Chappell’s Pest Control in the News! This story featuring Rick Chappell and canine inspector Taylor previously appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier.
Rick Chappell owns Elizabethton-based Chappell Pest Control. Canine Taylor, like a dog that searches for drugs or bombs, recognizes a specific scent associated with the bedbugs. The Bristol Tennessee Housing & Redevelopment Authority hired Chappell after conducting a year-long losing battle against bed bugs at the Fort Shelby Tower apartment complex.
“It’s a sore subject,” said Steve Scyphers, the authority’s executive director.
At Fort Shelby, 12 of the 92 units were infected. The authority has already spent $28,000 on efforts to eradicate bed bugs inside the complex, mostly using insecticide, but the persistent bugs always came back. In recent weeks, some residents have complained about the infestation, saying the housing authority is not working hard enough to confront the problem.
“I understand the residents are frustrated, but we are doing the best we can,” Scyphers said.
He is not the only one confronting a bed bug outbreak. One in five Americans has reported a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has had one, according to the National Pest Management Association.
Virginia Tech Professor of Urban Pest Management Dini Miller said bed bugs are a growing problem across the country. Hotels, hospitals and apartments are the most susceptible, but offices and single-family homes can also be impacted, she said.
“It’s a nationwide and worldwide resurgence of bed bugs,” Miller said.
She said she did not see a bed bug in the lab until around 2002, and has only been actively studying the problem for five or six years.
The insects feed on human blood and prefer couches and beds, anywhere that humans live.
“They are blood-sucking cockroaches,” Chappell said.
Miller said humans and bed bugs have lived together for thousands of years. When human beings settled in caves, the bed bugs were thought to have used bats as hosts. When the bats left the caves because of the human presence, the bed bugs switched to humans for food.
“We moved the bed bugs out of the caves and transported them around the world,” Miller said. She compared bed bugs to human fleas. They bite humans and live off the blood. The bite often produces a small infection similar to a mosquito bite. In the U. S., DDT was used to kill bed bugs in the 1940s and 1950s and basically eradicated them. In recent years, malathion has been used against bed bugs. Miller said the bugs that survived the chemical onslaught became resistant to pesticides and have begun to multiply.
“It’s natural selection, and we have done the selection,” Miller said, adding, “These are mutant bugs in a way.”
Bed bugs are often associated with bad hygiene, but she said that is not really the case. Anyplace where humans congregate, from a four-star hotel to a public housing project, can be infested. While bed bugs are annoying, people cannot catch diseases from them, unlike mosquitoes and malaria.
“There are so many bed bugs in the United States, half of us would be dead [if bed bugs spread disease],” Miller said.
As the problem with insecticide-resistant bugs has increased, property owners have looked for alternative treatments. One of the most promising, and the one used at Fort Shelby, is heat. After Taylor finds a bed bug in an apartment, Chappell and his team bring half a dozen giant heaters and a power generator. The heaters are placed inside an apartment, which warm the room to nearly 130 degrees, killing the bed bugs.
“The reason that we like that is that you don’t have to require people to remove the furniture,” Scyphers said.
Often, when a house or apartment is infected with bed bugs, the beds and furniture are replaced and the old furniture is sometimes burned as a preventive measure.
Ray Kinch, who works for Chappell, was operating the heating equipment earlier in the week at the high-rise complex. The heaters take around three hours to warm the room and then huge fans are used to circulate the warm air. This gets the heat inside the cracks and crevices of the furniture.
The warm air dries out the bugs, and they die almost instantly, Kinch said.
He said some pest-control companies do not treat bed bugs because of the high failure rate with insecticides.
“Six days later, you are right back where you started,” Kinch said of chemical treatments.
He said the company purchased the dog and heat equipment about a year ago and has been doing a brisk business. Chappell said his is one of the only companies in the Southeast to use the heat technique. Hotels and apartments use the dog as a preventive measure, Kinch said. The dog searches all the rooms in a hotel once a month, making sure a room has not been infected. Apartment complexes will have the dog search a room after a unit becomes vacant.
The company also works with cabin rental companies, schools and hospitals. Miller said the heat treatment is one of several new methods for treating bed bugs. Some people have criticized the heat treatment because it has the potential to cause structural damage to the building. The treatment is also expensive, which can rule it out for some.
“For the most part, it is effective at getting the bed bugs,” Miller said.
Kinch said the only potential damage caused by the heat is to electronic equipment and it is removed before the treatment. Miller said people are just going to have to learn to live with bed bugs. They are not going to be eradicated anytime soon.
Chappell and his employees were expected to complete work at the housing unit this weekend. Scyphers said he believes the treatment will work if residents cooperate and follow some instructions on ways to prevent further infestations.
“I think we are on the right track,” he said.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Bed bugs are oval-shaped, non-flying insects that feed on human or animal blood.
Bed bugs are most active at night and usually bite people when they’re sleeping. The bites are typically on the face, neck, hands or arms.
Normally, no treatment is needed for a bedbug bite. But, like mosquito bites, some people have greater reactions than others. Bed bugs are usually found in the cracks of a bed or between the cushions of a chair or couch. Fecal stains and eggs casings are a common way to identify a bed bug but a professional is usually required to get absolute confirmation. Bed bugs are sometimes mistaken for ticks.
In a hotel, people should inspect the bed and chair before getting on the furniture. Sleeping with a light on has been shown to prevent bed bug bites.