Experts offer blueprint for battling bedbugs

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Local,Kristen Byrne
They're creepy, they're crawly and altogether icky. Bedbugs are plaguing the District, and a recent study by Orkin ranked the nation's capital as the sixth-most infested city in the country.

The D.C. Department of Health isn't taking the problem lying down. The agency hosted its second annual Bed Bug Summit on Thursday to educate the public about the effects of the tiny parasites, and how to control an infestation.

"We need aggressive education on bed bugs, so urban residents can be informed," said Gerard Brown, a program manager for the Health Department.

Joe Laraia, an Orkin branch manager in the D.C. area, notes that infestations in the city and the surrounding areas have become a large problem, particularly in residential properties, including apartment complexes and single-family homes, with bedbug call volume to the branch averaging around 50 calls per month.

The Health Department has developed a public-service announcement that airs on cable television and lets viewers know where they can get more information on bedbugs, Brown said.

Angie Easley of the nonprofit National Bed Bug Association said the resurgence is because of the U.S. ban in 1972 of the pesticide DDT, which killed bedbugs.

"Bedbugs are resilient, and can be dormant for up to 18 months," she said. "With nothing successfully killing them, and with the increase in international travel, it was inevitable they would come back."

Easley said bedbugs can be found anywhere from houses to movie theaters. "Bedbugs are hitch hikers," she said. "They can go from someone's clothing to movie theater seat easily."

Brown said District residents could help prevent an infestation by removing clutter from their home, and cleaning frequently.

"Unfortunately, bedbug problems are spread in the city, and rarely contained," he said. "I've seen hotels throw away [infested] mattresses, and before you know it someone's already taken the mattress."

The Health Department recommends people to get their homes inspected before they treat for a bedbug problem. Pest control inspections and canine detection can be used to detect the small parasites.

Potomac Canine has recently begun training dogs in bedbug detection. Kelly Mullaney, a field inspector for the company, offered a tip about the placement of luggage in a hotel room.

"The hotel suitcase rack isn't 100 percent anymore," she said. "The safest place to put your suitcase is in a bathtub."

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