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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 05:01 pm

Bedbugs are back - in Springfield

UIS incidents prove old ailment back in full force

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After a resurgence in their populations across the globe in recent years, bedbugs are making Springfield residences their homes too.

Once nearly eradicated, bedbugs are back in full force and not just in cities like New York and Chicago – Springfield’s got ’em too.

The flat, brown, oval-shaped critters are about a quarter of an inch long and like to feed on human blood as we sleep. They’ve re-emerged in developed countries after a population low credited to the widespread use of DDT and other dangerous chemicals as pesticides after World War II.

“It is not going to be eradicated, since all the chemicals used in the 1950s have been banned, for obvious reasons,” says John Ringle, director of housing at the University of Illinois Springfield, which houses nearly 1,200 students. The university experienced its first brush with bedbugs in the spring of 2007, Ringle says, and in each of the last three years the school has had five or six incidences of bedbugs.

“As in any university, we are a migratory culture,” Ringle says, explaining that international and study abroad students might have brought bedbugs back with them without knowing it. College students, their shoes and book bags, are also prime means of transportation for bedbugs, which Ringle says are good hitchhikers.

Now the task is not so much prevention, but management, he says. “We want to stay ahead of it and encourage people to report it rather than tolerate it. I think sometimes people are embarrassed to bring it to our attention and they shouldn’t be,” Ringle says. “Instead of tolerating it, they should tell us as soon as they notice it so we can send in the containment troops.” The university educates students on the bedbug issue by offering a brochure at the front desk of the main housing office.

In response to each potential bedbug infestation, the university calls in pest control professionals who observe the creatures to make sure they are in fact bedbugs. If the offending nuisance proves to be bedbugs, they treat the rooms with appropriate chemicals, seal mattresses in plastic and tell students to bag all of their linens and clothes, which the school then launders. While previously the university only treated the room or apartment where students complained of an infestation, now UIS treats every unit surrounding the infested room or apartment.

Knowing how big of a problem bedbugs are for the rest of Springfield is difficult. There are no reporting requirements because bedbugs are not known for spreading disease. The Springfield building inspection office, which focuses mainly on structural inspection issues, says it hasn’t had any calls about bedbugs, but if it did it would refer complaints to the Sangamon County Public Health Department, says city spokesman Ernie Slottag.

Jim Henricks, director of environmental health with the county health department, says he first heard complaints three or four years ago from travelers in Springfield hotels. He says he refers such calls to the Springfield building inspection office and to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Henricks adds that he hasn’t heard any complaints within the past year.

While it doesn’t keep track of bedbug reports either, the Illinois Department of Public Health has heard numerous anecdotes of the pests throughout the state, says Melaney Arnold, IDPH spokesperson. She adds that those who travel extensively and live in apartments, where bedbugs can travel from unit to unit, are the most at risk. She suggests travelers keep their luggage on hard surfaces, such as in the bathroom or on a luggage rack, and check for signs of bedbugs on sheets and mattresses before using them.

“It’s definitely a growing public nuisance, and it’s very difficult to try and control,” Arnold says, adding that properly trained pest control professionals should be able to exterminate them from a home.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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