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Bedbug fears create alarming reaction

Maybelle Baker of Philadelphia thinks we all need a little bedbug education.

Baker's 81-year-old mother lives in one of the 317 apartments in the Ballard-Griffith Towers that's undergoing treatment to eradicate the little bloodsucking wingless insects that have caused a big disturbance there.

Because of a bedbug infestation, Baker said, some of the residents have been shunned by health providers and senior activity centers, fearing the spread of the critters.

"It is a lack of education," Baker said. "They are going about it the wrong way, treating people wrong.

"One lady told me last night a resident went to apply at another apartment complex but was denied because they didn't want to spread the bedbugs."

Baker said her mother, who has attended a senior citizen program for six years, and two other residents were barred from that program for two weeks.

Kevin Hall, Fayette County Health Department spokesman, said he has heard the reports of home health workers declining to visit residents at the complex at 650 Tower Plaza, which he called "unfortunate."

"These residents don't need a scarlet letter 'B,'" branded on their foreheads as though they have done something wrong, Hall said. "It can happen to anyone. Steps are being taken and there are no public health risks."

All city-operated senior centers have been told not to close their doors to anyone living at the complex, Hall said. "It is unfortunate that residents are getting treatment like that from these places," he said. "I understand why they have this fear; they just don't have the education."

All-Rite Pest Control and Truly Nolen Pest Prevention are on schedule to complete the first of three waves of treatments to kill the bedbugs, also called cimex lectularius, at Ballard-Griffith by Nov. 24, Hall said. Residents have been asked to wash clothing and bedding at at least 120-degrees either at the on-site laundry facilities or at a contracted laundry, and to clear clutter from their residences.

Those unable to bag or move their belongings were helped by other residents and employees of the Lexington Fayette County Housing Authority.

The pest control treatments begin on the top floor of each building, involving all the rooms, and then move down a floor level. Residents have to stay out of their rooms for four hours.

In mid-December a second wave will be conducted, with a final treatment some time in January. After that, mattresses will be encased in a special covering to impede further infestation.

Bedbugs — insects about a quarter of one inch in length that nest on or near mattresses and feed at night by biting and then sucking the blood of sleeping people — can take a bit of an effort to eradicate, especially since some of the most effective pesticides have been banned.

But Baker and Hall want you to know that the incidence of bedbug infestation has increased dramatically worldwide and can occur anywhere.

"They think only low-income people have bedbugs," Hall said. "That is not true. Bedbugs do not discriminate."

If you have blood, you can get bedbugs.

Some preventive measures include bypassing any "free" furniture on the side of the road or found by "dumpster-diving." That's how bedbugs can be spread, Hall said. If you can't resist picking up used furniture, make sure you take the piece to a pest control company for inspection or treatment.

Second, if you think you may have bedbugs, wash clothing and bedding at very high temperatures. Bedbugs can't stand the heat. And, finally, avoid clutter. Bedbugs love burrowing in clutter to lay their eggs.

You can always call the health department at (859) 231-9791 if you need more information. Or visit www.lexingtonhealthdepartment.org, where you can download a pamphlet about bedbugs.

The bottom line is people don't need to panic, Baker said.

Being barred from the social setting she had enjoyed for six years was very disconcerting for Baker's mother. Baker said her mother would get up in the mornings and put on her hat in preparation to go.

After the center was contacted by a health department official and after the staff attended an information session, Baker's mother was allowed to go back.

"It was bad that it happened to my mother and the two other ladies," Baker said. "But (the director) did get her staff educated."

Kevin agreed.

"A lot of people have been pulling together to make things better."

And those who haven't should take heed.

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