug Central, a nationwide online clearinghouse of bed bug information. He says a single pregnant female can lead to an infestation.

Garber suggests calling in professional help as soon as possible if you think you have bed bugs. "It's easy to take care of if not extensive, but it gets enormously expensive if they're out of control," he says. "We're lucky in Tampa because the bed bugs here haven't really developed a resistance to pesticides like the ones up north."

Pesticide-based solutions can involve multiple applications, extensive preparation to protect the house itself, and cost thousands of dollars.

Pereira suggests remaining vigilant. "Eradication of these things is not likely," he says. "But as they get more common, people will recognize the warning signs and understand common preventive measures. We'll deal with them just like we do cockroaches and ants."

If you think you have bed bugs

  • Monitor your sheets for blood markings from bed bug bites.
  • Inexpensive traps to be placed on bed legs are available from pest control supply stores.
  • Wash your clothes and bed linens in hot water.
  • Call a professional. Using the wrong techniques to eliminate bed bugs can make things worse.

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