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Monday, February 20, 2012

State tag-teams with cities and towns to wrestle bedbug infestations

For years, New Hampshire city and town health and code enforcement officers have battled infestations of cimex lectularius, the six-legged, bloodsucking scourge of motels, apartment buildings and boarding houses up and down the East Coast.

Nelson Ortega, head of Nashua’s Code Enforcement Department, fields several calls a week about bedbug complaints.

Since last spring, Ortega and other municipal officials have had an ally in the state helping in their battle to control the pests.

State efforts have been spearheaded by Rep. Patrick Long, D-Manchester. Long says his goal has been to work “so the state doesn’t become a bedbug state.”

Other states have become so infested they’ve turned to the federal government, asking to be supplied chemical pesticides, Long said, adding he doesn’t want to see New Hampshire get to that point.

Long sponsored HB 75 in 2011, which would have established a commission to study ways to control the spread of bedbugs. The bill died in the House, but a subcommittee was established to study bedbugs.

Long chairs the subcommittee, which is under the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services.

The subcommittee’s role is to provide information to tenants, landlords, hotel managers and everyone across the state, he said.

“Bed bugs aren’t just a public health issue, they’re an economic issue, and the longer we wait to address it, the more expensive of an issue it becomes for everyone,” Long said in a blog on the website

“Homeowners, tenants, landlords, business owners, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, summer camps – no one is immune to the threat posed by bed bugs,” Long said. is operated by the Bed Bug Action Committee, a Manchester-based group of community organizers, college and university staff and students, nonprofit leaders, local business owners, teachers, health workers, local officials, church members, and volunteers.

The committee is more of a work group of informed citizens, said Laura Ford, program manager with Healthy Homes, a division of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The focus is on outreach and eduction, she said.

Most complaints about bedbugs are handled at the local level, Ford said. However, the agency fields three or four phone calls a week about bedbugs, she said.

People call saying, “I think I have bedbugs, what do I do?” Ford said.

Healthy Homes refers callers to experts who can determine, “is it a bedbug, is it a flea, is it something else?” she said.

“Bedbugs are a hop topic now,” Ford said.

When it comes to bedbugs, what’s true in Manchester is true across the state, Long said.

“Somebody in Berlin will need to know the same thing that Nashua would need to know,” Long said.

Bedbugs aren’t confined to cheap hotels or low-rent apartments, he said. Long cited a case where a home valued over $1 million had to have walls torn out to eradicate bedbugs.

“Bedbugs don’t care about economics,” he said.

Bedbugs sometimes tag rides with people who work with the public, Long added.

There have been cases where police officers and social service workers became infected from entering infected apartments, and work crews from picking up and discarding mattresses left along roadways, Long said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or