Bedbugs: A Costly Headache Not Just in Poems Anymore

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Finding Jennifer and Steven Frimel's newly constructed Mentor house was easy. It was the only one in the quiet suburban neighborhood that had a 16-foot box truck and 120 amp generator parked and revving in the driveway. Certified Pest Control's Steve Kmetz stood in the garage, which he'd turned into a sort of command center. Before taking me into the main house, Kmetz stopped at an array of digital sensors that kept track of temperatures at 43 locations in the house.

Steve Kmetz: They're averaging about 127 or so through out the whole house. Alright? You Ready?
Mhari Saito: Yeah.
Steve Kmetz: Ok Lets go.
(Door opens)
Mhari Saito: Oh! Its so hot!

Kmetz had turned the Frimel's suburban home into a convection oven. The granite counter in the kitchen literally radiated heat. The reason: bedbugs. After the family had suffered bites and found the apple seed size insects, they called an exterminator and went to a hotel. Now, laundry baskets filled with clothes and stuffed animals sit beneath fans blowing heat down to them. Getting the heat down to floor level, Kmetz says, is critical.

Steve Kmetz: It's always going to be hotter up here. We want to get it in the120 degree range down here, that's the kill, 119-120 for the insects, that's where you're going to kill them.

For many decades bedbugs weren't a problem in the U.S. because of pesticides like DDT. Bans on the pesticide because of its dangers and increased travel have brought the insects back. Heat is the weapon of choice by some exterminators. Jennifer Frimel estimates that her family spent about $5,000 for the ordeal and that includes the heat treatment, hotel, special bedbug mattress covers, laundry and eating out.

Jennifer Frimel: This is not covered by homeowners insurance. There is no extra like flood protection that you can buy for bedbugs. So really, the only thing you can do is be very vigilant and change your lifestyle so you don't invite these little buggers into your house.

The Insurance Information Institute says bedbugs are considered a maintenance issue. At least one state, New York, has pending legislation that would force insurers to offer bedbug policies. Rick Novickis at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health says there are cheaper options out there, such as newer, safer pesticides. But he says, getting rid of the bugs is no small task.

Rick Novickis: It's not as easy as running down to the local corner store and buying a $10 spray and eliminating them. In many cases, pest control companies need to get involved and it may take three, four, even five visits. In some cases, you may be to the point where you may have to look at a heat treatment and then you get into the thousands of dollars for that.

Bedbugs in Ohio have become such an issue that the state asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency for an OK to use the pesticide Propoxur for indoor use. The pesticide has been banned indoors since the 1990s. This past summer, state officials met with EPA, CDC and even Department of Defense officials to push their case. The EPA said no. Homeowner Jennifer Fermil chose heat treatment because it offered her an opportunity to get rid of the bugs in one go.

Jennifer Frimel: When we first found out we had bedbugs I was absolutely mortified I didnt want to tell anyone because I thought it was a reflection on who I am, how I keep my home and its just not true. They travel from movie theaters, from restaurants, from hospital waiting rooms, and they come in to your home and cause this disruption.

And it's not just humans finding work dealing with bedbugs. Two days after the heat treatment was finished on the Frimel's house, Bella, one of the few bedbug detection dogs in Ohio, sits outside the kitchen door waiting for a command from her handler, Gary Broberg, to get to work.

Gary Broberg: OK, Bella? Go find Fred.

For $280 plus tax, Bella trots through the house, methodically level by level, jumping on beds and sniffing under chairs searching for 'Fred', that is live bedbugs or eggs.

Dad: Nate, she's gotta check your bed so get off your bed.
Gary Broberg: Bella!
Gary Broberg: Here Bella...She just comes out of the room. Otherwise she'd stay there if there was a problem.

Getting the all clear is a huge relief to the homeowners. Bella gets rewarded outside with a break from work and a scruffy yellow tennis ball.

Gary Broberg: Alright Bella, you're done.

Done, at least for a few minutes. Bella and Kmetz's company are booked out two weeks in advance.

Gary Broberg: She's gotta go work. You gotta go do 50 rooms huh?

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