Bedbug cases skyrocket as legislation surfaces

Here is something that will really make your skin crawl: San Francisco has seen a dramatic increase in the number of bloodsucking bedbugs reported citywide.

Cases reported to the Public Health Department have increased 44 percent during the past three years, with 373 in 2007 compared to 537 in 2009 and 501 so far this year, said Johnson Ojo, a health inspector for the agency.

In particular, bedbugs are invading rooms at many of San Francisco’s single-occupancy residential hotels, known as SRO units,
Ojo said.

“It’s the spell of high temperatures we have been getting,” Ojo said. “They have been known to thrive at temperatures at 70 and above, which is when the female lays more eggs — and they hatch very quickly.”

The Public Health Department knows quick action is needed.

“It’s become an increasingly serious problem in all rental housing in San Francisco,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “If it’s not treated properly, it becomes explosive, and that’s been part of the problem. There wasn’t aggressive treatment by landlords.”

Shortt said the Public Health Department doesn’t have enough authority to crack down on landlords who are not treating bedbugs. However, that could change under legislation introduced by Supervisor John Avalos that would stiffen fines for department code violations, such as mold issues and not treating bedbugs. The legislation will be heard this month.

Bedbugs have been making headlines across the nation as cities — including New York and Washington, D.C. — have reported alarming increases in the numbers of the critters. Yet, public awareness is rising and the negative stigma surrounding bedbugs persists, according to health officials.

Representatives from Green Solutions, a San Francisco-based pest control company, said they have seen a spike in calls for bedbugs during the past two weeks alone.

Ojo said the caseload is increasing in part because people are becoming more aware and are thus more inclined to report bedbugs. He said the department has done aggressive outreach and training at SROs on how to identify and eradicate bedbugs.

Ojo would not disclose which neighborhoods have been hit the hardest. But according to www.bedbugregistry.com, the Tenderloin — a neighborhood clustered with SROs — has a high concentration of reported cases.

Bedbugs are small parasitic insects that subsist on human blood and typically feed late at night, hiding in tiny cracks and crevices such as a mattress or box spring during the daytime.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

Crawling up

Bedbug cases reported:

2007: 372
2008: 386
2009: 537
2010 (to date): 501

Source: San Francisco Department of Public Health

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