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When the bedbugs bite

WILLMAR -- Tempted to pick up that free couch left on the curb by college students departing for the summer?

Think again.

Bedbugs are here, and one of the main ways they're spread is through the exchange of bug-infested furniture.

Up until a couple of years ago, their presence was minimal. Then last year Chris Wenisch, an environmental health specialist with Kandiyohi County Public Health, began hearing complaints about bedbugs.

"This year I've been getting a lot more phone calls about them," he said.

Bedbugs commonly live near areas where people sleep. They hide during the day, often inside mattresses or furniture crevices, and come out at night to bite their human hosts and feed on the blood.

They don't spread disease, but their bites can cause bothersome itching and skin welts, Wenisch said.

"It's just a nuisance," he said.

Bedbugs often are spread when infested furniture, mattresses, clothing and boxes are moved from one home or lodging to another. Because they hide during the daytime, their tell-tale presence might not even be spotted until it's too late.

Once they're established, particularly in rental housing with multiple units, they're difficult to remove without the help of a professional exterminator, Wenisch said. "They're harder to get rid of than cockroaches."

For this reason, experts recommend trying to prevent infestation in the first place.

Furniture left at the curbside isn't a bargain if there's a risk that it's inhabited by bedbugs, Wenisch said. "If you bring it back to another apartment, the problems compound."

The University of Minnesota Extension Service advises against picking up used furniture from the curb or buying secondhand mattresses and bed frames. Used clothing and bedding should be thoroughly washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer before using.

Regular vacuuming of carpets, furniture and baseboards also can help deter bedbugs, as can sealing the crevices in walls and furniture where bedbugs hide.

Infested furniture that's discarded outside should be spray-painted to prevent someone else from taking it -- or, better yet, brought to the landfill, Wenisch said. "Then it's not sitting at the curb for someone else to pick up."

The city of Willmar has a rental property ordinance that includes bedbug control. Renters within the city who are having problems with bedbugs can call city hall at 235-8311 for more information.

Because the volume of questions and phone calls about bedbugs has been growing, Wenisch also added an information page last year to the county's website,, and developed a fact sheet in English and Spanish.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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