AUSTIN (KXAN) - In one of the bedrooms of a University of Texas area housingco-op, a technician stares at a computer screen. It's covered withreadouts from sensors placed in other rooms up and down the hall.The sensors monitor the heat in each room, as the thermometerslowly rises on its way to 135 or 140 degrees. Human beings areuncomfortable in that environment.
Bed bugs -- and even their eggs -- are dead in it.
"There needs to be experts involved with this," said BrianDiCicco, director of Pest Management, Inc. "This is the one insectthat you just can't do by yourself. I mean, you could find homeremedies for roaches and ants and you might be able to get it undercontrol. Bed bugs are a unique species and they are very difficultto get rid of."
DiCicco's company is a division of Hill Country Pest Control, Inc., a Kerrville,Texas, based company that has been killing bugs since 1971. It took35 years for the company to begin finding severe infestations ofbed bugs.
"Our call volume since 2006 is up 1000 percent," Dicicco said."Bed bugs are a terrible situation; there's no question about it.They affect your mental state; they affect every part of yourexistence because they're affecting where you sleep."
No one knows that better than Lindsey Kimmons, a resident of theRiverlodge Apartment complex in the northwestpart of the Austin area. She shows a visitor to her bedroom andstarts her tale of woe.
"This is where I first started getting bit, every single nightin my bed," she said. "It's awful; they bite you and if feels likean awful mosquito bite that does not stop itching. And they lastfor days, so I would accumulate bites over a week and have them allover me. Miserable, all over my face, my neck, my whole body. Theywere crawling on top of my sheets, under my sheets, on my mattress;I was changing my sheets every day. I could see them and when theexterminator came, finally, I could see the eggs. So they werelaying eggs in my bed."
Kimmons complained to managers at her complex, but she says theywere slow to respond.
"I ended up getting a hotel for two weeks because I couldn'ttake it anymore," she said. "They said it's not a health risk; it'snot a health hazard, so live with it, pretty much. They said I washaving an allergic reaction that most people don't have."
Adam Temple, a spokesperson for the Charlotte, SC, company thatowns Riverlodge, would not comment on the record, but the companydid say in a written statement: "We were made aware of thisisolated incident and took decisive action within 24 hours toaddress the concerns. We are currently following therecommendations of independent pest control experts in the Austinarea in order to completely resolve the issue."
Kimmons, though, said she knows of several other infestedapartments in the complex and argues all the units should betreated since bed bugs migrate from apartment to apartment viawiring and pipes. The debate is not unusual.
"Disputes between tenants and landlords is a big problem," saidDiCicco. "Who's at fault? You really can't say. Other states havetaken steps to make it clear: It is what it is; you've got to takecare of it and move on down the road. Under their legislation, thelandlord is responsible to take action within a certain amount ofdays or they are fined every day they do not take care of it. Thelonger that infestation sits there and no one is dealing with it,the more chances that it's going to spread out into otherneighboring units," Dicicco said.
Back at the co-op, DiCicco shows off the work of a speciallytrained dog that can sniff out a bed bug problem and confirm aninfestation in its early stages.
"In the beginning, four months of a bed bug infestation, it's almost impossiblewith a visual inspection to confirm because the numbers aren't upyet," he said.
If the numbers grow out of control, the company brings on theheat.
"Right now, we're at 125 degrees," said Pest Management's SarahMcElwee as two massive heaters with loud fans almost drown out hervoice. "Our goal is to get it up to 130 to135 degrees."
Room by room, the heaters eliminate the critters as AlanRobinson, general administrator of CollegeHouse Co-ops, which runs the bug-infested Pearl Street Co-oplooks on happily.
"We've learned, number one, it can happen to anyone, that it'snot about cleanliness," he said. "It doesn't say anything about theperson and it happens a lot if there are a lot of people coming inand out."
Robinson acknowledges, though, that the co-op failed toappreciate the seriousness of the problem in the beginning. If ithad, it might have avoided the $110,000 expense the bed bug fightis expected to cost.
"Looking back, I wish I could have done a lot more earlier," hesaid. "I thought of it as just another pest control issue; you callyour regular pest control company; they put down some chemicals andit's gone. That's not true and I wish I knew then what I know now.Assume it's going to happen to you. Assume you're going to get it,monitor and then immediately respond once you identify aproblem."
Meanwhile, area hotels, nursing homes and even hospitals are onthe alert. Pest Management has treated 10 hotels in the Austin areaalone over the past two years and one still uses the company's dogsfor regular inspections.
So why, you may ask, is all this happening now? It's true thatbed bugs have always been with us, but treatments with thenow-banned DDT significantly reduced their numbers. With thatweapon now gone, the bugs are on a comeback.
"Due to international travel," said DiCicco, "they've really hitthe eastern seaboard and they've slowly been moving inland from NewYork and San Francisco into the middle of the country and theAustin area. Now there's a certain amount of resistance to certainproducts. There's not a lot of chemicals out there that take careof this particular problem."
Hence the heat. Bring it on.
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