Bed Bugs May Be Cause for Mental Health Concern

About 50-percent of Americans are allergic to bed bugs.

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Photo: Texas Agrigro Extension Services

Monroe County officials are taking steps to track the number of bed bug infestations reported in the area.

Reports of bed bug infestations are becoming more frequent across the country so much that now professionals are recognizing that the bugs can be associated with a mental health problem.

Mike Jenson, Director of Health and Safety at Indiana University said, through his job working for the department’s Public Health sector, he’s become something of a bed bug expert.

“People get so worried and obsessed about having them crawling all over them while they’re sleeping that they actually have severe psychological problems because of that,” Jenson said.

There’s no actual danger associated with bed bugs. They don’t carry human pathogens and can’t make their victims sick. But Jenson said about 50-percent of Americans are allergic to bed bugs, meaning if they’re bitten they’ll see a raised and itchy red bump, much like a mosquito bite. But more than that, Jenson said, bedbugs are making some people paranoid.

“So from purely a physical health perspective there’s not a worry there. The worry is that there is a stigma associated with them. They make people very uncomfortable,” Jenson said.  “They creep people out a lot.”

In fact, they’re making people so concerned that officials at the Monroe County Health Department have developed a system to help them track the bugs.  Health Department Administrator Penny Caudill says the department asks for zip codes only from individuals, businesses, or pest control professionals who she hopes will report any infestation with which they come in contact.  The goal is to track the areas that are affected the most in an effort to find ways to help those people—generally Caudill said she intends for that help to come in the form education about bed bug identification and getting rid the problem. Caudill said the idea behind the Website is to provide a single location for those with a bed bug issue to report the occurrence. She said before individuals were reporting bed bug instances to the  health department, local schools and Indiana University…and there was no way to know if the same bed bug sightings were being reported multiple times.

“I would actually hope that the number that are reported from pest control companies are similar to the numbers that we’re seeing in residences and that the zip codes are matching. You know that if pest control companies are telling us that this area is where they’re going to most often that the that the instances that residents or business are reporting would fall in line,” Caudill said

Health department officials aren’t the only ones taking steps to attack the bed bug problem. Businesspeople like Furniture Exchange owner Steve Birch  said he’s made some changes too.  Birch sells both new and used furniture at his store, but due to the increase of bedbugs ,he’s stopped selling used beds.

“You know, for a long time we did and that was a big part of our business for a long time and we hated to quit doing that, but on the advise of the exterminators who have seen this problem in other buildings we felt like it was something we should quit doing. I guess if we brought one mattress in with bed bugs it could infest the whole store and cost tens of thousand of dollars to cure,”  Birch said.

But Jenson said bed bugs don’t just travel on beds.

“You shouldn’t pick up furniture that’s sitting at the side of the road.  I know of at least one local infestation that happened because of a couch that someone picked up at the side of the road that ended up having bed bugs in it and they got all over that residence,” Jenson said.

Jenson said bed bugs can even hitch a ride on people.

“I’ve definitely heard stories of people who are walking along and actually shedding bed bugs as they go.”

Birch said he carefully inspects every piece of used furniture he collects before bringing it into his store and points out that in all his 13 years of business he’s never seen a bed bug. But he laughed at the idea that a bed bug might be transferred from a potential customer’s sweater as he or she checks out the floor items, essentially making every couch—new or used—a potential threat.

But in the case of bedbugs, Jenson said it’s best to be proactive. He said avoid any place you think might be infested with bed bugs. Always check your hotel room, or even the bed at a friend’s house, looking in the seams around the mattress and cracks near the headboard for any sign of an infestation. Assume one bed bug means a bunch of bed bugs as Jenson says all it takes is one bug with fertilized eggs and a food source (you) to build a family. Letting the problem go longer, he said, will just mean a bigger hassle and a bigger cost to clean it up . And finally, Jenson said, there are a few steps a person can take if they think they’ve been in an infested area to keep the bugs from getting in their home.

“If they’ve been in a place where they suspect there might have been a bed bug, or a bed bug problem they can immediately when they come home strip down and throw all their clothes in the dryer for 30 minutes and that will kill any bed bugs that might have gotten on their clothing,” Jenson said.

Typically, if bug bugs and their eggs are heated to about 150 degrees that’s enough to kill them. But in order to get any kind of treatment for your home, whether it’s a heat treatment or more lengthy chemical treatment, Jenson said the only solution is to get help from a professional who has had previous experience in bed bug eradication.

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