Creepy, Crawly Things

Good news: Bedbugs aren’t on the rise in Las Vegas … yet

It’s not just 3-D piranhas baring their teeth lately; bedbugs have also taken a bite out of carefree summer days across the country. Lucky for us, Las Vegas doesn’t appear to be all that appetizing.

As bedbugs crop up and cause Abercrombie & Fitch stores to close in New York, Ohio residents to sleep in the streets and experts gather in Chicago at the North American Bed Bug Summit, Las Vegas remains relatively pest-free. Calls from local businesses and residences about the brownish-red, apple-seed-size bugs have held steady for the past three years.

“About two or three a week—and half are false,” says Gregg Wears, environmental health supervisor for the Southern Nevada Health District. Still, 90 percent of hotels in Las Vegas have experienced bedbugs at some point, Wears says. The pests, which don’t spread disease, can scurry quickly through apartments and businesses, hitchhiking on clothes and suitcases.

Desiree Duffie believes bedbugs bit her legs and ankles when she stayed in a room at Harrah’s in August. The itchy, red nips “were in rows, as if something had crawled on me, taking a bite as it went,” says Duffie, who works in marketing in Los Angeles. She counted more than 18 individual bites. She went to a dermatologist, who suggested the culprit may have been bedbugs. “I was horrified and extremely grossed out,” she says.

Duffie reported the bites by phone four days after her departure. Harrah’s called in Ecolab, a sanitation and pest control company, to check Duffie’s room and those surrounding it, but found nothing, says Jacqueline Peterson, a spokeswoman for Harrah’s.

Some tourists have apparently had experiences similar to Duffie’s. The website contains user-submitted reports and lists 47 Las Vegas hotels where people claim to have encountered bedbugs. New York, by comparison, has 123 hotels listed on the site.

“We’re a year or a year-and-a-half behind other cities with apartments and high-rise, multi-unit living,” says Joe Restifo, owner of K-9 Sweeps, a Las Vegas pest control company. But Restifo says the bugs will make their way here via tourists.

Not if they can help it, say representatives of the Strip hotels.

“Bedbugs appear on rare occasion at our resorts, and we aren’t seeing the number of incidents increase,” says Yvette Monet, spokeswoman for MGM Resorts International. She says the hotels lay rooms out in a way that makes it difficult for bedbugs to cluster. Housekeeping staff also does quarterly mattress checks. Harrah’s Entertainment says its employees receive training from Ecolab in identifying the bugs. The Tropicana hotel offers a monetary reward to staffers who find the pests.

Restifo uses trained canines to sniff out the pests, and then his team treats the room with a vacuum and dry-vapor steam, removing 90 percent of the bedbugs. Then he uses a liquid spray and a chemical dust, which he tests on bedbugs in his lab, that kill both eggs and adults.

There are over-the-counter sprays available, but experts caution against them, citing cases of mishandling, overuse and failure to fully wipe out the bugs.

The root of the nationwide increase in bedbugs dates back decades, to a rise in international travel and the fact that bugs have become resistant to modern pest control. The ban on the pesticide DDT in the 1970s changed the game from elimination to repelling and baiting. “But the effect takes time, and it’s only in the last five years that the problem’s really blossomed into what we’re seeing today,” Wears says.

Hotels aren’t required to report the incidents, but are tasked by law to provide a “clean, safe, habitable environment” and must have professional pest control services. Wears says when the district investigates a call, often times the person has misidentified the bug as a carpet beetle, has had an allergic reaction to hotel pool chlorine or laundry detergent, or is simply upset at his landlord or the hotel for an unrelated reason.

This confusion is something hotels need to become more aware of, says Christian Hardigree, Hotel Management department chairwoman and associate professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV. She’s also a lawyer who’s consulted on hospitality-related bedbug cases, and she recommends more staff training, noting bedbug legal cases spanning anywhere from $5,000 settled out of court, to six figures when someone is bitten and can’t work. “Unfortunately, people want to roll the dice with our legal system and see what they get,” Hardigree says.

Don’t panic!

To avoid bedbugs in hotel rooms:

Put your suitcase on the luggage rack.

Check the mattress, sheets and headboard for bedbugs, which are the size of a small seed. They tend to hide in seams and crevices.

If you find bugs, wash your clothes in hot water, at least 120 degrees.

At home:

Compare pictures of bedbugs to other pests in your home before calling a pest control company.

Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and the floor.