Bed bugs have returned to Alaska, and they’re a growing problem in Kodiak, according to the island’s sole licensed pest control expert, Robert “B.J.” Johnson.
“It's not rampant, it's not like a tidal wave of bedbugs, but it is on the increase,” he said.
Johnson, who has worked in Kodiak pest control for the past 16 years, said bedbugs started showing up about five years ago. They appeared in isolated cases, one or two per year.
“This summer alone, I've dealt with … almost 8 different bedbug jobs in town,” he said.
Popular perception is that bedbugs can’t exist in Alaska because of the state’s extreme temperatures.
That’s wrong, said Mariah Ervin of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She licenses the state’s pesticide sprayers and is the closest thing to a bedbug expert the state has. “We get reports from all over the state,” she said. “I would say that Alaska has seen the number increase just like everywhere else.”
Firm statistics are hard to come by. The state does not collect information about instances of bedbugs, and businesses are reluctant to disclose that they have had an infestation.
Johnson said the Kodiak infestations have all been private homes. “I've had no issues with the hotels in town, which is a real confidence builder,” he said.
Elsewhere in the state, that isn’t the case, Ervin said. Cases have been reported in Bethel and Anchorage, Healy and Fairbanks.
In the Lower 48, bedbugs have stormed back after being almost entirely eradicated during the 20th century. Chemicals like DDT are still the most effective way to fight bedbugs, but the federal government banned the use of DDT in 1972.
Since then, bedbugs have returned, riding in the suitcases and clothing of international travelers. After they gained a foothold in the Lower 48 during the 1990s, they started spreading anew.
“They'll infest futons, couches, chairs, duffle bags, suitcases … anything,” Johnson said.
Like mosquitoes, they feed on human blood. Unlike mosquitoes, they’re messy eaters. In infested homes, “I'll pull back the bedcover, and there are bloodstains all over the sheets and the mattress,” Johnson said.
It isn’t much blood, but it’s disturbing to homeowners who then must pay thousands of dollars to eradicate a pest that Johnson says is one of his least favorite to fight.
Effectively fighting bedbugs involves several rounds of expensive chemical treatment and close coordination with the homeowner, Ervin and Johnson said. The state has no program to help offset the cost, which leaves Ervin to promote prevention as the best way to fight them.
Johnson recommends asking about a hotel’s bedbug prevention program before booking. Suitcases can be stored atop suitcase stands, away from furniture, and all clothes taken on vacation should be washed as soon as you get home.
“It’s just a matter of being more aware,” Johnson said.
For more information, visit the state’s bedbug homepage at www.epi.alaska.gov/id/dod/bedbugs/.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.