Take precautions for bed bug 'hitchhikers'


ALAMOSA — With a recent report of bed bugs in a local motel, the Alamosa County Public Health Department shared its protocol for responding to such reports and helpful tips for those encountering or trying to prevent the problem.

“We get calls every once in a while reporting bed bugs,” said Regional Environmental Health Program Manager Lynnea Rappold, REHS.

She said her office averages about one complaint a month, but not all of them are valid. Sometimes people are just not happy about their accommodations, she said.

She added that the complaints come from all over, and sometimes even a “5 star” hotel can have a bed bug problem.

Rappold explained that when she receives a complaint, she follows a procedure that includes visiting the facility where the complaint originated. If the report is substantiated, Rappold’s office requires professional pest control measures within two weeks and proof that such measures were conducted.

“The only way you can get rid of this problem is if you hire pest control. It’s really hard to do on your own,” Rappold explained. “They have to use a licensed pest control specialist.”

She said sometimes her office has to apply some pressure to correct a problem, but “we try to work with people and understand we live in a community where it’s hard to get services.”

As regional health program manager, Rappold handles complaints from all over the six counties of the San Luis Valley. She tracks trends in complaints and said they are seasonal, with this time of year and into the coming months being more active, especially as more tourists are visiting the area.

Rappold said her office does not have regulatory authority over apartments but can require treatment actions at motels and hotels. In other cases she provides educational resources.

“The only time we investigate is if it’s a hotel,” she said, “because we have regulations we can enforce on those.”

She said her office does not disclose where recent complaints have been reported due to the small size of the community and not wanting to negatively affect local businesses.

(One place that travelers sometimes report infestations is a public database found at http://bedbugregistry.com/)

Rappold added that bed bug problems create a nuisance but do not rise to the level of a public health concern.

She encouraged travelers to always check out a room as soon as they check into their hotel — before bringing any of their luggage or belongings into the room — to make sure it does not have a bed bug problem.

“Pull back the cover and sheet and look for indications,” Rappold said. “They leave behind telltale signs to look for.”

Signs of an infestation include live or dead bed bugs; bed bug eggs; excrement (reddish brown to black specks and smears); and, in heavily infested areas, a musty sweet odor.

Some areas to inspect are: bed frames, mattresses and box springs; nightstands; couches and recliners; floor cracks and grooves; edges of rug and carpeting, tack strips; loosened wallpaper and peeling paint; behind baseboards, wall and ceiling moldings; wall art and decorations; switches, outlets and smoke detectors; window and door frames; and drapery and blinds.

Bed bugs hide during the day in places like the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, in cracks and crevices, behind wallpaper or cluttered places near a bed. Bed bugs have been known to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within eight feet of where people sleep, according to the health department.

Bed bugs can be found any place where people sleep including homes, hotel rooms, resorts, dormitories, camps, shelters, buses and trains. 

Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs. Their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of an area, Rappold shared. They are experts at hiding and go just about anywhere. They can go for long periods of time without feeding, which allows them to attach to items such as luggage and clothes, and travel home with guests.

In order to avoid bringing bed bugs home when traveling, the National Pest Management Association recommends the following tips:

* Vacuum suitcases after returning from any travel

* Check sheets at home or while traveling for telltale blood spots

* Cover suitcases in a large plastic bag during stays in hotels

* Carry a flashlight to assist with visual inspections

* Never bring second-hand furniture home without fully inspecting. This sometimes requires the help of a professional.

* Regularly inspect sleeping areas, including those areas where pets sleep.

Unfortunately, one of the ways people find out they have been somewhere where there are bedbugs is being bitten by them. That might include bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands or legs. The bite marks are similar to those of a mosquito or flea, causing a slightly swollen and red area that may itch or become irritated. These bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous, but an allergic reaction could require medical attention.

Bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans, although their bites can leave victims itchy and uncomfortable, according to the health department. Bed bugs are nocturnal parasites that feed on the blood of humans and pets while they sleep. They are attracted to humans and pets through the warmth of their bodies and carbon dioxide. 

Rappold encourages hotels to be proactive. She said some hotels heat their rooms to 135 degrees on a regular basis, for example, because heat kills bed bugs.

“We try to encourage being proactive,” she said.

If a problem arises, however, professional pest control is the solution, she repeated.