'Don't let the bed bugs bite' is easier said than done in Watertown
Bedbugs, those creepy crawly pests that embed themselves into mattresses and furniture, are a problem in big cities across the country. The bugs have managed to find their way to smaller cities in the North Country.
Watertown is now dealing with the pests and the stigma that comes with them.
Back in September, a friend told me she was dealing with a serious bed bug issue. Her name is Kris Rusho and I gave her a call a few weeks ago to get the whole story.
“I happened to wake up early one morning -- about 5:30 in the morning -- and I looked down and I saw a bug on my arm and I smashed it with my hand and my hand came away with blood. My first thought was it was tick, but I started doing some research and found out those were bedbugs," Rusho said. "I went to my car and cried.”
Bedbugs are small and black like apple seeds. They bite people when they’re asleep. Those bites can cause allergic reactions that can get infected. Rusho had to throw away her mattress and clothing. She cried a little more and moved into a friend’s house. Even long after the bed bugs were gone, she couldn’t shake them.
"I still suffered from these phantom itches and phantom bites where I’d wake up at 4 a.m., afraid," she said. "It doesn’t go away for a little bit.”
Bed bugs can lead to loss of sleep and other mental issues that are as bad as the bites. They also hitch rides on clothing and furniture which allows them to spread to new homes. That is why they are a public health issue.
Steve Jennings, a member of the Watertown City Council who works with the county public health department, said his office, along with community nonprofits in Watertown, are getting calls from people asking for help. Jennings said the demand was so high, his office organized an education forum on the bugs.
He said the big takeaway was this: “Normal pesticides you’d buy at a drug store do not work with bed bugs. They are resistant. It really needs to be professionally abated,” he said.
But hiring a professional exterminator can be costly. A few months ago, one fed-up resident in a downtown apartment tried to concoct a homemade pesticide bomb. He ended up starting a fire in his apartment. Neighbors of Watertown, a group that owns six apartment buildings in the city, has already spent more than $20,000 trying to get rid of the bugs.
Jennings said everyone needs to work together on this.
“The tenants really have to do their part in controlling it. Don’t bring this stuff home. When you see it, take care of it,” he said.
At the Impossible Dream thrift store, shoppers browse through racks of clothing, used couches and coffee tables. The staff have to be extra cautions about what they allow in the store. James Williams oversees furniture donations. Williams showed me a binder with a laminated fact sheet. It details how to spot bedbugs. He pulled out a tiny flashlight and leaned over a couch.
“Before we even accept it, before we even take it off a customer’s truck we look at it thoroughly, we look at the seams like this, we pull up the cushions, we look in the corners. We’re looking for bedbugs," he said.
The store hasn’t had any encounters with the critters. That is really important to the store, he said, since the last thing they want to do is pass on the problem.
Watertown has been working hard to make their downtown an attractive place to live. I asked people if this bedbug issue is thwarting that effort. Kris Rusho said the bedbugs are not just in downtown apartments.
“I think what I’ve learned from this is that bedbugs can be in the nicest of houses,” she said.
Rusho had advice for others dealing with the pests. “You have to get mad at the bed bugs and force yourself to deal with them.”
And then, call a professional.