The Luzerne County Housing Authority is expected to spend $35,000 this year battling bed bugs in its residential units, said authority Executive Director David Fagula.
It's maddening, he said. We're so frustrated and want people to know we're making every effort we can to get rid of these things.
In addition to bringing in a professional exterminator, the authority has purchased special mattress covers for all treated units and called in two beagles specially trained to detect the parasites that feed on human blood.
The authority oversees a mix of 25 elderly and family public housing developments with a combined 1,600 units, in addition to a rental assistance program.
Fagula said his maintenance supervisor suggested the beagles because bed bugs continued to surface at various authority locations, despite spraying throughout the year by a professional exterminator. The authority paid Unionville-based Key K-9 about $3,500 to check 350 apartments last week at housing projects in various municipalities, including Shickshinny, Luzerne, Kingston and Plymouth.
The dogs enter units separately to obtain two readings, he said. Fagula was sold on the idea when the handler hid a screened container with bed bugs inside a couch in the authority administrative offices. When the door was opened, the beagle quickly zeroed in on the couch and started scratching.
The dogs are not perfect, said Fagula, but they're pretty sensitive.
As a result of the canine findings, the authority pinpointed apartments that should be treated by exterminators, he said.
Two of three buildings at the authority's Dan Flood Apartments in Plymouth – a total of 66 apartments – will be treated next week because evidence of bugs was found in several units, Fagula said.
It may be overkill, but we're trying to be proactive, he said.
The authority also is providing mattress covers in all treated units, he said. These covers, which cost $59 each, encase mattresses so any lingering eggs and bugs are trapped and die.
Fagula believes the bug problem spread because some people were afraid others would judge them if they reported it.
The bugs can travel on clothing or belongings.
The problem has been stressful on residents, who must clean, dry and bag bedding before treatment. Some tenants threw out mattresses and other furniture and still found more bugs. Others wasted money on their own remedies, he said.
He said one elderly woman sobbed because her grandson can't visit her until the bugs are eradicated.
There should be no embarrassment reporting it. You could be the most immaculate housekeeper and have a spotless apartment and still get bed bugs, Fagula said. The quicker we know of a problem, the quicker we can eradicate it.
He plans to bring the beagles back in several months for a follow-up check.
Fagula said the beagle handler commented on the cleanliness of authority properties.
People don't like to talk about bed bugs because there's a stigma that it means a building is dirty, he said. A lot of other places where multiple people congregate and live have been hit a lot harder than we have.