For the past few years, Charleston and Huntington have been crawling up the list of Orkin’s top bed bug cities.
The two cities, which are combined in the pest-control company’s rankings, were 49th on the 2012 top 50 list, which is based on the number of bed bug treatments from January to December of the previous year, according to Orkin’s website.
In 2013, bed bug business was booming in the area, and the cities jumped to number 31 in the rankings. The following year, the state held steady at 30 on the 2014 list.
Orkin’s not the only exterminator to note that West Virginia has become a hot bed of bed bug activity. Chris Alford, the president of Alford Home Solutions of Nitro, began receiving an influx of bed bug calls several years ago.
“I went from a call a month, two or three years ago, to 10 to 20 calls a week now,” he said. “Most of my calls are residential. Some have attempted to take care of it themselves, but this is not a matter of ants in the kitchen. This is completely different. Most of the time, professional help is required.”
Tony Harmon, the city of Charleston’s building commissioner, inspects rental property among his duties for the city. He’s also seen an upswing in bed bug complaints in the past two years. When a rental unit has bed bugs, the residents must present a certificate showing it has been treated by a professional, he said.
Unlike ants, which are seasonal pests that are active primarily in the spring, bed bugs are a year-round problem, Alford said.
However, the risk of picking them up is greater during the times of the year when people are traveling, such as spring break, summer vacation and winter holidays, according to Alford.
In other words, when you’re traveling, they are, too.
Frequent travelers are at an increased risk, according to Russ Clevenger, the owner of Enviro-Tech Pest Services in Charleston.
“They don’t fly, and they don’t jump,” Clevenger said. “They crawl, but they’re good hitchhikers.”
The first step to avoid these unseen traveling companions is to be mindful of them, said Alford.
“When my family travels, we don’t take our luggage into the room until we’ve inspected it for bed bugs. Even my kids know to do it. That’s the reality,” said Alford, although he admits it takes a trained eye to know what to look for.
Pricey hotel accommodations are no guarantee of a bed-bug free night’s sleep either, Alford said.
“Bed bugs aren’t biased,” said Alford, who has treated $500,000 homes and dispels the notion that those beset by the bugs are dirty.
As a case in point, his bed-bug inspectors stayed at a high-end, $200-a-night hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend a training seminar about the pests.
“The first room they went to had a bed-bug problem,” he said.
Bed bugs aren’t confined to hotels, motels, dorms and residences. A woman could put her purse down in a theater, and a bed bug could crawl into it and hitch a ride to the next station, say a hospital or an office. They’re attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide humans give off, and they know no boundaries, Alford said.
He said heat treatment, in which large heaters and fans are brought in to heat a residence to 130 degrees, is an effective one-shot method that kills adult bed bugs and their eggs. It’s expensive, though, ranging from about $1,200 to $5,000, depending on the size of the house, and it can’t be used on mobile homes because they can’t withstand the heat.
Alford said the public needs to know that bed bugs are out there. He offered the following advice for those battling the pests.
“Do your homework,” before hiring an exterminator, he said. Be mindful of warranties and what is included in the treatments.
In addition, he urged those with bed bugs to “be a good citizen” and to prevent passing the bed bugs to others. For example, infected items can be bagged and marked as bed-bug infested, and mattresses can be ripped up so unsuspecting passersby won’t pick them up.
By the same token, precautions can be taken to prevent an infestation, he said. Avoid picking up discarded furniture or bedding, and inspect all second-hand goods for signs of bed bugs, Alford said.
Also, once bed bugs have been eradicated, a home can still be infected again if another one is brought inside, Alford said.
“The sooner we can make the public aware of this, the better,” he said.
Reach Mary Sansom at firstname.lastname@example.org.