Not one of the dozen pest exterminators in the phone book list "bed bugs" in its repertoire. Ants, spiders, mice, rats and earwigs, but not bed bugs.
That could soon change as an increasing number of Blaine County residents learn firsthand the meaning of the age-old adage, "Good night—don't let the bed bugs bite."
The calls are pouring in for Todd Nelson, division manager of Bedbug Thermal Solutions in Hailey. He said the company—operating in Nevada, Utah and Western Wyoming—opened a branch here six months ago after noticing the need.
"I get a couple calls a day now," Nelson said. "I'm sitting in the van heating up an infested house as we speak."
Thermal Solutions uses 125-pound heaters to raise the temperature of an infested building to about 130 degrees to kill the bugs.
"At 115, they come looking for the meal," he said. "At 120, they start dying out."
He said the process costs a minimum $1,000 and takes about nine hours from setup to tear-down. Such unusual practices are needed because bed bugs have grown resistant to "almost all pesticides" made to treat them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, exterminators manually vacuum the bugs and eggs or use heat.
The CDC reports that bed bugs were nearly eradicated in industrialized countries such as the United States up until a few years ago. The first American reports of the resurgence came from the East Coast. Bed bugs infested more than a dozen New York City schools and part of the Empire State Building.
The National Pest Management Association, whose members make up many pest exterminators across the country, surveyed 1,000 companies last spring and found that 95 percent encountered bed bug infestations in the past year.
"It remains a mystery why we're seeing such an abrupt increase after years of scarce encounters," the report reads.
The association also surveyed adults across the country in November and said one in five Americans has had a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs.
"It was only a matter of time until they came here," said Nelson, attributing the bugs' arrival to the number of visitors flowing in and out of the Wood River Valley. "We're going to get them worse than we have them now."
He's not the only one seeing more bed bug business.
"I'm doing one right now," said Joe Pearson, owner of Wood River Pest Management, who uses vacuuming, steam heat and chemicals.
He's been in business here for 15 years and said he used to see a couple of cases of bed bugs per year. That's turned into two a month.
Cindy Day has owned Cook Pest Control in Twin Falls for 10 years. She said she used to treat one bed bug infestation a month. That has turned into several a week. She travels to Jerome, Kimberly, Buhl and the Wood River Valley for exterminations.
"Pretty much anywhere in the area you can name, we've been there," she said.
She said much of the difficulty in stopping the spread is the stigma surrounding bed bugs, similar to that of lice. She admits that when people call her claiming they have a bed bug infestation, her "skin crawls." However, it's not a reflection on the person.
"It doesn't matter if the person is rich or poor, clean or dirty," she said. "You just have to be in the right place at the right time."
Education is best combatant
The CDC reports hotels as the most common place to pick up bed bugs, but they've infested movie theaters, a Victoria's Secret store, offices such as Google in New York City, buses, trains and more. Itchy blisters resulting from bites is the most common way that people realize they have bed bugs. That's because the bugs hide during the day in the folds of mattresses and any cracks they can find.
"They're very cryptic insects," Pearson said.
They feed for only five to 10 minutes, doing so every 10 days or so as they mature through five stages to adulthood, growing from the size of a poppy seed to an apple seed.
"I've worked for people who've had bed bugs for years and never did anything about it," he said.
For some people, the problem seems to go away. However, the bugs never leave. They just feed infrequently. He said they call him after several feeding cycles, realizing they're helpless. By then, the infestation is "out of control."
He also advocated education as the key, as exterminators are losing the battle. People should check hotel room mattresses and, when arriving home, shouldn't throw luggage on the bed but wash everything.
The good news is that bed bugs, unlike many public health pests, don't transmit diseases.
To ascertain if you have an infestation, either search the cracks of your mattress for the bugs or look for the excrement—pinhead-sized black dots found in clusters—that bed bugs leave behind after feeding.
"They defecate after they feed so they can shrink down and fit back into their cracks," Pearson said. "They also shed their skins between their five stages of growth."
Bed bugs will feast on any warm-blooded animal, so pets are also at risk.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org