BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A tiny bug is making a big comeback, and Kern County's seeing an increase in complaints.
The problem is bed bugs, and the issue is how to avoid them.
Kern County experts say they take action when they get reports, and they have advice for your home and your travels.
"We've seen about a 30 to 40 percent increase in our calls," Terminix Branch Manager Michael Kaiser tells Eyewitness News. "We had about 240 calls last year, and this year we had about 350."
The insects first started showing up again several years ago.
"We've had a number of complaints," Inge Van Hoose tells Eyewitness News. She's an Environmental Health Specialist and has the job of checking on the reports at motels.
"If there's an infestation, we generally see the droppings, some of the bed bugs and blood stains," she explains.
Checking Environmental Health records, the department handled 24 complaints this year. That's down from 34 in 2011, but up from only 13 in 2010.
Van Hoose said of this year's 24 instances, they confirmed bed bugs in eight facilities, but there may have been some inspectors missed.
Kern County Code Compliance handles complaints about bed bugs in apartments, and Environmental Health Chief Donna Fenton said that department is also getting "two to three calls a month."
Bed bugs are flat and oval-shaped, and they have no wings. Adults are about a quarter inch long, and the eggs can look like small grains of rice. Adult bed bugs are tan to deep brown. They hide and come out at night to feed. That meal is blood, and that's when bed bugs bite.
"Bed bugs themselves don't pose any immediate health risk, they're not known to carry any diseases," Fenton said. However, some people can be sensitive to the bites, and end up with an allergic reaction, and possibly a secondary infection.
The red marks of their bites is one way to know there are bed bugs. "If you wake up in the morning and you notice red dots on your skin, that's an indication that could be bed bugs," Fenton explained.
If Environmental Health confirms a bed bug infestation, they order hotel and motel owners to get rid of the pests. "You not only want to hit the room that you found bed bugs in, you want to get the adjacent rooms," Van Hoose said.
At homes, the owner has to get the job done.
"I'd just say, make sure you have a licensed pest control company," Fenton said.
And the inspector adds another warning. "A lot of people will self-treat, and it'll make the problem worse," Van Hoose told Eyewitness News.
Fenton says there are several treatments for bed bugs. "There is a process where they use steam and sometimes that's more effective," she said. "Sometimes that's more effective than actually the pesticides that they can use."
At Terminix, Kaiser also uses cold temperatures to kill bed bugs. Technicians can bring in a device that shoots extremely cold air into tiny places like the sides of a mattress, seams, and couch cushions. Kaiser said there are different options, and a combination can be effective.
Why are there more bed bugs? Experts list several reasons.
"I think one of the reasons we’re seeing an increase in bed bugs is because they're becoming resistant to the pesticides that can be used," Fenton said. The other issue is more travel -- especially international travel.
But, that means bed bugs can come to you and your home.
"The main reason folks get bed bugs is because they've traveled somewhere, or they have somebody that's traveled to them," Kaiser said. The tiny insects hitch-hike on things like coats, purses, backpacks and suitcases.
So experts have advice when you're traveling and when you get home.
Before you take your suitcase inside, check your hotel room for bed bugs, starting with the bed. "Pull the sheets back, the pillows off," Terminix' Kaiser says. "Flip the mattress up, pull the bed away from the wall."
Then, take more precautions when you bring your luggage into the room. "Don't leave your clothes on the floor," Fenton advises. "Keep them up, either hanging, or keep them in the suitcase and up on the luggage rack."
But there's still a chance you could pick up bed bugs and not know it. Van Hoose has more advice when you get home.
"I would wash your clothes in hot water, put them in a hot dryer, inspect your suitcase, and make sure they didn't hitch-hike," she said.
Still, there's no guarantee you can prevent the pests from getting in your home.
"There's nothing they can really do at home to make it bed bug proof," Kaiser said.
And that's why experts have warnings about the problem. "It just takes one person that has them," Fenton said, adding that the county Environmental Health Department can give people brochures with good information about bed bugs.
But, the health inspector thinks when it comes to motels and hotels -- the public could have more information. "I think we need to have some kind of rating system," Van Hoose said. She also likes the idea of putting reports about bed bug complaints on a website, similar to restaurant inspections. "I think that would be a good idea."
And she has a final word of advice if you find bed bugs in your home. Get professional help, and get it sooner -- rather than later.
"If it's not caught early enough, then it can become a very huge problem," Van Hoose warns. "And, a very expensive one."