Could bed bugs lurk in used furniture?

Could bed bugs lurk in used furniture? »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — That secondhand couch may come with a great price, but does the bargain come with bed bugs?

The tiny pests are a newly growing problem, and some good advice is to be careful when buying used furniture.

How can you spot bed bugs if you're looking for an item at a yard sale or garage sale? Charities are dealing with the bed bug issue, too. They have some valuable advice to share.

"You look at the seams, and if the seams have little, tiny spots -- usually that's a by-product of bed bugs," Goodwill's Ramon Garza told Eyewitness News.

The local organization now trains all their managers and crews to be on the look-out for the insects.

Bed bugs are about one-fourth inch long, according to the California Department of Health Services. Other experts describe the insects as white to light tan, oval-shaped and flat.

That size and shape makes it easy for bed bugs to hide, and they're hard to spot.

Garza also recommends looking at any furniture cushions. "Pick up the little binding around it," he says. "You'll see a little trail, or you'll see the little, tiny bugs."

At local Goodwill Industries facilities, any donation spotted with bed bugs is kept separate and then picked up to be destroyed.

And, starting this year the charity won't even take in mattresses -- because of bed bug concerns.

"Currently we've been trying to limit the amount of mattresses that are donated to us," spokesman Ken Beurmann told Eyewitness News. He said they'll put up signs at donation centers.

"Without a doubt (mattresses) are the number-one source of product that gets donated to us that have bed bugs in it." Beurmann said.

He said Goodwill never sold mattresses or other bedding like futons. They would take in those items, but send them out to recycling centers. That will no longer be the case, thanks to the bed bug risk.

Beurmann said the organization will now tell donors with mattresses that they should dispose of them properly at some place like a landfill.

The state health department reports there has been a resurgence of bed bug infestations throughout the United States.

"Bed bugs, while a significant social problem, do not transmit disease to humans," a DHS report says. "However, bed bug bites will cause red, raised, itchy reactions to the skin."

Experts say the pests can turn up, no matter how clean an area is. The tiny bugs can spread by "hitch-hiking" on things like clothes, suitcases, and furniture.

"We look to see that there are, first of all, no bed bugs," Garza said. He explained that crews at Goodwill now check donations. Anything found with bed bugs is never even brought into a Goodwill store, he said.

Beurmann said their organization helps local people overcome barriers to employment, and selling furniture is an important part of their stores.

He said it's still possible to offer furniture -- they just take the extra precautions. And consumers can still take advantage of used furniture deals, by taking some precautions of their own.

"We'd encourage the public to continue to buy second-hand furniture, as long as you feel comfortable that the organization has taken the necessary measures to get rid of the risk of bed bugs," Beurmann said.