ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Blood-sucking insects are on the rise in Alaska, and it’s not even mosquito season.
The state Department of Health and Social Services issued a bulletin Tuesday announcing a proliferation of bedbugs, the apple seed-size pests that can double in number every 16 days.
The biting bugs are more of a public nuisance than a health hazard, the bulletin said. Bites are at first painless but can turn into itchy welts. Some people do not develop welts.
Signs of an infestation include molted exoskeletons and white eggs or eggshells about one millimeter long. Bed bug excrement looks like small rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets, the bulletin said.
Bedbugs can arrive with people back from trips outside, or new residents.
“They’re the ultimate hitchhikers,” said Tony Barrett, environmental health program manager for the municipality of Anchorage. They arrive and lay eggs in a couch or bed, he told the Anchorage Daily Newsp.
“Bed bugs don’t care if it’s a four-star hotel or a no-star hotel,” he said.
Anchorage received 68 bed bug complaints in 2013, down from 84 in 2012. However, in 2007 and 2008, the city took just one call each year on bedbugs.
Ken Perry, general manager of Pied Piper Pest Control in Anchorage, has been dealing with bedbugs since 1987 but has seen high rates only recently. The company takes five calls per day on the pests.
“We’ve always done bed bug work,” Perry said. “Maybe one a year or two a year, it’s always been there. It’s never completely disappeared. But then, we started seeing a huge increase in 2000, predominantly in the travel industry.”
Pied Piper and its branches in Fairbanks and Juneau sold more than $30,000 in retail products last year to kill bed bugs.
“Up 1,000 percent from 2008,” he said.
Anchorage documents infestations, contacts landlords and tells them to take action, Barrett said. The city has never fined an apartment owner.
Perry has seen the biggest problems in low-cost Anchorage hotels.
“Some of our friends from the Bush stay in these cheaper hotels and end up taking (bed bugs) back out to the villages,” he said. “They can’t afford me to come out.”
He offers advice over the phone and sends supplies to rural areas, he said.