Bed bugs found at local hospital

United Medical Center said a patient was discovered with bed bugs in the hospital's psychiatric unit on March 7.

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Extermination began on March 8 and continued on March 9, using extreme heat to kill the bugs. According to experts, bed bugs and their eggs are killed after 10 to 15 minutes at temperatures of 120 degrees and hotter.

Despite repeated requests, UMC management said it was not available for an on-camera interview. But UMC Vice President of Public Relations Chenelle Harris said in a phone interview that a pest control company was contacted immediately after staff learned of the bugs.

Harris said a patient came in with bed bugs and was at the hospital one day. She said bed bug sniffing dogs detected the bugs in only one patient room. However, four rooms in total were treated as a precaution.

There is no evidence to suggest that bed bugs can transmit diseases to their human prey, but the blood suckers can certainly create a lot of discomfort, physically and mentally.

When asked if other patients at the hospital were notified, Harris said, "Proper due diligence was taken in compliance with our regulations."

In a follow up interview, she said, "There are steps that you have to take as far as notification. All of those steps were taken with those who were directly affected or could have been affected."

D.C. law does not require hospitals - or any business for that matter - to disclose bed bug incidents to health officials or the public. When asked if the D.C. Department of Health was notified, Harris said, "We took all the necessary steps."

Officials at the D.C. Department of Health have confirmed UMC did not alert them directly. However, on March 10th the family member of a UMC patient filed a complaint with the city. Officials said she was upset that her loved one had been bitten at the hospital.

On March 15, DOH inspectors visited UMC and found no bed bugs. Gerard Brown, Program Manager for the Rodent and Vector Control Division of the D.C. Department of Health said he was "very happy" with UMC's handling of the situation because staff responded immediately and quarantined the room in question.

Bed bugs in hospitals and medical settings create new and complex challenges for the health community. Because the growing bed bug epidemic is relatively new, there is not a lot of data and few guidelines for staff who must balance patient confidentiality with patient comfort.

Larry Pinto, a Mechanicsville, Md.-based entomologist and a local expert on bed bugs said, "They are a serious problem. You've got to be aware of them, but it's not the end of the world."

He added, "There is a small but increasing possibility of encountering bed bugs at these types of sites."

"I believe in notification in certain circumstances," Pinto said. "At some point you get to the point where we say 'There are bed bugs in this hospital.'"

Long term, bed bug experts have said outbreaks in hospitals could be the new normal. According to a recent survey by the National Pest Management Association or NPMA, 23 percent of pest control companies report treating nursing homes in the past year and 12 percent report treating hospitals.

"That certainly doesn't mean the hospital is at fault and it doesn't mean the problem is pervasive. Most of the time we find all medical facilities are very diligent in taking care of bed bugs," said Missy Henriksen, V.P. of Public Affairs for NPMA.

Henriksen added, "We should stop being surprised when we find bed bugs in new locations. Bed bugs need to be where people are for their very survival."

In the meantime, health officials worry UMC and low income residents might become scapegoates in the epidemic. Experts emphasize that bed bugs will go anywhere people go, whether it's UMC or a five star hotel.

"Bed bugs do not discriminate. Rich, poor, they survive soley on blood," said Brown.

At UMC, Harris said, "Our nursing staff is really experienced and attentive to identify these types of issues, to know what to look for and treat the area immediately." Still, the health department said it plans to soon conduct training on bed bugs at the hospital.

Following normal protocol, an exterminator will re-inspect UMC in a couple of weeks to make sure no bugs survived the heat treatments. Meanwhile, health department inspections are routine and on-going.

Some bed bug video courtesy of Orkin.

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