Bed Bug Reports Continue to Increase in Norfolk Area

November 7, 2017 | Andrea Larson

Sleep Tight Pest Control explains how they perform heat treatments to fight against bed bugs in Nebraska.

They’re notorious hitchhikers, but they never ask for a ride.

Bed bugs simply crawl where it’s warm — be it onto a person, a handbag, a piece of luggage — and spread from continent to continent, city to city, apartment to apartment.

Northeast Nebraska is not immune to the pest, and the number of residents who have had the unwelcome guest in their living spaces has been increasing each year for some time.

John Kouba, a Norfolk city health official, said he gets 10-15 bed bug-related calls annually, though he doesn’t keep a running tally.

“Typically, I would say you hear about them more in the apartment setting. ... They are certainly a pest that has been around for a very long time. It seems like 15 or 20 years ago, you didn’t hear as much about them, but we’ve been hearing a lot more over the past 10 years,” Kouba said.

And even though he gets calls about them from concerned citizens, bed bugs are not considered a public health threat since they aren’t known to spread disease. So there’s really not a lot the city can do other than to direct people to the information available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website.

However, reading up on the issue might not be much comfort for someone suffering from bed bug bites and the creepy-crawling feeling of knowing they’re sharing the bed with a vampiric insect.

If bed begs are known to be in a home, Kouba recommends going to a professional for treatment or, if using pesticides on your own, making sure to carefully follow the labeling on the product.

“I think any of the pest control companies have the capabilities of treating for bed bugs, among the other pests they treat for. There are different ways to treat them, too. You can use a heat treatment that will kill the bugs. A gentleman in (Norfolk) with Sleep Tight Pest Control does that,” Kouba said.

CHARLIE IS a bed bug hunter extraordinaire.

The 3-year-old beagle is a certified K-9 bed bug detector, having attained her education at a private facility in Kansas, which also specializes in training personal protection, police, bomb and cadaver dogs.

Charlie is an important part of Sleep Tight Pest Control, along with her handler, Ryne Hoffart. Together, the pair find bugs and rid homes, hotels and businesses of the pests.

“(Charlie) is trained to alert to the pheromones that bed bugs put off, and when she finds them, she sits down and she waits for me to pay her with food. And then she goes to the next spot and alerts me to where the next group of bugs are,” Hoffart said.

While humans are about 30 percent accurate in finding bed bugs, Charlie is about 95 percent accurate. And when she finds bugs, Hoffart gets to work quickly.

“I do a heat treatment for bed bugs, and I specialize only in bed bugs. We go in and apply heat, because the bugs have really developed a resistance to chemicals here since the mid-1990s,” Hoffart said.

He heats the affected area to around 140-150 degrees using a specialized system that can be used in anything from bedroom apartment to a larger-scale business.

Hoffart receives about 100 calls a month from Norfolk and area residents who think they have a bed bug problem, and about 50 percent of those people actually do, he said.

“Honestly, it’s getting worse every year. The increase in international travel is huge, and with the resistance to chemicals, (bed bugs) are a lot easier to pick up and carry them to the next place anymore,” he said.

It’s important to know the bugs can affect anyone, regardless of economic class or hygiene habits.

“(Bed bugs) don’t discriminate. But if I were to peg it to a class, I would say it would be more the people who travel a lot and stay in hotels all the time. Any hotel can get them — the Ritz Carlton can have bed bugs just as easy as a motel down the street in any town,” Hoffart said.

He usually notices a spike in bed bug calls in the spring and in the fall when the weather is the perfect living condition for the bugs. The areas he treats the most tend to be hotels and apartments, and he works mainly around the Norfolk area, but he will travel in a diameter from Sioux City to Lincoln and Beatrice and as far west as Kearney up to O’Neill.

Signs of bed bugs include the bug bites one might find on their body after waking, but only about 50 percent of the population have a visible reaction, Hoffart said.

“There will be black specks on the bed (bed bug fecal matter), and those are a huge indicator. And then there are the bugs themselves. One of the biggest and most common misconceptions about bed bugs is that they’re microscopic. That’s not the case — they’re the size of a small tic or an apple seed.”

If someone suspects they have bed bugs, Hoffart encourages them to address the issue immediately.

“Call a professional first. If you wouldn’t plumb your own house, don’t kill your own bed bugs because they are very, very tricky. Don’t use over-the-counter stuff, because it really just angers the bugs, and they start spreading around a little more. Whereas you might have had them in the one bedroom, now you’re going to have them in the next bedroom and all through your house. What could have been a $25 treatment just turned into a $5,000 treatment,” Hoffart said.

There are some ways travelers can protect themselves from bringing bed bugs home, he said. When staying in a hotel, most people immediately toss their luggage on the bed, and this is a big no-no.

“Put your stuff in the sink or in the bathtub, and then go check the bed for bugs. They’re very visible. Check the bed, the frame, the headboard. Those headboards in hotels lift right off the wall, so lift them off and look at the backside — that’s a real hot spot for bugs,” Hoffart said.

The bugs can be picked up anywhere, though. In New York, taxi cabs have seen an issue with the insect hitchhikers stowing away on the fares.

“I’ve done ambulances, I’ve done movie theaters, I’ve done libraries. If you’re out in public, don’t set your purse down on the floor. That’s where they really like to travel. You have your warm purse that’s been in your car, and the bugs are attracted to the heat. They’re going to jump in your purse.”

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