LOCK HAVEN - Since October 2009, the Clinton County Housing Authority has spent $15,000 for extermination services on the comeback kid in the galaxy of pests - the common bed bug.
And you can bet your bottom dollar there's also a problem out there in the general community, according to Housing Authority officials.
The problem is seen across the country where more and more people are reporting problems in recent years -surprisingly so, since this is an insect more prevalent and more associated with the times during and before World War II.
"We've found pockets," Housing Authority Executive Director Jeff Rich said, "Mostly in the mid-rise buildings and some of the family units, but none of them right now, and we've had no infestations in Renovo ... We've concentrated on our apartment buildings, where it appears to be worse."
Rich emphasized the problem wasn't about public housing, nor was it about cleanliness or good housekeeping.
"For the uneducated, there may be that misconception," he said, "but this type of pest will attack any home, from the cleanest to the most cluttered."
As for the reason behind the resurgence of a bed bug problem, there are several theories out there even as experts are searching for solution.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, dormitories, cruise ships and shelters.
Bed bugs were a common problem in the United States in an earlier time, but were virtually eradicated with the wide-scale usage of pesticides, such as DDT.
"Although bed bug populations dropped dramatically during the mid 20th century, the United States is one of many countries now experiencing an alarming resurgence in the population of bed bugs," it stated. "Though the exact cause is not known, experts suspect the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence, and the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies."
While bed bugs do not transmit disease, the CDC is concerned about the blood-sucking pests as their bites can result in serious mental and physical effects, including mild to severe allergic reactions, skin infections, anxiety and insomnia.
The housing authority is asking any of its tenants who suspect an infestation to call 748-2954, as early reporting and treatment will decrease the risk to others.
In a letter to tenants:
"You may have heard about the explosion of bed bug infestations in the news. The Clinton County Housing Authority has been battling bed bug infestations ... Treatment does lead to elimination, but it requires tenant commitment and diligence. Foremost, tenants must report suspected infestations early."
Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. They are usually active at night when people are sleeping.
Adult bed bugs have flat, rusty-red-colored oval bodies. About the size of an apple seed, they are big enough to be easily seen, but often hide in cracks in furniture, floors, or walls. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and become brighter red. They can live for several months without food or water.
Most bed bug bites are initially painless, but later turn into large, itchy skin welts. These welts do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites. Although bed bugs are a nuisance, they are not known to spread disease.
A licensed pest control professional is necessary to get rid of bed bugs.
"There's no effective way to get rid of them without engaging a professional," Rich said. "It just doesn't work. "Our biggest issue is tenant cooperation and getting them to do what they need to do. For anybody, there's a lot of work involved and you can't overlook any of the steps. When we've follow the established plan, and you have to be diligent, we've eliminated the problem."
The bugs aren't incredibly mobile, Rich said, but as a precaution, if a unit is treated, so is the one above, below and both sides of that unit.
"We've done counseling and education," Rich said. "What we don't want to do is impose fees and penalties for noncompliance.
The Housing Authority is asking tenants to investigate their homes and report any problems, "the sooner the better, because we want to deal with it - and we're paying for it. They aren't on the hook for anything. We are willing to go the extra mile? We've worked with the Department of Health on this, and they've looked at our plans and treatment, and have been us best wishes that we're doing everything within our capability."
As for infestations in general, Rich said there's no master plan or solution, and some treatments are considered better than others.
"For every one we've discovered, I am absolutely sure there are three or four problems out there in the general community. In fact, I believe our problems first arose when people in the community visited authority sites, and brought them in ... The problem is here, and it's out there."
Rich said he first heard of problem about five years ago in a seminar at Penn State University. "Back then it was Philadelphia and Harrisburg talking about it ... I said we'll never see that here, and now I'm eating my hat."