"The Midwest seems to be the biggest area of growth" for bed bugs.
Loretta Small slept easier after her pest-control expert from Indianapolis' highly rated westside Orkin branch inspected an insect in her Speedway home. "It wasn't a bed bug. I was extremely relieved," says the 79-year-old Angie's List member, who's never forgotten childhood stories about the blood-feasting parasites.
Pesticides nearly eradicated bed bugs after World War II, but the nocturnal nuisances are crawling their way back into U.S. prominence. In recent studies, Orkin ranked Indianapolis as the 17th most bed bug-infested city, and Terminix ranked it 12th.
"I was surprised we were only 12th," says Elia Levin, president of Gold Seal Termite & Pest Control in Indianapolis, a highly rated company that gets at least 100 bed bug calls a week. "For some reason, the Midwest seems to be the biggest area of growth."
Levin and other local experts suspect increased travel contributes to the hike in bed bug reports. The non-flying, ticklike pests cling to clothing and luggage, which people bring home. The banning of effective but environmentally destructive older pesticides and the insects' resistance to modern treatments also contribute to the bugs' resurgence.
Jim Cahill, branch manager of highly rated Terminix in Indianapolis, says bed bug cases jumped from just a few annually to a dozen a week now. "You can't be too careful with bed bugs," Cahill says. "The minute you suspect you have them, call a reputable pest-control company."
The apple seed-sized insects prefer tight spaces, which make them difficult to spot. Sleeping victims often wake with itchy welts, but not everyone reacts to the painless bites. Local service providers advise homeowners to look for tiny blood spots or pepper-like feces on bed linens.
"Do a thorough inspection of the mattress, box spring, bed frame and headboard," checking edges, folds, corners and crevices, says Mark Packard, owner of highly rated Scat Pest Control of Sheridan, Ind. "Bed bugs are sensitive to heat. Take a hair dryer around the bed; you may flush some out."
As for treatment, Cahill says, "Every company has its own way of doing it. There's no one silver bullet."
Terminix freezes bed bugs with carbon dioxide and treats with chemicals, following up in 10 to 14 days and repeating if necessary every two weeks over 30 to 45 days. The cost averages $1,000 to $1,500. Scat treats with several chemical applications and estimates an average cost of $750 to $950. Levin says Gold Seal's one-time treatment raises the home's temperature for several hours to more than 120 degrees to kill bed bugs and their eggs. The cost is $800 to $2,000 or more, depending on the house size.
All three service providers promise to eliminate an existing infestation, but can't guarantee protection from other bed bugs hitching a ride inside. Homeowners must stay alert, Cahill and Packard say.
"Like everybody else, I thought bed bugs were just something your parents told you about: 'Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite,'" Cahill says.
"But they're real," says Packard. "and they're here.
To avoid bed bugs:
- Check hotel beds. Don't put luggage, shoes or clothes on the floor.
- At home, empty luggage in the garage. Vacuum suitcases. Run clothing in the dryer for a full cycle.
- Encase mattresses and box springs in bed bug-resistant covers.
- Inspect used furnishings or clothing before bringing inside.