FORT SMITH — Bed bugs are a year-round issue for local pest control businesses, and they have become experts at hide-and-seek.

FORT SMITH — Bed bugs are a year-round issue for local pest control businesses, and they have become experts at hide-and-seek.


Local exterminators say eliminating them is a problem everyone will face, probably sooner rather than later.


Although they are not known to transmit diseases, bed bugs have steadily become an international nuisance many years after more aggressive and harmful chemicals like DDT were outlawed, says John Hopkins, an entomologist with the University of Arkansas Extension Office.


"It really started when humans were in caves and the bugs were on bats, but these bed bugs made a comeback in the early 1900s until they were about wiped out with DDT," Hopkins said. "A couple generations never had to deal with them, but with more travel to places where the bugs aren’t controlled they are spreading."


DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was outlawed in the early 1970s after it was found to be harmful to the environment and human health.


Orval Smith, owner of Elite Pest & Termite in Fort Smith, says he receives at least two calls a day on average in the fall and winter months. But when the warmer months roll around things get more active. He saw his first bed bug case at Bentonville in 2001. Within a couple years the bugs were a big problem in the Fort Smith area, he said.


"They can hide anywhere," Smith said. "We’ve seen them in nightstands, any piece of furniture, even picture frames."


In the busier months, Smith will take up to a dozen calls a day, he said.


Over the past 40 or so years the elusive creature scientifically known as cimex lectularius has regained its throne as the creepiest domestic insect. In apartment complexes, they may even be killed off mostly in one room, but survivors have already crawled through spaces in the walls to find a new host in the next apartment.


The parasites have been known to feed off dogs and cats. And although they are not known to transmit diseases, Hopkins said they do cause "mental stress."


Bed bugs are building resistance to new insecticides every few years, according to to Doug Grimm, owner of Terminator Termite & Pest Control in Fort Smith. Calls for bed bugs have steadily increased over the past six years since Grimm bought the exterminator business.


"It progressively got worse, and has not let up," Grimm said. "I suspect it will only get worse before it gets better. It’s a matter of time. You will get them. You will deal with this. … And they are finding resistance to the chemicals, quickly. Not hundreds of years, but within three to five years they are building resistance. (Eliminating them is) not a do-it-yourself job."


Grimm said although it is fairly easy to kill a bed bug on contact, the problem is completely eradicating them. If even one female is left behind it can repopulate an area within a couple months. He gets calls daily about bed bugs.


Expert hitchhikers, known to even hide in the wheels of luggage, the little blood-suckers have taken full advantage of modern travellers and steadily multiplied in the Fort Smith area since the mid-2000s. For travellers worried about bed bugs, Grimm showed a bottled spray that he offers to treat luggage after staying in a hotel.


For someone who finds bed bugs, just throwing out the mattress is not going to do the trick. Treating the mattress and then enclosing it in a bed bug proof cover, however, could save the mattress. The box spring is another story. Grimm said you can not get bed bugs out of the box spring.


Although bed bugs may not crawl off an infested mattress and march over to the next house, it is not recommended to leave bed-bug invaded furniture of any kind out on the curb without labeling it as such. Smith said during bed bug case he threw a couch in the Dumpster. Before the city could take it to the dump, someone had taken the couch out and likely to their home for a re-infestation.


Just because they are called "bed bugs" doesn’t mean that’s the only place they live, Smith adds. They will hide anywhere in the home and wait until their host is asleep for an eight to 10-minute meal. They can go without feeding for up to nine months, laying in wait for the next opportunity.


"They don’t leave a hiding place until they see food," Hopkins said.


Bed bugs may enter a home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card.


"Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards and nightstands where they have easy access to people to bite during the night," the Elite website section on bed bugs states. "If left untreated they may move through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments. It is very common to find bed bugs in couches and recliners."


Since bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in a home is "not a sign of dirtiness or bad house keeping," Elite adds. "You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in dirty ones. Bed bugs simply don’t care; they are just after your blood."