BANGOR, Maine — The city’s public health department has a warning for Bangor residents: Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
Patty Hamilton, Bangor’s director of public health, said the city is seeing a rise in the parasitic creatures that feed on human flesh during the nighttime hours.
Click here for a fact sheet about The Common Bedbug, cimex lectularius.
“I don’t think the general public thinks of our region as an area that has bedbugs,” she said Wednesday. “Historically, bedbugs have been more of an issue in the South, but in the last three years or so, I’ve had an increasing number of calls, even from people away from Bangor.”
Mike Peaslee, technical coordinator for Modern Pest Services, which is headquartered in Brunswick but has service centers in Bangor, Augusta and Westbrook, agreed with Hamilton’s assessment.
“There has definitely been an increase in the last eight to 10 years and certainly in the last three or four years,” he said. “We even have a couple [eradication] jobs in Bangor later this week and next.”
Dr. Stephen Sears, epidemiologist for the state of Maine, said bedbugs are not reportable for statistical purposes, so unfortunately his information is anecdotal.
“I think they have always been around, people just don’t talk about them,” he said.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, bedbugs, or cimex lectularius, are flat, wingless, red-brown, blood-sucking insects that can grow up to one-quarter inch in length and can live for up to one year.
Hamilton said bedbugs hide in cracks and crevices of beds, furniture, floors and even walls. Unlike lice, bedbugs are not usually found on people or clothing. The bugs do not transmit disease, but their bites cause small, itchy red bumps on the skin’s surface, although Peaslee said up to 40 percent of the population have no reaction to bites. The insects also are quite resilient and they multiply prodigiously.
Hamilton, however, said she wants to get the word out now because springtime is prime time for bedbugs to spread.
“Used or old furniture is one of the primary ways they are transmitted,” she said. “People might offer furniture in yard sales or for free on the side of the road, and the buyers and takers may not know the furniture could be infested.”
Another common mode of transmission is from hotels or motels. The bugs can travel easily on planes, buses, in suitcases and handbags.
So far, Hamilton said her office has received a handful of calls from residents this spring, and she has encouraged them to contact their landlord or an exterminator. She said the problem has been prevalent in the city’s Park Woods low-income housing development, but she cautioned people against assuming that bedbugs discriminate.
“It’s not a class issue,” she said. “We’ve seen them in high-end and low-end places.”
Added Peaslee: “It’s unfortunate that people think bedbugs are more associated with low-income or substandard housing, because that’s not necessarily the case. If you have a lot of clutter, there is certainly more harborage area, but frequent travelers pose the biggest risk.”
Officials acknowledged that there is a stigma associated with bedbugs, similar to lice, which might cause people to be less-than-forthright about reporting infestation.
“People need to be concerned about this and vigilant about this,” said Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s director of health and community services.
As for eradication, the CDC cautions that insecticides should only be applied by professional exterminators and should be combined with environmental measures such as cleaning linens, mattresses and vacuuming floors.
“You can’t just get a can of Raid and spray them out,” Sears said.
According to Peaslee, another removal method involves heating systems that can kill the bedbugs.
“They are challenging in some aspects to get rid of. You have to be very thorough,” said Peaslee. “We’ve been pretty successful, but it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming and costly for a lot of people.”
Late last year, residents of public housing in Lewiston complained of bedbugs. According to previously published reports, the Lewiston Housing Authority required any tenants to deliver a live or dead bug as evidence.
Two years ago, the Maine CDC issued a warning to large communities in Maine that homeless shelters were seeing a problem with bedbugs.
“They are certainly unpleasant, but thankfully we don’t believe they carry diseases that we worry about with other insects,” Sears said.