They're small, but bed bugs can cause a big problem. And since the biting pests started headlining nightly newscasts across the country about five years ago, they've become a growing concern. But if you think the tiny parasites are only a concern in big cities, you may be surprised what KELOLAND News found while digging into public health records in Sioux Falls.
Most of us check into a hotel, hoping to get a relaxing night of sleep. But unless you're looking very closely, you could be in for a big stressor because bed bug reports are on the rise at Sioux Falls hotels.
"There are bed bugs in Sioux Falls. We may have had them here for quite some time, but like most things, it starts on the coast. You know, New York and L.A. have probably been seeing them for years and been dealing with them quite a bit," Sioux Falls Health Program Coordinator Denise Patton said.
Patton makes a living telling people what signs to look for and, more importantly, how to get rid of bed bugs. She says calls concerning the biting bug have tripled in recent years.
"Whether that's just a heightened awareness, you know, more press. More information about them out there where people are thinking more about them and more aware, or whether there are more present here, it's really hard to say," Patton said.
When the City Health Department gets a complaint about bed bugs, they check out the hotel. If there are bed bugs, they require the hotel to hire an exterminator.
"It is not just the room that's affected, but all the neighboring rooms as well, both beside and above and below, in case there's any movement of the bugs from room to room," Sioux Falls Public Health Manager LuAnn Ford said.
While those complaints aren't public record, the inspection records are. We found that four Sioux Falls hotels have had bed bug violations in the past two years: the Nites Inn, the Rushmore Inn, the Holiday Inn City Centre, and the Arena Motel.
One of the owners of the Arena Motel agreed to talk to us about the battle against the bug.
"We're probably going on the third summer now since we have actually seen bed bugs. I didn't know what a bed bug looked like until probably three summers ago," Arena Motel Owner Tim Nicolai said.
Nicolai admits he's learned a lot about how to get rid of the pests. That includes purchasing special mattress covers to prevent bed bugs from getting inside, a special powder to kill the insect and glue boards in every room to track the bug. Nicolai also does routine exterminations every three weeks.
"Since we started doing that a couple years ago, we've literally had no problems unless we had a guest bring it into a room and infect just the particular room," Nicolai said.
What he can't control, he says, is when the bugs are brought here by guests.
"The people who are in motels usually have been staying somewhere else prior to coming to our establishment, and they're bringing them with them," Nicolai said.
No matter what the source, everyone involved agrees the solution isn't an easy one so protecting yourself may be the best prevention.
"If you're going into a hotel room, put your luggage, maybe, in the bathtub, or on a tile floor, or on the counter in the bathroom. Something like that that doesn't have a soft surface where bed bugs might be hiding," Patton said.
Patton also says that the bed bugs that are most likely to hitch a ride home with you are also the most likely to be seen, so do a visual inspection of your luggage and your family as you leave the hotel.
As for the other three hotels where bed bugs were found, the Nites Inn and the Rushmore Motel declined our offer for an on-camera interview.
Michelle L. Lamphere, executive of operations for Lester Hospitality Management, which owns the Holiday Inn City Center says, "Bed bugs can be found in any hotel, regardless of whether it's an economy or luxury hotel. It's extremely important for any manager to know if there are any bed bugs on their property so they can take aggressive approaches to get rid of them." Lamphere says the hotel has a preventive management plan in place if there is ever a bed bug report.
In response to the increased interest about bed bugs, the Sioux Falls City Health Department plans to host an informational panel about the pests. The event will be held at 10 Thursday morning in the commission room of City Hall. The panel will discuss how to identify bed bugs and offer resources for people affected by bed bugs.