Bed bugs are back, and they’ve become a problem in Kansas City.
The Shawnee branch of the Johnson County Library has been closed since Friday after librarians discovered bed bugs inside the pages of a returned book. Since then, library officials have been working to deep clean the branch of bed bugs, including using bug-sniffing dogs, working with a fumigator, and baking the infested materials.
“We want to take every step possible that we can to try to contain the issue because you can’t move too quickly to stay ahead of bed bugs,” said Christopher Leitch, community relations director for the Johnson County Library.
The Johnson County Library in Shawnee is not the only public place that has experienced a bed bug problem. Exterminators in Kansas City said they have seen an increase in bed bugs. In April, staff at Kansas City International Airport discovered bed bugs in chair upholstery in Terminal B, prompting its brief closure. An AMC movie theater in Independence, Missouri faced complaints of bed bugs in October 2017 and August of this year.
Until recently, bed bug infestations were not a common problem in the U.S., as the development of the pesticide DDT in 1939 helped kill bed bugs and other insects. However, growing resistance to DDT, combined with an increase in air travel in the 1980s and 1990s, contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs at the turn of the 21st century. Since then, pesticide-resistant bed bugs have been spreading across major U.S. cities.
Chaz Brantley, owner of Brantley Pest Control, said bed bugs are an increasingly common issue in the area, with a lot of calls coming from South Kansas City. He added that people who frequently travel in and out of Kansas City can bring in bed bugs, especially if they come from bed bug-heavy cities like Denver or New York City.
“We’re starting to see a heavy increase in bed bugs,” Brantley said. “And I think a lot of it has to do with Kansas City growing. A lot of it also has to do with where people are going and traveling.”
Bed bugs are most commonly found in and around the bedroom, nestling in places such as cracks, mattresses, headboards, dressers and bed frames. According to the Center for Disease Control, bed bugs can travel up to 100 feet in one night.
Candice Porter, pesticide identification and education representative at Blue Beetle Pest Control in Kansas City, said the company has seen a 7 to 10 percent increase yearly in bed bug problems throughout the area. Porter said bed bugs can be picked up from different locations and can easily travel from person to person within a group.
“It’s the way people live. It's their social network,” she said. “If you have a friend that has bed bugs, then the likelihood that you’ll end up with it is extremely high. … It just spreads like a virus.”
Porter said bed bugs are most commonly found in multi-dwelling family units. A 2016 study from Rutgers University found that 1 in 8 low-income apartments in northern New Jersey had bed bug infestations, and residents were often unaware of the problem.
Porter added that cleanliness has no relation to the presence of bed bugs.
“You can be the cleanest person on the planet and still come home with a bed bug,” she said. “You are food to them. They don’t care if you’re dirty or clean, they just want you.”
The Shawnee branch plans to reopen Wednesday, as long as efforts to deep clean the library and eradicate the bed bug problem are successful. However, if the pests are still an issue, the library could be closed indefinitely.
“We’re taking every step we can, and extra ones, to makes sure our patrons and our collection are safe and secure,” Leitch said.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @celisa_mia.