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Bed bug populations growing across nation, but no reports on campus

Bed bugs — once relegated to the world of nighttime rhymes — are once again emerging as a major concern at universities across the country.

But despite a recent outbreak in Rhode Island, Brown has not experienced problems with the bugs on campus.

"There are no complaints that we know of," said Edward Wheeler, director of Health Services.

Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Wake Forest College in North Carolina, New York University and the University of Colorado at Boulder are among the many schools that have experienced bed bug infestations in their dormitories this year, according to their school newspapers.

In August, the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint statement warning that "the United States is one of many countries now experiencing an alarming resurgence in the population of bed bugs."

Hua Bai, a postdoctoral research associate in Brown's department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said that bed bugs, or Cimicidae, were once a major problem throughout the world. After World War II, though, the widespread use of DDT "eliminated the bed bug problem" until the beginning of the 21st century, he said.

"The only way to control them is to use extreme hot or cold," Bai said. No existing pesticide can effectively kill or repel bed bugs.

Years of pesticide use have selected for bugs resistant to the chemicals, yielding stronger and stronger strains of bugs, he said.

The bugs can also survive for months — even up to a year — without food. They feed on blood and are attracted to warm blooded animals, including humans.

But "people don't tend to pay attention to this bug because they don't spread or carry disease," Bai said, and therefore bed bugs have only recently become forefront in public awareness.

The Rhode Island Board of Health does not track bed bugs because they are not disease carriers, according to a Sept. 30 article in the Providence Journal.

"It's definitely scary, because you can't do anything — just throw your old furniture away," Bai said. He added that washing clothes can remove bed bugs, although other household items and even the houses themselves can be much more resistant.

"Secondhand furniture is a big problem," he said, but is inevitable at hotels or on college campuses.

"The way students live can contribute" to the spread of infestations, said Wheeler. He recommends that students vacuum frequently and do not share clothing.



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