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Bedbug complaints on the rise in Fargo-Moorhead

MOORHEAD - It's the monster under the bed that nobody wants to think about, but be warned: The bedbug is back.

Communities across the United States have noticed a resurgence in the unwanted nighttime critter, and Fargo-Moorhead isn't immune.

Fargo Cass Public Health and area hotels and pest control companies say they've seen a significant increase in bedbug complaints in recent years.

Some experts said it's because people are traveling more in a global society, which brings greater opportunities for the bug to hitchhike on travelers' belongings.

Others said it's because the resilient insect has developed resistance to the chemicals used to kill it.

Nonetheless, the disturbing trend is creating a growing awareness of what might be lurking in the dark.

Hitting home

Fargo Cass Public Health has already received a fivefold increase in bedbug complaints this year compared to 2009 - just one traceable indicator of the national problem hitting home.

As of early August, the health department had received 10 complaints about bedbugs in 2010, compared to just two they received in all of 2009.

The complaints ranged from local hotels and motels to apartments, according to documents from the health department.

Bedbugs aren't a health risk because they don't carry disease, so the health department plays a minimal role in addressing the complaints, said Myron Berglund, environmental health manager for Fargo Cass Public Health.

However, health officials will get in touch with the business to make sure they are aware of the complaint, Berglund said.

They will also recommend that an exterminator be contacted to determine if the complaint is valid and treat the problem if one exists, he said.

Sometimes no problem is found after a complaint, but area hotel managers said they don't take any chances.

When Fargo Cass Public Health received a complaint about possible bedbugs in a room at the Best Western Doublewood Inn in Fargo earlier this year, general manager Doug Anselmin immediately called the hotel's pest control company.

"He was in here within the hour and tore apart the room and couldn't find anything," Anselmin said, "but we were precautionary. We put traps down, did the pesticides, treated the rooms around it, monitored the room. We took it out of service for five days, and it came back negative."

The Super 8 off Interstate 29 in Fargo has a similar approach to responding to complaints and trains its housekeeping staff to be on the lookout for any signs of the bug, manager Crystelle Underdahl said.

While businesses can face a stigma because of bedbug complaints, Underdahl said the public's awareness of the insect makes them more understanding of the situation.

"We communicate with the guests," Underdahl said. "I think people are more aware now that it's not the hotel. They know that they can be carried in on anything - luggage, a shoe, a purse."

A widespread problem

From movie theaters to corporate offices, bedbugs don't discriminate as to where they'll call home.

Pest control companies nationwide report seeing an exponential increase in infestations from 10 years ago, according to the National Pest Management Association.

In a July survey of 1,000 pest control companies, the association found that 95 percent of companies responding had encountered a bedbug infestation in the past year - compared to just 25 percent for those who were surveyed in 2000.

Alan Stokke, owner of Fargo-based Midwest Pest Control, said his company has dealt with hundreds of cases in the greater Red River Valley region during the last eight years.

Before then, Stokke said he only dealt with a handful of cases in 20 years of work.

"Is it epidemic proportions? Maybe some people would call it that," Stokke said. "There's definitely been a change."

Stokke said he gets calls daily about bedbugs, but sometimes the complaints don't always equate to an actual infestation.

"Because they're so widespread and they're in the media, there are cases where people think they're getting bit, and it's not actually bites," Stokke said.

Bedbug bites are noticeable by a puncture mark in the center of a small rash or bump, and the bugs themselves are easy to spot, Stokke said.

On the other hand, many of the bedbug complaints are very real, he said.

"Bedbug is just a name. I find them in couches, chairs, pictures, nightstands, dresser drawers, matchboxes," he said.

Because people travel so much in today's society, it's easier to unknowingly transport the bugs across country, which only spreads the problem, Stokke said.

"People are crazy if they don't inspect for bedbugs when they travel," he said.

Adult bedbugs are about the size and shape of an apple seed and vary in color from rust-brown to red-brown.

Stokke advised checking for the insects behind bed boards or in other dark, confined spaces, and look for the insects' waste trail, which resembles tiny grease marks in an area about the size of a dime, he said.

About the bug

- Adult bedbugs are about the size and shape of an apple seed and vary in color from rust-brown to red-brown.

- Bedbugs are nocturnal insects that feed off human blood and warm-blooded animals. They dwell in dark, confined spaces, such as headboards, bed frames and picture frames and behind wallpaper or electrical outlets.

- Bedbugs like to travel and can be easily transported in suitcases, boxes and shoes.

- Bedbugs feed for about five to 10 minutes before retreating back to their hiding space for about five to 10 days to reproduce. Bites are noticeable and can become red and itchy.

- Bedbugs do not pose a health threat because they do not carry disease. Infestations can be successfully handled by pest control specialists.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541