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Experts say bedbugs becoming a national epidemic
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Bedbugs, such as in this photo, do not spread diseases, but experts are working to find a solution to eliminate the pesky, bloodsucking bugs, which are making a comeback due to increased foreign travel, pesticide bans and resistance.


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Published: 7/28/2009 12:01 AM

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Monina Finklea wasn't concerned when she spotted a lone bug - about the size of an apple seed - on her bed in the Naperville hotel where her family is staying while waiting to move into their new home.

But that next morning, the Woodridge woman said she awoke to find about 100 bite marks across her itchy, aching body. Her daughter, Victoria, 7, who slept in the same bed, also had similar but fewer welts.

"I didn't even know bedbugs were real," said Finklea, a registered nurse, of the July 15 incident. "It's very uncomfortable. Even though I know I'm getting better, it actually still feels like something still is crawling inside of my skin."

The Finkleas' experience at Homestead Studio Suites in Naperville is part of a growing national problem, experts say. The stealthy and bloodthirsty bugs are increasingly showing up in the finest of hotels, college dorms and homes, including in three recent suburban cases.

Another family filed a July 22 lawsuit in Cook County against a Rosemont Holiday Inn after guests claimed the room they rented was infested with bedbugs. In May, the Sheraton Northwest Hotel in Arlington Heights sealed off nearly a dozen rooms during a 4-to-6 week fumigation process after a second bedbug complaint.

The reddish-brown, wingless insects, which have six legs and two antennae, had been all but eradicated decades ago before World War II. But, likely due to increased international travel, pesticide bans and resistance, the pests are back with a fervor.

In fact, three months ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held the first-ever National Bedbug Summit in Arlington, Va. in response to frustrated landlords, hotel chains and housing authorities.

On Wednesday, the Safer Pest Control Project is hosting a bedbug program at Loyola University.

"It's become an almost national epidemic and threat," said Donald Baumgartner, an EPA life scientist. "There's still kind of a question mark as to what is causing it and it hasn't received a lot of attention because they're not technically considered a public health pest since they don't transmit human diseases. There's still so much research that needs to be done."

Baumgartner said the worst outbreaks are in Ohio, Los Angeles and New York City. Still, statistics are hard to come by because bedbug reporting isn't required.

The National Pest Management Association, though, reports the pesky bedbug has surpassed the fire ant and is closing in on the flea.

Despite its painless bite and inability to spread disease, the bedbug can cause other problems, such as sleeplessness, allergic reaction, blisterlike skin infections from too much scratching and, in rare cases, asthma and anaphylactic shock, according to the American Medical Association.

Monina Finklea and her husband, Trent, along with their three children and two dogs, have lived in the Naperville hotel since March at $1,800 a month. The family's stay ends Thursday, when their new house in Woodridge is ready for occupancy.

The couple showed the Daily Herald copies of internal records from Homestead Studio Suites, which show similar bedbug infestations in nearby rooms in which complaints were received after their March move-in.

Despite that, Trent Finklea said his family was never notified they were surrounded by bedbugs or offered a new room while the nearby fumigation process was under way.

The Finkleas said they were moved from a third-floor room the same day of their complaint. The hotel staff also washed all their clothing, which the couple said much of which was destroyed due to the high heat needed to kill the bugs.

Monina Finklea said a doctor also prescribed her and 7-year-old Victoria with antibiotics, anti-itch cream, medicated shampoo and soap to kill bedbug eggs. Still, the couple said they want answers as to why they were left in the room while, literally, surrounded by bedbug outbreaks in other rooms.

Homestead Studio Suites, 1827 Centre Point Circle, Naperville, and its corporate headquarters in South Carolina, did not respond to repeated Daily Herald requests for comment.