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City-owned apartment complex deals with bed bug infestation in Baraboo
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City-owned apartment complex deals with bed bug infestation in Baraboo

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Combating an infestation of bed bugs at a Baraboo apartment complex for low-income seniors will cost the city’s Community Development Authority about $20,000, its director says.

Executive Director Pat Cannon said the CDA learned of the infestation at Donahue Apartments in February, and has since taken steps to exterminate the blood-feeding insects from six of the building’s 61 units.

The problem seems to be under control now, he said, adding that the CDA is working proactively to prevent the pests from spreading again.

“This is not something that goes away and never comes back,” Cannon said. “It’s not like you eradicate them and they stay away.”

The CDA hired an exterminator who heated infested areas to more than 120 degrees to kill the bugs and their eggs. The mitigation work also required some furniture to be tossed.

Cannon said the CDA, which operates under federal guidelines, cannot raise rent or charge residents for the extermination. The infestation also does not qualify for an insurance claim, so the roughly $20,000 in unbudgeted expenses will come from the CDA’s reserve fund.

Just as the CDA cannot charge residents for the expenses, Cannon said, the residents cannot hold the CDA responsible for the loss of personal items — such as mattresses — due to the infestation.

Cannon said officials organized a meeting with tenants to discuss the problem and the best ways to prevent it from reoccurring. The CDA also reported the infestation to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sauk County Public Health Director Tara Hayes said a CDA official called to report the bed bug situation, and that her agency offered educational resources. However, the infestation does not require the department’s involvement under a county ordinance that deals with human health hazards.

“Bed bugs are not considered a health hazard as they do not transmit disease,” Hayes said, “but they are a nuisance and difficult to get rid of.”

Bed bugs are not an indication of unsanitary living conditions. They essentially are hitchhikers that seek out warm-blooded creatures to feast on, regardless of cleanliness.

“There are certain stigmas attached to bed bugs, but they really go to where that people bring them,” said P.J. Liesch, an entomologist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. “They can be in low-quality motels all the way up to five-star hotels.”

The population of bed bugs plummeted around World War II due to the use of effective insecticides such as DDT, a toxic compound the U.S. has since banned. However, there has been a national resurgence within the last 20 years.

Liesch said that’s partly because a resistance that bed bugs developed to DDT has translated to modern insecticides, which work on the insects’ nervous systems in much the same way. He also said an increase in modern business travel has caused more unsuspecting hosts to bring bed bugs in from other countries.

“That is one of the reasons they started moving back into the U.S.,” Liesch said. “It started with big cities like New York. Over time it spread, so you can now find them in smaller communities.”

People who finds bed bugs in their homes should hire a professional exterminator and not try to deal with the problem on their own. Liesch said store-bought “bug bombs” that release vapor into an infested area may only cause the insects to scatter, making the problem worse.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

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Baraboo News Republic reporter

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