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Bed bugs a problem in homes, not city offices

Tuesday - 5/22/2012, 9:07am  ET

bed bugs
Bed bugs usually burrow and live near the edges and corners of mattresses. (Courtesy of University of Kentucky)

Dick Uliano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - There's good news and bad news about bed bugs in the District.

First, the good news.

It was recently reported that bed bugs were found at a D.C. Department of Health office on North Capitol Street. However, Gerard Brown, program manager for Vector and Rodent Control for the Department, says, "It was not an infestation, it was one bed bug."

The Department of Health's Vital Records Division gets many visitors seeking birth certificates and death records and Brown says the bug was found in a public waiting area, likely carried in on a visitor's clothing.

"An office building is not an ideal place for bed bugs," he says.

Bed bugs are mostly nocturnal and they prefer quiet, undisturbed areas.

And now the bad news.

"It's not getting any better," says Brown.

"Now bed bugs are starting to spread in single family homes. First it was hotels, then it started spreading to apartment buildings and then homeless shelters and now we get calls from private homes."

Brown estimates the cost of ridding a two- to three-bedroom house of bed bugs could be $1,500 to $2,000.

Hotel operators and owners of apartment buildings tend to be very aggressive when bed bugs are first spotted because, according to Brown, they want to curb the problem before it gets more costly

Bed bugs are parasites that feed on human blood. Although they don't spread disease, they can cause skin rashes.

Bed bugs remain largely a city problem. Both Fairfax and Montgomery counties report few problems with bed bugs.

There have been just 15 complaints filed with the Fairfax County Health Department in 2012 and 21 in Montgomery County, rates that pest control experts say are normal.

If properly treated, infestation can be curbed, but the Department of Public Health says some citizens, particularly senior citizens, aren't properly reporting bed bug infestations.

"They don't like to notify management because they sometimes are embarrassed," Brown says.

Some people believe that bed bugs are a product of poverty or dirty conditions.

"That's not true. A bed bug can pop up anywhere."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)