Bed bugs found in Tri-Cities

It is a tiny, wingless, bloodsucking insect that likes to travel.

Bedbugs are showing up around the Mid-Columbia, according to pest specialists and state and county officials.

So far the problem doesn't compare with New York City, where infestations are popping up in buildings all over the city.

But it's enough of a problem to give local exterminators more business and to make Pacific Northwest National Laboratory warn its employees about the globe-trotting critters.

An adult bedbug is reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed. They only bite humans -- and only at night. They feed for three to 10 minutes, often leaving behind a spot of blood on sheets or pillowcases. The bites also can be itchy.

Officials say the insects seem to be hitch-hiking around the country with travelers. They often are found in hotel rooms and on planes and furniture.

PNNL recently warned employees in a newsletter to check their beds in hotel rooms when traveling and to contact the manager if they find signs of bedbugs. Safety staff also told employees to wash their clothes in warm water when they return home.

Rick Dawson at the Benton-Franklin County Health Department said there have been reports of bedbugs in the Tri-City area. But because the bugs don't spread disease, the health department doesn't get involved.

"It's hard -- but bedbugs don't spread disease," Dawson said. "They are a nuisance."

If you have traveled recently, you might want to wash all your clothes and keep your suitcase in the garage. If you're planning to travel, be careful.

Exterminator Bob York of Yakima said he got a call a while back from a woman whose friends had been bitten while sleeping in her guest room.

He asked how long the furniture had been in the room. She answered 15 years.

He asked her, "Done any traveling lately?"

Sure enough, she had been on a trip and tucked her luggage in the guest room closet when she returned.

"These bedbugs are very good at hitching a ride," said Washington State University entomologist Mike Bush.

He said the bugs will crawl onto baggage and even shoes. And they can be hard to spot.

"These bedbugs are very flat," Bush said. "They are so flat I've had people find them in the pages of books."

Bush works at the WSU Extension Office in Yakima and said he regularly gets questions about bedbugs. Some universities also have contacted him because of infestations in dorms and other buildings.

He advises them to get an exterminator. Chemical controls that work on the bugs aren't typically available to private citizens.

Bedbugs are spreading across the country because people travel more, Bush said. "We have a more mobile middle class."

Bush said when he travels, he checks out the hotel room as soon as he gets there.

"I do a little search around just to make sure there's not a little creepy crawly thing on the bed," he said.

Bedbugs like warm places, and typically are found hiding in cracks and crevices along the edge of the bed frame and box springs.

Many experts recommend not putting your luggage on the bed, and instead to use the suitcase holder or to even put your suitcase in the bath tub until you've checked out the room.

John Rodgers, who runs Sun Services Pest Control in Pasco, said he's getting a lot more calls about bedbugs.

"I had two calls about bedbugs in 10 years. I've had three or four calls in the last year," he said.

Some of the calls are from hotels, and he has done some bedbug extermination for the state Department of Corrections.

Rodgers said the better the hotel, the more likely bedbugs will be there. That's because the guests usually have traveled more.

Rodgers also said he gives his hotel mattress a good look.

"When you check into a motel, you don't know what you're getting into bed with."