Bed bugs found in Metro's headquarters

BY: Kytja Weir November 18, 2012 | 8:00 pm
Metro headquarters (Examiner file photo)

Bed bugs have infiltrated Metro's downtown headquarters, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Exterminators were brought in after bed bugs were found two weeks ago on the third floor of the building on Fifth Street Northwest, in an area that employees say houses information technology offices but no actual beds or sleeping areas.

It was not clear how extensively the persistent pests have dug in at the agency. Metro initially said it found one bed bug, but memos to workers discussed multiple bugs.

The hardy, hitchhiking bed bug
Don't be fooled by the name. Bed bugs do not live only in beds. The insects, which are the size and color of a flat apple seed, will hide in suitcases, boxes, behind baseboards, electrical switch plates, picture frames, wallpaper, upholstery and furniture crevices.
Though the bugs are nocturnal and prefer to feed at night, they are opportunistic, according to the National Pest Management Association. They will travel widely in search of blood by hitchhiking on people's belongings or clothing.
They can survive for several months without eating, reproducing during that time. And they withstand a wide range of temperatures, from nearly freezing to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some employees are frustrated that more information about the pests wasn't distributed sooner -- and that more wasn't done to prevent the pests from invading.

"This place is disgraceful," said one person who works there and asked not to be named.

The agency posted a message on the bulletin boards next to elevators in at least some parts of the building on Nov. 9, according to Metro. The agency treated the area over the Veterans Day weekend and is monitoring the area, said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. But a broader notification and a safety bulletin to employees weren't sent until a week later.

"We have no evidence that they are present in any other location," the agency's safety chief wrote to workers Thursday.

Metro did not answer a reporter's question, though, about whether any bugs have ever been found in any of the system's buses, trains or stations. Metro employees are given free rides, encouraged to take the system they help run.

Dini Miller, an urban entomologist at Virginia Tech, said people should not be surprised to find bed bugs on a bus or a train, or anywhere else. She called the Washington region "bed bug central" because it's a large urban area with people from all over. Yet, she says, throwing a fit won't get rid of them.

"Keep calm because this is going to be with us the rest of our lives," she said. "We need to learn how we can deal with this thing."

Bed bugs have started to move from homes, college dorms and hotels into offices and public spaces, according to the National Pest Management Association. In the group's 2011 survey, 38 percent of pest control professionals reported finding them in office buildings, up from just 18 percent a year before. In the same time, the cases found on public transportation, including taxis, buses and trains, jumped from 9 percent to 18 percent.

Bugs in such places can be harder to locate and treat. In a home, the nocturnal bugs will congregate near beds, said Missy Henriksen, a National Pest Management Association spokeswoman. But in offices, the bugs may spread out more as they seek their next meal. And they can keep coming back if the employee who carried them in doesn't solve the problem at home.

"If the original source isn't being treated, you're going to have a continuing problem," Henriksen said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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