Bedbugs Surfacing in Ohio

Don't let bedbugs bite. Really. Bedbugs have become "a horrible problem" in areas throughout the United States and Ohio, said Susan Jones, entomologist and household and structural pest specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

Jones is a steering committee member of the Joint Bed Bug Task Force in Cincinnati/Hamilton County and the spokesperson for the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force in Greater Columbus. The latter group recently launched a Web site,, to help people, organizations and communities learn more about bedbugs, the extent of the problem, ways to prevent an infestation, and what to do if bedbugs become a problem.

Two take-home messages Jones emphasizes: If you have bedbugs, don't use bug bombs or boric acid in an attempt to get rid of them. And if you're traveling or bringing college students home for the summer, do some checking for signs of bedbugs to prevent them from coming home with you.

Even four-star hotels can have bedbug problems, she said: "Bedbugs aren't associated with filth or poverty. They can hitchhike anywhere."

Jones suggests that people get on the Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force Web site to look at photos of bedbugs and signs of infestations so they know what to look for in their homes and when traveling.

The bedbug problem appears to be growing. In the Cincinnati area, where Jones has been on the task force since January 2008, complaints to Hamilton County Public Health have risen from 37 in 2005 to 305 in 2008. In Cincinnati, complaints to the city's health department reached 1,101 in 2008. And in New York City, complaints reached almost 10,000 in 2008, one-third higher than in 2007. Those affected include single-home residences, apartment complexes, nursing homes, senior living centers, and hotels and motels.

There doesn't seem to be a single reason as to why bedbugs are making such a surge, Jones said. However, bedbugs have always been a problem in some regions of the world, and society is becoming increasingly mobile.

"Often when traveling or going into an infested unit -- dorms, apartments, hotel rooms or private rooms, they'll crawl into your purse, backpack or luggage and hitchhike home with you. And all they want to do is suck your blood." Bedbugs don't fly, but they do crawl quickly and cling tightly onto surfaces.

Bedbugs aren't known to spread disease, but their bites, though painless when they occur, can cause severe itching as well as anxiety, sleeplessness and sometimes allergic reactions, Jones said. Scratching the bites can also cause infection.

The Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force Web site has photos of bedbugs and some of their tell-tale signs, and it also has links to brochures and fact sheets with additional photos and information. Jones' OSU Extension fact sheet on bedbugs is available on that site and at OSU Extension's site,

Jones offers this guidance:

  • When traveling, check the room for signs of bedbugs before carrying your luggage inside. Look for the bugs themselves -- adults are dark and about the size of an apple seed; nymphs are nearly colorless and much smaller; eggs are white and about 1/32 of an inch long. Eggs are glued in place to surfaces. The most obvious signs are spotting and dark stains from the pests' liquid fecal matter. Check for the bugs and stains on mattresses, box springs, the headboard and elsewhere on the bed frame, bed skirts, furniture, drawers, baseboards and walls, especially in corners and crevices such as the tufts, seams and folds of mattresses.
  • If you find signs of bedbugs in a hotel or motel room, insist on getting another room that doesn't share a common wall, floor or ceiling with the infested room, preferably in a different wing. If that room also indicates an infestation, "I would just leave," Jones said.
  • When returning home after traveling, inspect purses, bags, luggage and other materials for signs for bedbugs. Take luggage and other items immediately to the laundry room instead of the bedroom, just in case you've missed anything. Washing clothing in hot water (at least 120 degrees) and drying in a hot dryer for at least 15 minutes kills bugs, nymphs and eggs.
  • If you suspect an infestation in your home, contact a pest control company with experience in dealing with bedbugs immediately. "Don't wait, because the problem will just get worse," Jones said. "And don't use bug bombs. They rarely kill bedbugs, but it causes them to scatter into areas you wouldn't usually find them, like your bathroom or kitchen."

Boric acid also is ineffective. "This chemical acts as an insect stomach poison and provides good control for cockroaches, which have chewing mouthparts and thus ingest it into their system. Bedbugs have piercing, sucking mouthparts -- they feed on blood. Boric acid doesn't do a thing to them."

Pest control companies should first be sure to identify the pest as the bedbug and not its lookalike, the bat bug, which isn't as widespread as the bedbug. When bedbugs are confirmed, Jones said an integrated pest management approach should be used, employing sanitation, non-chemical measures, and targeted use of chemicals to combat the problem. More than one inspection and treatment is usually required, as female bedbugs can lay 12 eggs a day, and eggs can hatch in six to 17 days. Some insecticides are labeled for use on mattresses.

Bedbugs should always be reported, Jones said, although Ohio's home rule laws make it difficult for consumers to know where to report such infestations. "Start with your local health department, and if that's not the right agency, ask who's responsible," Jones said.

More information is available at


Martha Filipic
(614) 292-9833


Susan Jones, Entomology
(614) 292-2752

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