Bed bugs have been invading metro areas across the country and this region isn't immune.
On the Peninsula, hotel chains, private residences and at least one apartment building have had recent reports of the pests which are about the size of an apple seed.
Cities like Cincinnati, Chicago and New York City have had significant bedbug problems. Local health districts are receiving phone calls from travelers who have spotted bedbugs in hotels and motels. But the numbers in Hampton Roads don't compare to what's being seen in larger metropolitan areas.
The Peninsula Health District received 32 complaints this year from travelers staying in hotels and motels. District officials only confirmed six of those complaints. The health district oversees Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County.
Dave Jordan, environmental health manager for the district, said bedbugs fall into the nuisance bug category and hoteliers are required to do something about them.
"Often times we go out on a bedbug complaint and we are unable to verify," Jordan said.
The Hampton Health District reported 13 complaints this year.
John Schellenberg, Hampton's environmental health manager, said eight of those complaints were justified as a bedbug problem.
"We've had more complaints than last year," he said.
A standard inspection involves checking the reported room along with others surrounding it. The inspectors also look out for spots that can be mistaken for mold.
On bedding and other surfaces, they leave a telltale trail of tiny blood droplets from their feces.
They don't cause health problems, but a bite can leave you itching, health officials said, and you'll need to take steps to protect yourself from them.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology's website, bites of three are common with the marks frequently referred to as "breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
Why so many bedbugs?
Experts credit the recent outbreaks to global travel. Travelers coming to and from countries with fewer pesticide standards are at risk of transporting the bugs.
"The frequent visits to hotels and motels are increasing the bedbug population," said Cory Newell, account manager for Commonwealth Exterminating Co.
The ban on the pesticide DDT is also a possible reason for infestations. When this product was taken off of the market, exterminators had to find alternative solutions for fighting off bugs.
In recent years, the pesticide industry has become greener, but not all of the solutions are as strong, Newell said.
Checking for bedbugs
With offspring as small as a grain of salt, bedbugs aren't just creeping into beds — the bugs can breed in areas like cars, movie theaters and office buildings.
Pest control company's officials say they are getting daily calls about bedbugs. In the past few months, Newell's company has cleared at least three hotels and a Williamsburg apartment building.
There are steps homeowners can take to prevent bedbug infestations.
"You should check for bedbugs anywhere you sleep," Newell said.
The chances of spotting active bedbugs in the daytime are slim — the bugs are nocturnal. That's why extermination companies suggest checking for them at night.
For travelers concerned about bedbugs, there are ways to find out whether or not they have checked in at a local hotel.
The website bedbugregistry.com doesn't guarantee accuracy, but the site provides lists of hotels where guests have spotted the bugs. Apartment listings can also be found on the user-submitted database site.
People with what Newell calls "hot jobs" should look out, too. For example, apartment complex employees, people who work in assisted living homes and any other place where an employee might be exposed to a shared living space.
If a bedbug is spotted, report it immediately to a landlord or pesticide company.
The Blayton Building in Williamsburg had an infestation in September. The apartment building houses senior and disabled tenants.
Andy Hungerman, executive director of the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority which oversees the Blayton, said his department checks for bugs, but they also rely on reports from tenants.
Because the bugs can multiply quickly, "bed bugs can become a problem in apartment buildings if tenant's sighting isn't reported," Newell said.
Not reporting the infestation right away can make extermination more expensive. Clearing the Blayton's Building bedbug problem put a strain on the housing authority's budget, Hungerman said. The department allocates about $1,200 a month to general pest control.
Newell said his company, Commonwealth Exterminating, can charge about that much just to rid one apartment or home of bedbugs.
Ralph Morse, general manager for National Exterminating in Newport News, said the industry standard for clearing a home can range anywhere between $300 to $500.
"It really depends on the square footage of the home," Morse said.
Kevin Kordek, president and CEO of A-Active Termite and Pest Control Co., said his firm can charge $400 to $2,000 to rid a home of bed bugs.
"This is a very different insect than what we typically deal with," Kordek said.
Newell warns tenants against waiting for the landlords or code inspectors to check for bedbugs. Normally this pest isn't on the landlord's routine list of problematic critters.
Bedbugs are not limited to homes and hotels, local colleges are educating students about bedbugs.
Homeless shelters along with other shared living spaces are also getting into the act.
"We've never had a problem with bedbugs," said Lindsay Poteat, director of the Peninsula Rescue Mission in Newport News.
Poteat said the staff observes each mattress after a person leaves the mission. The regular visual inspection has always been a part of the mission's routine along with regularly washing the sheets.
The bedbug issues that have caused problems at colleges and universities across the country including Wake Forest University in North Carolina, the University of Colorado at Boulder and New York University have mostly spared local higher education institutions.
However, officials from all three universities say that they are taking precautions to make sure the pests stay away.
At William and Mary, college officials plan to send home educational materials with students over long breaks, such as the fall, Thanksgiving and winter breaks, to ensure they don't bring bedbugs back with them, said Suzanne Seurattan, university spokeswoman.
Hampton University spokeswoman Yuri Rodgers Milligan said the university uses vinyl mattresses in its residence halls to protect against bedbugs.
And at Christopher Newport University, residence halls are exterminated regularly to prevent infestations from all insects, including bedbugs, said Lori Jacobs, school spokeswoman.
Experts say everyone should check for bed bugs at least once a month.
Staff writer Tyra M. Vaughn contributed to this report.
Bedbug prevention tips How to keep bedbugs out of your home
•Check the underside of the mattress tag.
•Check the seams of the mattress and the box spring.
•Look beneath furniture, inside drawers and in car seats.
• Clean bed sheets once a week.
•Keep purses and brief cases off of the floor or ground.
For more information on bedbug control and prevention go to http://www.dailypress.com/bedbugs or http://www.dailypress.com/bedbugs2
Going on a trip?
•Do not place your suitcase on the spare bed.
•Inspect the luggage stand (where the straps are attached to the
metal bars) and place your bag on the stand away from the wall.
• Keep your clothing in your bag, do not unpack and place your belongings in drawers
•Using a flashlight, give a quick check to the closet for bedbug evidence before hanging clothes.
• Place your shoes in an open area, not under the bed or in the closet.
•Upon returning home, unpack your luggage immediately in some location other than the bedroom (bathroom, garage, mud room, foyer etc.). Launder all clothing.
•Using a flashlight, inspect your bag for bedbugs.
• Although it is not always practical, using a soft bag like a duffel style bag or gym bag when traveling will allow you to put the bag in the dryer when you get home.
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services