Ten years ago, bed bugs were thought to have been eradicated in the United States and had become the subject of children’s rhymes.
One hundred years ago, bed bugs, tiny parasitic insects of the Cimicidae family that feed on human blood, were a common household pestilence.
After World War II, the introduction of pesticides like DDT, now banned, nearly eradicated bed bugs in developed countries.
Today, bed bugs have become a nuisance once again. A report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims this resurgence is the result of increased international travel and heightened resistance to available pesticides.
At UMKC, rumors and reports of bed bugs in residence halls and neighboring apartment complexes have surfaced.
Kristen Abell, Associate Director of Residential Life at UMKC, said she has received the normal number of complaints by this time of the school year, about two or three, although no cases have been confirmed.
“There tend to be higher reports from students after a story in the news about the increase in bed bugs, just like there are anywhere,” Abell said.
Abell said Residential Life brings in a pest control company to investigate bed bug complaints.
If bed bugs are found, Abell said, the room will be treated by an exterminator, and residents will be asked to take their clothing and other articles to a dry cleaner that uses a high-heat process. Abell recommends Hangers Cleaners, which has several metro locations.
Students will be allowed to return to their room once it has been properly cleaned.
Abell said preventing the spread of bed bugs is difficult because potent pesticides like DDT have been banned due to their adverse environmental effects.
“If a student comes to campus with bed bugs, then the most we can do is limit the effect that has on the campus,” Abell said.
UMKC takes several precautions to limit bed bug infestations, including the use of mattress covers resistant to bed bugs.
“There are very few places for bed bugs to hide in our rooms,” Abell said. “Most of the time when we have an issue, it is because a student has caught them somewhere else and brought them to campus.”
Abell said apartments and rooms are cleaned thoroughly when students and their roommates have moved out.
Abell said she was unaware of bed bug problems at neighboring apartment complexes.
According to an online brochure from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYDOHMH), bed bugs are small, reddish-colored bugs about one centimeter in diameter.
Common symptoms of infestation include itchy skin welts, small bloodstains from crushed insects and dark spots from droppings.
Abell advises students who live on campus to report their concerns to Residential Life, which will follow up with an investigation.
Abell said reporting concerns will help minimize student discomfort and the spread of bed bugs on campus.
Students who do not live on campus should also take precautions against bed bugs.
The NYDOHMH says the best way to eliminate bed bugs is to clean and disinfect the places where they hide, which include mattresses, bedroom furniture, millwork, sofas and other upholstered furniture.
Infected fabric surfaces should be scrubbed to dislodge bed bugs and their eggs and vacuumed afterward. Clothing items thought to be infected should be placed in a hot dryer for 30 minutes.
Mattresses and box springs though to be infected should be sealed with a zippered, waterproof allergen-rated mattress cover for at least one year.
Pesticides are a last resort and should be as non-toxic as possible and sprayed in upholstery seams only.
NYDOHMH advises travelers who suspect bed bugs to wash clothing and inspect luggage upon returning from a trip.
U-News spoke to several students who complained of bed bugs on campus, but none were willing to comment for the story.