Bedbugs seen as possible threat to tourism
Two lawmakers worry that the insects could discourage tourism
Two state lawmakers are hoping their colleagues will bite on a resolution to educate tourists and residents about the increasing incidence of bedbugs.
While Hawaii has had limited reports of bedbugs, State Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D-Maui) and Rep. Marilyn Lee (D- Mililani, Waipio) have introduced concurrent resolutions urging an educational campaign because of the potential for negative impact on the state's tourism industries.
DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE
» Signs: Bites usually occur at night and are relatively painless. The appearance of welts upon awakening and the pressure of blood spots on the sheets are signs of bedbug infestation.
» Life cycle: Eggs are laid in cracks, crevices of beds, furniture, walls, floors and electrical outlets. Development from egg to adult takes five to eight weeks. Once they hatch, bedbugs must feed on blood. The life span of adults is 9 to 18 months.
» Control: Aerosol insecticides for use against flying insects may control the problem.
» Prevention: Bedbugs are often transported though suitcases and used furniture. After traveling, wash suitcase and clothes before bringing inside and treat all second-hand furniture as a precaution.
Source: Hawaii Department of Health
"We've heard that bedbugs have become a growing problem worldwide and thought it might be a good idea for the state to pay attention," Lee said. "An educational campaign wouldn't cost the state a lot of money, but it might save us a lot of money."
Bedbugs, apple-seed sized bugs that come out at night to feed on blood, have been reported in 47 states and have made a resurgence primarily due to increased travel, said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, an industry trade group with more than 5,000 members.
"Bedbugs are resilient pests that travel easily from room to room or within a house or from hotel to hotel via suitcases," Mannes said.
While bedbugs aren't life threatening, they are a growing global problem because of increased international travel and ignorance, Mannes said.
"People still think bedbugs are part of a nursery rhyme," she said.
Tourist destinations, like Hawaii which hosted 7.4 million visitors last year, are at particular risk for infestation due to the sheer number of people moving through the islands, she said.
The NPMA has received reports of bedbugs in Hawaii, but declined to disclose the locations or incidence due to confidentiality, Mannes said. No bedbug reports have been received from Alaska, North Dakota and Montana, she said.
From April 2005 to now, the vector control branch of the Hawaii Environmental Health Administration gathered 26 reports of bedbug infestations, said Kurt Tsue, the communications director for the Hawaii Department of Health.
"They are here, but they are very minor," Tsue said. "They aren't high priority because they aren't known to transmit any disease."
The state Department of Health has a brochure on bedbugs but has not widely disseminated the material, he said.
Bedbugs usually lay their eggs in cracks and crevices of beds, furniture, walls, floors and electrical outlets. Once bedbugs hatch, they need blood to survive. Bedbug bites are usually painless but they can leave tell-tale welts and blood spots on the sheets.
People have described the bite of a bedbug as similar to a mosquito, Mannes said, but added that the real impact is psychological.
"They make people feel dirty," she said.
Many people don't report bedbug infestations because they are ashamed; however bedbugs feed on "blood not filth," Mannes said.
Raising awareness of bedbugs is a positive step towards preventing further infestations, she said.
"Travelers need to be aware of the problem and the hospitality industry needs to be aggressive in treating rooms," Mannes said.
While bedbugs have not been of great concern to Hawaii's visitor industry, there have been incidents reported elsewhere, said Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel Association.
"It's an issue that people are becoming increasingly concerned about," Towill said, but added that there has been little discussion of bedbugs among members of Hawaii's visitor industry since the pests have not been prevalent.
Yet Lee says the importance of Hawaii's visitor industry to the state economy merits a proactive approach. Adoption of a bedbug resolution in Hawaii will be discussed at a public hearing at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, she said.