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Bed bugs infest Hibbing

HIBBING -- Bed bugs are here, and they are hungry.

The small, flat, oval-shaped blood-feeder bugs have been found infesting places in Hibbing, including several units belonging to the Hibbing Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

More than a dozen units have been scheduled for treatment for bed bugs, according to HRA Executive Director Anita Provinzino. The pests have been confirmed in about half of the units.

"When I became director, they told me it was a matter of when, not if," Provinzino said. "They really are more of a nuisance than a public health risk."

Once thought to be limited to Third World countries and roadside motels, bed bugs are showing up across the country in five-star hotels, single-family homes, commercial buildings, college dorms and even office buildings in some areas.

Though the exact cause is not known, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that experts suspect the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, and a lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence.

Bed bugs are insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish-brown, wingless and range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length.

The name comes from the insect's habit of favoring beds and other areas where people sleep. They can travel more than 100 feet in one night, but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Bed bugs are most active at night and are capable of feeding unnoticed on their hosts. During the day they hide in places such as mattress seams, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper and under any clutter or objects around a bed.

Their small, flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and they can remain in place for long periods of time, even without a blood meal.

The bugs are not known to transmit any diseases. But their bites can cause infections and allergic reactions in some people. Small, flat or raised bumps on the skin are the most common signs of bed bug bites.

"Some people are sensitive to their bites, but unlike bites from mosquitoes or ticks they don't carry disease," said Paula Stoddard, infection prevention coordinator with Fairview Range.

"The can cause people to itch or get hives. The bites are usually in a line or cluster of little bumps, and are usually found on the arms, shoulders, necks and legs -- the areas usually not under the sheets."

The bites typically clear up in a week or two without treatment, or possibly faster with a cortisone and anti-itch treatment, she said.

"Only about 30 percent of people are susceptible to the bite," Stoddard added. "Most of us are not bothered by it."

Other health problems could include skin rashes and allergic symptoms.

However, the psychological effects -- the gross-out factor -- may be the biggest detriment.

"We don't like bugs," Stoddard said. "We don't like lice. We don't like ticks, and we don't like bed bugs. They give us the creepies."

But there's a unique stigma attached to bed bugs. People don't mind as much if a mosquito lands on them and bites, but are totally intolerant of having something called bed bugs biting them.

"We don't need to be panicked," suggested Stoddard. "We need to be educated and know what to look for."

Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. They travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture and other places where they can hide. Once transported, the bed bugs potentially infest new areas as they relocate.

"They don't fly and the don't jump. They can't go anywhere on their own," Stoddard said. "The biggest risk is infesting the area in which one lives."

All HRA tenants were notified of the presence of bed bugs in the units in mid-September. Treatment for pest control for each unit costs $500, and each unit found to be infested is sprayed a second time.

Provinzino said there's a variety of ways to eradicate the bed bugs, and they have opted for the least expensive route because it was an unanticipated expense.

She noted that she's been in contact with HRAs in St. Paul and Hutchinson, Minn., to get resources and see how they've "managed to deal with the heebie jeebies."

HRA Director Mark Gardeski voiced concern over the growing expense, while noting the bed bugs are not anticipated to be eradicated soon. Provinzino said she has requested a clarification from HUD on the matter.

"Our units did not come with these pests. Some HRAs are billing their tenants for treatment to recoup costs, others are not," she said. "It's an expensive item. It's our responsibility to get them treated, but not our responsibility by statute to pay for it."

She added that no decision has been made at this point to charge tenants, but noted it was an option.

Experts say the first priority is to get rid of the bugs professionally if an infestation is found.

Stoddard recommended calling in an exterminator to address an infestation, while also cautioning against the use of pesticides.

"If you find them in your home or when you are traveling, don't try to eradicate them yourselves," she said. "Close off that room or area and notify someone."

Kelly Grinsteinner can be reached at . To read this story and comment on it online go to .