FORT WAYNE – It began with a citizen complaint this past April.
Residents at the halfway house The Thirteen Step House were being bitten by bedbugs, the man said. Management, he claimed, was not controlling them.
When inspectors with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department went inside the home for the first time, they found a live bedbug on one of the beds.
They also found lots of droppings on the encasement, according to a report detailing the inspection.
Last year, national news headlines about a rise or epidemic of bedbugs – which can leave people with bites and itches – swarmed the public.
The critters were found everywhere from dingy inns where you might expect to find them to movie theaters and even the ritzy hotels of New York City and Chicago.
At the time those headlines were making their way into the public consciousness – during the winter and spring of 2012 – health officials here said they had not seen a rise in bedbug cases locally.
But initial inspections, like the one at The Thirteen Step House, have indeed become more common.
The health department conducted 225 initial inspections and 156 follow-up inspections last year, up from just 75 initial inspections and 37 follow-ups in 2011.
So far this year, the health department has conducted 67 initial inspections and 47 follow-ups.
The director of The Thirteen Step House declined to be interviewed for this story.
Judging from reports from the health department, though, he did what he could to clean up the halfway house at The Thirteen Step House, 1317 W. Washington Blvd. after that initial inspection.
Dressers and furniture were removed. Plastic containers were bought from Wal-Mart.
A steamer unit was brought in to steam the floors, and a professional exterminator was called to treat the home.
All of which can be costly.
And that may account for the rise in bedbug complaints.
One possible cause of the increase in the local bed bug population could be due to the declining economy, the health department’s annual report reads.
It goes on to say, the cost to have a pest management professional conduct bed bug control is out of reach for some.
The health department has inspected various homes and apartments, as well as some hotels and motels, throughout the city.
No neighborhood is immune to the possibility of bedbugs.
We do get bedbug complaints frequently, health department spokesman John Silcox said. They’re not confined to any one area of town.
Not all government agencies that deal with bedbugs have seen a rise in complaints the way the local health department has, though.
While bedbug complaints have come into Fort Wayne Neighborhood Code Enforcement, there has been no influx or decrease compared with previous years, city officials said.
The majority of property owners are really afraid of bedbugs, said Cindy Joyner, the head of Neighborhood Code. They get exterminators out right away.
When Neighborhood Code inspects a property and finds bedbugs, the property owners are required to call in a professional exterminator.
The property owners must also show they are taking steps to address the problem within 10 days, Joyner said.
Otherwise, they could be subject to a fine of $350, which would come after at least one hearing.
So far, no one has been fined this year or even needed a hearing, Joyner said.
Likewise, if health department officials find evidence of bedbugs, they also require property owners show they are trying to take care of the problem.
Then a follow-up inspection is scheduled.
In the case of The Thirteen Step House, health inspectors either spoke to or met with the director up to a month after initially finding bedbugs.
By the middle of May, the home had been treated by a professional exterminator at least once and another treatment was scheduled.
That satisfied the health department, according to records provided by the agency.
And multiple treatments are key to getting rid of the insects.
With bedbugs, it needs to be more than one treatment, Joyner said, noting that in a multiunit apartment complex, rooms adjacent to those with bedbugs need to be treated as well.
A hotel on Coliseum Boulevard West near Hillegas Road ran into this problem, according to health department records.
Bedbugs were found in several rooms in separate inspections in January and February.
The owner was ordered to treat the rooms, and while he said he did so, officials found bedbugs in at least one of the rooms on a subsequent inspection.
It wasn’t until March that health officials cleared that room of any evidence of bedbugs, which had been vacant at the time.
The owner of the inn could not be reached for comment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bedbugs travel with people.
They hide in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding or furniture.
Most people, according to the CDC, have no idea they are transporting them.
Joyner warns residents against Dumpster diving, or taking the chair, couch or bed that someone might have discarded on the side of the road.
There’s a reason that furniture is there and ready to be thrown out, she said.
Discarded furniture is a prime way bedbugs like to travel.
And people should be wary of what they’re bringing into their homes or apartments.
If somebody has bedbugs, it’s a joint effort between the owner and tenant, she said.
It takes joint action to resolve the issue, she added.