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Bedbugs have returned to Wisconsin, as public health officials say they’ve seen a huge increase in the number of residents complaining about the pests in recent years.
Dan Koralewski, a community health environmentalist in West Allis, said he's noticed a large increase in bedbug reports in the last two years, sometimes as many as three calls per week.
"I've been here 22 years. The first 20 years, I don't think I had a complaint about bedbugs. I don't think I would have been able to identify one. It never came up," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The past two to three years, we get at least two to three calls a week. Apartments, anything from four-family homes to duplexes. Everyone, everywhere. It's crazy. It's not just West Allis."
Wauwatosa, Greenfield and Milwaukee are seeing similar problems, Koralewski said.
The Milwaukee Health Department regularly receives calls from residents who discover evidence of bedbugs in their homes, according to Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control and environmental health for the Milwaukee Health Department. The agency provides advice and referrals, but does not handle landlord enforcement or bedbug eradication, he said, adding that that’s the job of the city's Department of Neighborhood Services.
"We're not immune to the bedbug epidemic that has been ongoing for the past five to 10 years in the U.S. and globally," said Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control and environmental health for the Milwaukee Health Department. "New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have all had problems with bedbugs for a while. It's been on our radar the last five years in a big way, with a marked increase in reports here.”
Robert Plummer, of Milwaukee, told the newspaper he hasn’t slept in his bed for two years since enduring two bedbug infestations in the 19-story, government subsidized complex where he lives. Plummer is now afraid to return to the bed where he was bitten, despite a plastic cover encasing the mattress.
"I have scars all over my body," Plummer said. "The first time, I didn't see any bugs. But the second time, I felt them crawling, and I caught a couple. I was wearing white T-shirts to bed, and I'd wake up with blood spots on them. I would feel something bite me, and I'd see them shooting across my shirt. They run really fast."
Bedbugs — reddish-brown, wingless insects that are about a quarter-inch long when mature — generally bite at night and leave flat, red welts primarily on the face, neck, arms and hands. Bites may be evident immediately or may take several days to become welts.
"They're vampiric in nature because they come out at night and suck your blood," Biedrzycki said. "They're horrid little creatures no one wants to encounter in their bedroom, especially at night."
While infestations have been referred to worldwide as a "bedbug pandemic," Biedrzycki said the bugs don't pose a public health threat. They don't carry bacteria or diseases, though some people develop secondary infections from scratching the bites. They’re also not necessarily associated with unhygienic or insanitary conditions, Biedrzycki added.
"They're notorious hitchhikers,” he said.