Bedbugs, the tiny bloodsuckers that have re-emerged despite being nearly eradicated in the United States, continue to spread nationwide and across North Texas.
No agency tracks bedbug infestations because they are considered a nuisance, not a health threat. But reports of them creeping on mattresses in Dallas-Fort Worth homes, apartments and hotels have grown since last year, pest control experts and health officials say.
Last month, Fort Worth public health officials sent warnings about bedbugs to hotel and apartment owners and helped the Apartment Association of Tarrant County hold webinar training for apartment managers.
"Calls for bedbugs have doubled since last year; we now get them daily," said Mike Muncell, manager of a Terminex in Dallas-Fort Worth. "People think it's pretty creepy when they find out they're crawling around the bedroom."
The bugs don't seem as prevalent in North Texas as in other parts of the country. In New York City, for example, they have been spotted everywhere from upscale hotels to the Empire State Building.
But bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers, traveling the world in the suitcases of unsuspecting travelers. Locally, they have already forced the closure of a Fort Worth Housing Authority property and been exterminated at the University of North Texas in Denton.
Experts say it seems only a matter of time before bedbugs are a common nuisance everywhere.
"I even heard one entomologist say they thought bedbugs would be kind of like German cockroaches fairly soon," said Laura Miller, an entomologist at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Tarrant County. "Most people will have had experiences with them and just get used to dealing with them."
The return of bedbugs is attributed, in part, to the Environmental Protection Agency's banning of pesticides that kill them, such as DDT, and the rise in international travel.
The flat, brown bugs feed on blood and leave itchy welts on humans. They can live for up to six to eight months between feedings, meaning they can travel long distances. Difficult to kill because they hide in crevices on beds, box springs and bed frames, they lay eggs and, if not properly exterminated, can multiply rapidly.
Brian Anderson of Myers Pest and Termite Service said he has exterminated bedbugs from several North Texas apartment complexes where corporations house international business travelers.
One company spent $48,000 treating more than 300 units, he said.
"What happens is these corporations are so multi-national that they bring people in for extended stays from around the world," Anderson said. "And when you have people coming from around the world, some of them are going to bring these things with them."
The Fort Worth Housing Authority spent tens of thousands of dollars fumigating residents' possessions at Hunter Plaza after it became infested. Hotels in Dallas and Tarrant counties have also spent up to $30,000 to get rid of bedbugs, Anderson said.
Rise in reports
News reports about the spread of bedbugs have alarmed travelers. Websites have been created for hotel guests to log sightings. Bedbugregistry.com shows 293 recent reports in Texas, although the website acknowledges that the reports are unconfirmed and that some may be written by disgruntled guests or even competitors.
A guest at a Fort Worth hotel wrote that she got several bites during a two-week stay.
"I returned home and several weeks later I noticed the bites again and some blood spots on the sheet," the guest wrote. "My husband and I looked over the bed and we were shocked to see a congregant of 'bugs' on one end of the bed."
Many hotels have taken proactive steps.
"Instead of just calling us to come look at something and tell them if its bedbugs, they want us to come out and give them proof that they don't have them," Anderson said.
Fort Worth health officials have seen an uptick in infestation reports from apartment residents, said Brandon Bennett, city director of code compliance and public health. The city points people to resources to help them properly get rid of the bugs.
Some residents have accidently spread the bugs while trying to dispose of infested possessions, he said.
"The problem is they would put their mattress or sofa in the dumpster," Bennett said. "Then another person sees it, thinks it looks in pretty good shape and moves it into their unit. So now you have just moved the problem across the complex."
There is a misconception that cleanliness keeps them away.
"It doesn't matter if the home is worth a million dollars or it is just your average home," Muncell said. "They don't discriminate."
People can take steps to protect themselves, Miller said. Travelers who suspect that their hotel has bedbugs can seal their luggage in plastic to keep the bugs from spreading when they get home and then put the contents in the washer and dryer.
"You can kill them with heat," she said. "Thirty minutes in a hot dryer -- 120 degrees Fahrenheit -- will kill all stages of bedbugs."
Miller said that people should be informed of the bedbug threat but not overreact to it.
"I wouldn't say there is an epidemic or anything in our part of the country," she said. "But these cases are increasing in general, and it's something people should be aware of."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689