Tiny blood-sucking pests are invading Alaskan beds at an increasing rate, and as they bite, it might be get difficult to sleep tight for those affected by bed bugs.
Feeding on blood, causing irritating itchy bites, local agencies are considering bed bugs a public health pest. Unlike most public health pests, however, bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease, Environmental Protection Agency officials explained.
The rise in Alaska bed bug populations took an exponential leap in 2012 when reported cases rose from just one in 2007 and 2008 combined to 84 in 2012. The number of reported bed bug cases dropped in 2013 to 68. But it isn’t just the Last Frontier the tiny pests had their sights set on. According to a study conducted by state epidemiology researchers, the occurrence of bed bug infestations has increased considerably in the United States since the 1980s. Epidemiology officials believe factors like increased travel, immigration and insecticide resistance are all contributing to the rise in bed bug populations, Alaska notwithstanding.
“We have seen an increase in the bed bug complaints or calls in the last five years in Anchorage,” said Tony Barrett, municipality environmental health program manager. “Part of that may be there is increased awareness.”
City officials have been collecting data on bed bugs since at least 2005, Barrett said. Some of the complaint data may even go back earlier than that, but “I’ve looked at data since 2007 specifically related to bed bugs,” Barrett said.
Many of the complaints the city has tracked usually come back to rental places, typically apartments or complexes, hotels or motels, Barrett said.
“We do get calls for single family residences, but we don’t have any regulatory authority there, so we don’t track those complaints,” Barrett said. “We just try to help coach people through what they can do to treat it.”
When a report of an infestation is reported, Barrett said the municipality will work with property managers and landlords to eliminate the pest problem, but he noted it’s up to them to take the responsibility.
“From the standpoint of the person being bitten, it’s a big problem,” Barrett said. “From the standpoint of the health department, I’d say it’s not a big public health problem in the sense that (bed bugs) don’t cause disease; they don’t transmit disease.”
But they certainly are a nuisance and people can suffer infections if they scratch the bed bug bites, Barrett said, which do cause problems.
Bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation, according to the EPA. Look for spots on bedding, which can indicate bed bug waste, tiny white eggs and eggshells and molted exoskeletons.
For more information on bed bugs and pest management visit the EPA's website on them.