NCHH's Tom Neltner Quoted in "Washington Post" Bed Bugs Article


Washington Post
Going to the Mattress

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; A02

The enemy is stealthy and bloodthirsty. It attacks innocent victims without warning, while they sleep.

Fortunately, the federal government is on the case. In a hotel ballroom in Crystal City yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency convened the first-ever National Bed Bug Summit -- a veritable Yalta Conference for the species Cimex lectularius. With help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and even the Pentagon, the EPA assembled scientists, state and local officials, and a colony of exterminators to buzz about such topics as "Bed Bug Perspectives," "Bed Bug Basics" and "Government Responses to Bed Bugs."

"These insects can have a life-altering impact," warned panelist Richard Cooper of Cooper Pest Solutions.

"They are showing up in some of the finest hotels," contributed Saul Hernandez, an aide to the congressman who introduced H.R. 6068, "The Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008."

All this for an insect the size of an apple seed that has a painless bite and is not known to spread disease?

University of Kentucky entomologist Mike Potter called the bedbug nothing less than "the most difficult, challenging pest problem of our generation." Tossing out phrases such as "doomsday scenario" and "perfect storm," he ventured: "In my opinion, we are not going to get out of this thing" -- the bedbug thing -- until we "allow the pest-control industry to go to war."

Bedbugs had been all but eradicated decades ago, panelist Potter explained, but thanks to increased travel, pesticide bans and resistance, we've "let bedbugs get back in the game."

Now, said Hernandez, the congressional staffer, "bedbugs invade luggage, burrowing deep into clothes, and are transported back home, where they infest their victims' homes . . . and the affected people have no choice but to trash their furniture, clothes and linen."

Audience members were squirming and scratching by the time Cooper told them of where he's found bedbug infestations: "behind picture frames or other wall hangings, or inside the bindings of books or on stuffed animals. Or how about an entire reproducing population with over 30 eggs inside the head of an adjustable wrench?" On the projection screen, the bugs in his presentation looked to be about three feet long.

Well, consider the "mental health aspects" of the bedbug. "When you've got bedbugs, your bed is not your comfort," explained Tom Neltner of the National Center for Healthy Housing. "It can have a tremendous impact on the mental health of people."

Potter, who boasted that he's spent "the last three years of my life digging deep into the history of bedbug management," offered a challenge: "I'd like to take anybody who thinks bedbugs is not a big deal, and we'll sprinkle a few in their house and see what they think."

The rest of us can sleep tight, knowing our government is doing all it can not to let the bedbugs bite.

Learn More