- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Residents in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., might be more likely than others to utter the phrase “don’t let the bedbugs bite” as part of a prayer rather than a childhood rhyme: The cities rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for bedbug infestation, according to a new survey.

However, the cities’ housing and health agencies are sanguine about efforts to track and eradicate the tiny blood suckers. Tania Baker, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Housing Authority, noted that the number of complaints about bedbugs have declined by more than 30 percent in Charm City over the past three years that the pest control company Orkin has done its survey.

“In Baltimore, the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Property Maintenance Inspectors are specially trained to inspect and identify bedbug infestations,” Ms. Baker said in an email. “If bedbugs are found, violation notices are issued to both the owner and occupant to take the necessary steps to eliminate the infestation.”

Taking a different tack, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development said in an email that it had no information on complaints about bedbugs. The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory affairs, however, can cite landlords or tenants if an infestation is found, whether bed bugs, rodents or other insects.

And the District’s health agency offered some words about dealing with the creepy crawlers.

“In terms of tracking or exterminating, it’s just not something that we do,” said spokesman Tom Lalley. “The D.C. Department of Health does not treat private property for bedbugs, but we do have some information on our website and if residents experience a bedbug problem they should consult a private contractor or take measures on their own, or we suggest. That is the solution.”

Orkin this week released its “Top 50 Bed Bug Cities” list, with Baltimore in the top spot and the District in second place. Rounding out the top five in order are Chicago, Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio.

“The number of bedbug infestations in the United States is still rising,” Orkin entomologist Tim Husen said in a company press release. “They continue to invade our homes and businesses on a regular basis because they are not seasonal pests, and only need blood to survive.”

Always in motion, the reddish-brown insects can be carried from place to place on bags and luggage and can be found in hospitals, day care centers, schools, offices and public transportation, as well as apartment and hotels — their most common habitats.

In February, a bedbug infestation at a D.C. school led to a three-week closure for pest control and removal of soft materials that could house the bedbugs.

A number of lawsuits against landlords and hotels for failing to treat bedbugs have led to some significant payouts. In 2013, an Annapolis woman sued her landlord for knowingly renting her an apartment with bedbugs and failing to treat the problem. She was awarded $800,000, believed to be the largest payout in a bedbug lawsuit.

The Orkin list is based on treatment data from metropolitan areas where the company performed the most bedbug treatments from Dec. 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017. Completing the top 10: Cincinnati (No. 6), Detroit (No. 7), New York (No. 8), San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (No. 9) and Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 10).

“Any type of home is prone to bedbugs. It has nothing to do with sanitation. We have treated for bedbugs everywhere, from newly built upscale homes to public housing,” said Mr. Husen.

While the bugs can be a nuisance — biting at night and costing thousands of dollars in extermination fees — they are not known to carry disease.

They survive on blood and hide in small, warm and soft crevices. Cleanliness has little to do with an outbreak, but infestations are more likely to be worse in overcrowded, cluttered and lower-income housing.

The pests were almost eradicated in the U.S. in the 1940s and ‘50s, in part to widespread use of DDT, according to Michael Potter, an extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Yet increased regulation on poisonous insecticides and a rise in global travel has led to an environment where the bug population has flourished.

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