Bed bugs out for blood at Snohomish County Jail

EVERETT — Peter Blyzka was prepared to serve his time.

He hadn’t, however, counted on giving his blood — one drop at a time.

In recent months, Blyzka and other trustees in the Snohomish County Jail’s work release program have been the main course for bed bugs.

A pest control company is scheduled to return to the jail this week to spray for a third time.

“Getting rid of bed bugs is not a one-and-done deal,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

Blyzka counted more than 100 bites during his stay at the jail where he was serving time for drunken driving. After a while, he kept a journal and took photos of his bite marks.

“There are expectations from the public for people who commit crimes,” Blyzka said. “The sentences are set up to meet those expectations but being eaten up by parasites is not part of that.”

Over the years, Blyzka, 31, has been a fisherman in Alaska and a SCUBA instructor. These days, he’s a college student working on a business degree. For weeks, he would show up to class itchy and with long-sleeve shirts to try to conceal the bites.

“It’s humiliating,” he said.

Bed bugs are tiny wingless insects that feed on warm-blooded animals, mainly when they are asleep. They aren’t known to spread disease, but can cause insomnia, anxiety and allergic reactions while scratching can lead to secondary skin infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bugs, about the size of a rice grain, have a knack for hiding in mattress seams, box springs, bed frames and dressers. When they feed, they inject an anesthetic and a blood-clotting agent so their targets don’t at first realize they’ve been bitten. The mark can take a few days to appear.

The bugs could have been around the jail dormitory for months.

Blyzka filed a grievance with jail staff expressing concern about unknown insect bites Aug. 21.

Nine days later, he was told in a memo that maintenance staff and a pest control company investigated but found “no evidence” of bugs.

The bites continued and Blyzka’s misery grew.

On Sept. 27, he filed another grievance, reporting that he had received more than 100 bites.

“At night, I feel them crawling on me in my sleep, but when I wake up they disappear,” he wrote.

Blyzka eventually caught one of the bugs and showed it to jail staff.

An Oct. 3 response to his grievance reported that a “bug-sniffing dog” brought into the jail indicated the possible presence of bugs but none were actually found. That’s when the dorm unit was steamed and shortly thereafter the area was sprayed with chemicals for the first time.

Other inmates also have reported bites. They say they have seen bugs crawling on books and in their bedding. They wear extra clothes at night to limit where the bugs can bite and say the itching often flares up when they shower. Some inmates don’t plan to bring their luggage home for fear the bed bugs will tag along for a new meal ticket.

Inmate Ingi Johnson, 32, has spent considerable time trying to rid the dorm of bed bugs. Knowing their penchant for dark crevices, he pulled out lockers and bed frames to clean the walls, only to discover “a bed bug condo land.”

He’s noticed that he seems to get bitten more often in the days after the dorm is sprayed. He also finds himself reading entomology research reports that suggest bed bugs have become increasingly immune to pesticides. He’s found that using eucalyptus oil on his hands and face has cut down on his bites.

Johnson, who’s on work release for a drunken driving conviction, well remembers the friendly childhood bedtime saying: Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.

“It really has taken on new meaning,” he said.

Bed bug monitors have been used to verify their presence. They emit carbon dioxide, which, along with pheromones, attract bed bugs.

The pest control bill is expected to be around $4,500 after three chemical treatments.

So far, the bed bugs have been limited to one work-release dormitory unit in one section of the jail.

“If we can keep them from spreading, that’s huge,” Ireton said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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