Don't let the bed bugs bite isn't just a nursery rhyme anymore. Bed bugs -- a persistent scourge until their near-eradication in the 1940s -- are back and biting in apartments, hotels, even hospitals.
The insects have reached near-epidemic proportions in the past decade, although experts are unsure as to why. A few factors are commonly cited as key to their resurgence: a built-up resistance to insecticides, more frequent long-distance travel (meaning that vacationers bring the bugs with them from across the globe), and ignorance of the bugs' existence from a generation that thought they had been wiped out ages ago.
The pests are relatively difficult to kill, and many homeowners and landlords -- unsure what is causing the mysterious itchy scabs popping up on their skin -- fail to take the steps necessary to de-infest their buildings.
A group of Iowans has decided to take action. Residents of two Des Moines apartment complexes have filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that their buildings are infested with bed bugs and that the management has failed to properly address the problem.
The buildings, Ligutti Tower and Elsie Mason Manor, are within a block of each other, and both house a considerable number of elderly and disabled residents with limited means to address the problem themselves.
The suit says that over 250 residents have suffered unconscionable and substandard living conditions as a result of the infestation, and that American Baptist Homes of the Midwest, which manages the two complexes, has been less than responsive. The company was initially skeptical of bed bug complaints and blamed the problems on residents' hygiene, according to the complaint.
The action, brought under Iowa's new consumer protection law, demands $7.4 million in damages and seeks to have the building fumigated immediately. The plaintiffs also want American Baptist Homes to warn prospective residents about the problem before renting out any apartments.
American Baptist Homes is apparently trying to atone for its errors. Dave Zwickey, the company's president and CEO, visited Elsie Mason Manor and Ligutti Tower last week after learning of the suit, and promised that management would be more proactive in addressing the problem.
Zwickey, who said that his was a faith-based, values-driven organization, promised that American Baptist Homes would mount a real-time response to the problem, and we're going to come up with something that has a high range of success. The company was considering, among other things, using propane heaters to raise interior temperatures to nearly 150 degrees, a method that effectively kills bed bugs and their eggs.
Preventing bed bug infestation
Besides filing a lawsuit, what can consumers to do prevent a bed bug infestation -- or deal with one that's well underway?
As with most things, it's easier to prevent bed bugs from nestling into your mattress than it is to drive them out after the fact. Bed bugs can be picked up in seemingly innocuous places -- public laundromats, changing room tables, even subway seats. And that new-looking mattress lying at the curb is there for a reason; steer clear of any furniture left on the street, especially if it looks too nice to be thrown away. Bed bugs nest in clothing as well, so always think twice before buying second-hand clothing or luggage.
Bed bugs are present almost everywhere, but consumers in high-infestation areas -- such as New York City -- need to be especially aware of the problem. Those consumers would do well to invest in a bed bug cover for their mattress. Several companies now produce a protective microfiber lining that zips around your mattress and protects it from bed bug infestation. Additionally, if your bed has already been attacked, the cover suffocates and eventually kills any bed bugs living inside.
It's also important to learn from the all-too-common mistakes of bed bug victims past. Don't empty out a room for several days in the hopes that the bugs will disappear. This method is actually counterproductive, as it causes the bugs to spread to other areas of the building in order to find food. Similarly, do-it-yourself insect sprays and bombs may kill a few bugs in close proximity but do little to address the problem long-term.
As for the Iowa plaintiffs, their pest problem apparently extends beyond bed bugs: the lawsuit is being brought on behalf of all tenants of Elsie Mason Manor and Ligutti Tower who were subject to infestation of bed bugs, cockroaches or rodents from 2007 until the present.
The suit also names the buildings' owner, First Baptist Housing Foundation, as a defendant.
Iowa Residents File Bed Bug Class Action...