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Bed Bugs Have Plagued Honolulu Hotels – The EPA Holds A Bed Bug Summit

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Hawaii has had a history of bed bugs in hotel rooms. What is a bed bug? The only one currently known to be in Hawaii is Cimex lectularius, aka the common bedbug. The wingless, flat, oval-shaped insects are about 3/8 inch in size, big enough to be spotted crawling around your sheets.

Although visitors to Hawaii have not been aware of this problem, the hotel industry here certainly has been on notice and it is not just low price hotels. The problem is that rather than deal openly with the problem, guests are usually not warned about the problem and thus are not given an opportunity to avoid both the bed bugs and the pesticides that the hotel operator may use to fight the pests. Secrecy about an issue like this only aggravates a bad situation.

Now the EPA is addressing the problem on a national level. Take a look at "EPA Holds Bed Bug Summit". The Honolulu Advertiser reported recently on the EPA summit: "EPA looks for ways to not let the bedbugs bite … ". The Advertiser reports a large attendance in Arlington, VA at the conference:

Faced with rising numbers of complaints to city information lines and increasingly frustrated landlords, hotel chains and housing authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted its first-ever bedbug summit Tuesday.

Put on by an EPA’s federal advisory committee, the two-day conference which drew about 300 participants to the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Va., will provide the agency with advise and recommendations.

In an article in Pacific Business news by Journalist Chad Blair on July 18, 2008, "Hotels try not to let the bedbugs bite … " the problem was put in context:

Bedbugs don’t discriminate between budget and luxury hotels.

"It is in search of blood, whether it’s at a five-star or a one-star hotel," said Tim Lyons, executive director of the Hawaii Pest Control Association. "That is what they have to do to survive."

Bedbugs, nocturnal wingless insects with a knack for concealment, are making a comeback in hotels across the country, including Hawaii.

Local pest control experts say that, for many hotels, they are the No. 1 insect challenge.

They can enter a guest room in luggage or on clothing and hide in mattresses, carpets, behind wallpaper, between the wooden crevices of furniture, or behind a headboard.

The pest control industry is limited in what they can do to stop these pesky pests:

"With that particular subject it is more sensational than anything else," said Cliff Nakamura, Hawaii branch manager for Orkin Residential & Commercial Service. "It is probably the hot topic today."

The reasons for the return of bedbugs include the huge increase in international travel (bedbugs don’t discriminate between luggage and airlines, either) and the use of milder pesticides.

"Fifty years ago, bedbugs were virtually eliminated through DDT and other chemicals," said Nakamura. "But as EPA has limited the use of those, bedbugs have started to come back."

The problem is widespread:

"You’ll find them on the 40th floor of condos," said Lyons, whose association represents most pest control operators in the state. "You can clean everyday and still wind up getting them."

Lyons said his members have seen an increase of up to 70 percent in bedbug complaints, and it’s not confined to hotels.

"We’re getting reports from schools and kids who find them in their backpacks," he said.

The state Department of Health said the number of callers complaining about bedbugs, mostly in residences, doubled from 2006 to 2007.

Chad Blair contacted Hawaii hotels about bed bugs and only one was willing to talk about the problem:

A half-dozen hotel chains and properties in Hawaii contacted by PBN declined to be interviewed for this article. One of the two that did respond was the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki.

"We feel that all pest complaints by our guests have the potential to be costly," said Gary Nushida, executive housekeeper for the Hawaii Prince. "If we are able to move our guest … this usually minimizes the costs. However, a complaint such as bedbugs, if confirmed, will result in the hotel treating not only that room but the surrounding rooms."

Nushida said housekeepers regularly remove any opportunity for pests to forage on food left in guest rooms, and immediately report any evidence of pests.

In North Carolina they are looking into passing a law called the "Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite Act":

“It was clear something needed to be done,” said Saul Hernandez, Butterfield’s legislative assistant. One of the problems, according to researchers and the pesticide industry, is that there are few chemicals on the market approved for use on mattresses that are effective at reducing bedbug numbers. The appleseed-sized critters have also developed a resistance to some of the chemicals on the market.The EPA, out of concern for the environment and the effects on public health, has pulled many of the chemicals that were most effective in eradicating the bugs from the U.S. over the last 50 years — such as DDT — off of shelves.

Hawaii is particularly susceptible to this problem and we should be open about it so travelers aren’t surprised by bites. Hotels must accept the fact that – like big surf – their guests need to be warned.

So, what do you do to protect yourself and your family when you travel? Here are tips from Victoria Fickle, an entomologist with the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Vector Control Branch who was interviewed on Kokua Line by June Watanabe in 2008:

» Check your hotel for signs of the bugs. Remove the sheets and inspect the mattress (especially the seams and ticking) to look for any bugs or tiny blood spots.

"This is the most likely place you will find the bed bugs, though they could be anywhere, including the box spring, in the furniture (dressers, bed frame/headboard, etc.), and behind picture frames," Fickle said. If possible, she said you also can try pulling the bed away from the wall and checking that area.

Even if you don’t see any evidence of the bugs on your bed or bedding, that doesn’t mean they’re not around, she said. Bites might take a while to itch and some people might not react to bites at all.

So, Fickle also advised:

» Don’t keep your suitcase near the hotel bed.

» Don’t use any of the furniture to store your clothes.

» Keep your suitcase zipped up.

» When you get ready to leave the hotel, place all your belongings in a plastic bag and make sure it is sealed.

» When you get home, immediately wash all your clothes and dry them at the highest temperature possible. For delicate items where washing is not possible, put them in a zip-top bag and place them in the freezer for several nights.

» Vacuum your suitcase, paying very close attention to seams and corners.

"Also, learn the signs of a bedbug infestation, so if you DO bring these guys home with you, you can recognize it and take action right away," Fickle said.

Be prepared.