Invasion of the Bedbugs

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Bedbugs! Yikes!

As many of you know, there has been an invasion of the dreaded bedbugs around town.

These blood suckers have even reached at least one newly created mixed-income community as well as other federally subsidized apartments across the city.

Bedbugs at Oakwood Shores
“I used to have to deal with roaches. But I have never had (bedbugs) over there in Robert Taylor,” said Mary Forney, a former public housing resident, on Nov. 10.

An RJ investigation found that the pesty insects have found a home in Forney’s public housing unit and at least one other in the 94-acre Oakwood Shores mixed-income development created under the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Plan for Transformation.

Forney said dealing with the pesky bugs has been both costly and time-consuming. Oakwood Shores, located on the city’s South Side bordered by 35th Street on the north, Lake Park Avenue to the east, Pershing Road to the south and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the west, was created with the use of a $35 million federal grant to replace Ida B. Wells, Clarence Darrow and the Madden Park homes.

Forney, who suffers from blood cancer, has been working with management to continue living in the public housing unit after the death of her mother in March 2009, who was the leaseholder.

She said the bedbugs were first discovered in February 2009, after she and her 11-year-old niece were bitten.

So far, Forney said she has disposed of bed linen and several mattresses and has spent hundreds of dollars on insecticides while waiting for Oakwood Shores’ management to send exterminators.

Forney said the exterminator who finally came out to her apartment for roach abatement discovered she in fact had bed bugs.

Forney said she told management after listening to the exterminator, but no action was taken immediately.

“They let it get out of control after I told them. They acted like I didn’t know what I was talking about,” Forney said.

Forney added that another Oakwood Shores tenant raised the issue of bed bug infestation at a resident meeting in the winter of 2009.

RJ tried on several occasions to find out just how bad the bedbug infestation was at Oakwood Shores and what was being done about the problem but management officials declined to comment before press deadline.

A Bedbug Tale
Joy Braboy, a former Robert Taylor Homes resident now living in a federally subsidized building, said the night terrors were really severe in her apartment.

“They’re real severe. It’s so bad, it’s in the walls,” Braboy told RJ during a phone interview on Nov. 12, 2009.

Braboy has been living with her four kids for the past seven years at Parkway Gardens Apartments, located at the intersection of the 6400 block of South King Drive and Calumet Street. She said she often sees swarms of bed bugs crawling out from cracks in her walls.

Braboy said an exterminator who came this past summer told her the apartment was infested with the blood-suckers. She said doctors at St. Bernard Hospital gave her some ointment to use on bitten areas.

Braboy said she threw away her family’s beds, and bagged up a lot of her family’s clothing and other things at the instruction of the exterminator.

Now she wonders if her new beds will become infested.

Braboy said when she complained to her building’s management about the bedbugs, she learned from office workers that many tenants were complaining about the pests.

While waiting for management to abate the problem, Braboy, who works delivering pizza, said she spent a lot of money trying to solve the problem herself.

“I’m sacrificing. That money could go on a bill, on me, or some tissue. The bed bug spray is $8 to 10 cans,” Braboy said. “I had to throw beds away.”

Facts about Bed Bugs
Braboy and Forney both theorized that the bedbugs are coming from the revitalization activities going on around the low-income housing complexes.

But according to officials at the Illinois Department of Public Health, bed bugs are carried into the house or apartment from clothes, luggage, furniture and bedding, or sometimes on people.

“People assume that bed bugs are present because of poor hygiene or poor sanitation. And really, there’s no significant relationship between bed bugs and poor sanitary habits,” said Linn Haramis, an entomologist at IDPH, told RJ during a phone interview Jan. 5.

“All they need to survive is a place to hide and people to feed on. They’re not like a cockroach or an ant that feed on food items.”

Because of the association with poor sanitation, Haramis said people were less likely to report infestations, which makes the problem spread.

Bed bugs are making a comeback in Illinois after a dramatic decline in the 1940s and 1950s, Haramis said.

He added that the pest can survive several months or even a year without feeding, and wait in a dormant apartment for the next family or person to feast on.

Bed bugs also can be spread through secondhand furniture bought, given by someone, or found discarded, particularly beds and couches.

Although bed bugs are known to carry pathogens in their bodies, including plague and hepatitis-B, they are not considered to be a health risk.

Haramis said the bugs have not been linked to the transmission of any diseases.

There are some individuals, however, who are highly allergic to the bite of bed bugs and may experience anaphylactic shock, “much like a bee sting might in certain individuals,” according to data at www.bed-bugs.org www.bed-bugs.org.

Haramis said people shouldn’t just throw their infested things away and get new items if the apartment hasn’t been effectively abated.

“Without effective treatment of the bed bugs, anything new that you’re going to get will just be re-infested by bed bugs,” Haramis said.

“So it’s better to keep what you have until something can be done about the problem. Now if it’s an issue where people are low-income and don’t have a whole lot of money, this just makes situation a whole lot more difficult to deal with.”

Haramis said controlling bed bugs is very difficult for a lay person, and did not recommend that pesticides be handled by individuals who aren’t trained.

“This is really a job for a licensed pest control company or somebody who has training to do that,” Haramis said. Bed bugs “could be present in other areas of the apartment.”

The IDPH and other experts in the field have attributed the return of bed bugs across the country to more world-wide travel and changes in extermination techniques, particularly the ban on DDT.

Today’s insecticides, although safer for people, are less effective in killing these bugs.

Travelers should make sure to sleep with clean bed linens and wash laundry before going back home after their hotel stay.

Bed bugs are fast-moving, small, usually reddish-brown flat insects and can quickly spread from one unit to the next in multi-unit apartment buildings, Haramis said.

To prevent getting a bed bug infestation, keep all beds pulled slightly away from walls, furniture and curtains.

Other IDPH prevention tips include making sure bedclothes don’t touch the floor. Wrap carpet tape or duct tape – sticky side out – around bed legs, or use traps to prevent bed bugs from climbing onto beds.

Keep the floor under and around beds free of clutter. Change sheets and pillow cases weekly. Wash in either hot water or machine dry at medium or high heat, use fitted sheets on the mattress, or tuck sheets under the mattress, and use light-colored sheets and check for discolored spots when removing them from the bed.

When traveling, look for signs of bed bugs along the seams of the mattresses and keep bags and luggage off the floor and bed. Inspect all used furniture carefully for bed bugs before bringing it into a home.

If there is a bed bug infestation, Haramis said people should vacuum infested areas, including mattresses and box springs, dispose of the contents in a sealed garbage bag or trash container, remove the pillows, sheets, blankets, mattress and box springs, and wash sheets and blankets. Dry blankets, sheets and pillows at medium or high heat.

Haramis added that building owners and managers have to work together with occupants and pest control professionals in order to complete an effective abatement.

IDPH warns that items that cannot be completely inspected and treated should be thrown out, and they strongly warn against applying pesticides to mattresses, bedding or furniture unless the pesticide’s label specifically allows use on these items, and only then on those items which people will not touch.

Treatments such as “fogging” and “bug bombs” are ineffective against well-hidden bed bugs and may drive them into other rooms or apartments and spread the infestation.

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