This story from a local paper reports on a woman from Texas who was plagued by bed bugs in a motel in Alton, Illinois. This is a story that follows a familiar plot-line. Some of it is quoted below, with commentary.
First, the woman, badly bitten, showed the bugs to a motel manager whose exterminator had no idea what they were.
Christy Aylor of Baytown, Texas, though, felt the painful pinches Sept. 7, the first night she stayed in an Alton motel.
“I thought it was a mosquito, but it didn’t go away,” she said. “I was literally eaten up. I had bites all over my face, head, arms, legs and fingers — everywhere. I scratched all day, then I went back to bed” and suffered more bites.
“I got two or three a night; it got worse and worse and worse,” said Aylor, 54, who is in Alton while her husband, Johnny, works at a construction site. She said she went to Saint Anthony’s Hospital emergency room for the bites and got an antibiotic.
Normally, victims can’t find the nasty critters, which don’t cause harm other than discomfort. Aylor, though, said she finally did locate four of the pests in her bed. She had the motel manager call an exterminator.
“He didn’t know what (the bug) was,” she said.
The motel then called a second exterminator, who sprayed the bed and other parts of the room after inspecting the mattress with a magnifying glass.
This demonstrates the need for an education campaign for hotel workers as well as exterminators. If they don’t know what bedbugs are, they sure as heck won’t be trying to prevent them, and won’t be able to get rid of them.
Second, after asking for a new room and a reimbursement of what they’d paid for the room and an E/R trip required to treat the bites, Aylor was harrassed by an insurance company investigator:
An insurance investigator, she said, was “hateful.”
“She asked me if I bathed every day,” Aylor said, referring to the investigator’s suspicions that the problem was lice and not bedbugs.
So the investigator assumes that a woman presenting with severe bites after staying in a hotel (which, given that its exterminator does not know what bed bugs are, is probably not getting any kind of preventive bedbug treatment), is suffering from lice, a condition E/R doctors would surely have been able to spot, since body lice is carried on the body itself.
Remember, she found the bed bugs and had them identified. So she is basically being called a liar even though she presented proof of the bugs’ presence, and a doctor’s report not indicative of other causes (such as lice).
Next, Aylor discovered that it isn’t anyone’s responsibility, in that county, to regulate that businesses (especially hotels) stay bedbug-free.
Aylor called the health department, where someone told her that the department has no regulatory authority since the bugs don’t cause disease and her situation was not a public health risk.
[Madison County Health Dept. employee Mike] Hungerford said that neither the Illinois Department of Public Health nor county health departments oversee motel conditions. He also said most chemical treatments are not effective, since the one that used to work best, DDT, is banned.
Whose responsibility is it to oversee motel conditions besides fire risk? And who says it isn’t a health risk? Yes, bed bugs have not been proven to transmit disease (yet). And we’re grateful. But parasites are a health issue, even if their only effect is on your mental health (and your wallet). And I’ve yet to met a sufferer whose mental health was not adversely affected.
And, in my mind, anything that is causing non-delusional physical discomfort and which cannot be controlled by the individual’s own hygiene or other behaviors is definitely a problem of their physical health.
Aylor also called the Alton Building and Zoning Department. City inspector Pat Williams and Assistant Fire Chief Mike Harvey went to the motel but did not go inside the Aylors’ room.
Williams said he talked with the manager and wrote a note for his files that an exterminator had treated the room. He said he has no authority to inspect the room or make the business take other actions because city inspectors deal with building code compliance.
Problem: The presence of bed bugs does not currently violate city building codes. Not only is that ridiculous (I’d bet a roach infestation would violate codes), but the fact that the Fire Chief is being called out tells me that public funds are being used on the issue. So why not decide whose purview this comes under, and fund them, instead of having the Fire Chief waste his time?
Williams said he used to work at that motel and never heard of or saw bedbugs.
Again, public education is needed. The problem has recently resurfaced, and we can’t wait for people to catch up with it as and when people “discover” infestations and research their cause. The governments — local, state, and federal — should take it upon themselves to educate people. Or we will continue to see this spread at alarming rates, since is spreads so much more easily among people who are not looking for it, and who thus take ages to identify the cause of their discomfort.
The Telegraph has chosen not to name the motel, since Aylor’s account could not be verified.
Aylor said she is satisfied with the motel. It paid her medical bills and finally moved the couple to another room after they complained for four weeks.
The motel also waived the costs of lodging for the time the couple was in the problem room. Aylor said she has not had anymore encounters with the pesky bugs in the second room and has not heard anyone else in the motel complain about bites.
Disturbingly, Aylor now cleans motels upon check-in. Bleach isn’t going to eliminate bed bugs. But clearly this woman’s entire sense of safety and hygiene in motels has been violated.
Aylor said she always cleans a motel room thoroughly when the couple checks in. “Everywhere I go, I clean with bleach — the toilet, tub, the phone handle. I clean everything we touch, everywhere we go.”
Now she says she has another chore when checking into a motel — inspecting for bedbugs.