VERIFY: Are Bed Bugs a Public Health Crisis?

VERIFY: Are Bed Bugs A Public Health Crisis?

They’re creepy, crawly, hard to get rid of and worse yet, they bite and can follow you everywhere. Schools, living rooms and hotel are a common place you find them: bed bugs.

2 Wants to Know hears your complaints. We get emails and calls all the time similar to this one from Brandy Hamby. Her family stayed at a motel in Burlington and paid for a week’s stay. She claims she couldn’t stay there for more than two nights because of bed bugs. Hamby filed a complaint with the Alamance Health Department and wants her money back from the motel.

The problem is, technically, no one can force the motel to give her money back and the motel won’t be fined for the bed bug issue.

Why? Because bed bugs aren’t considered a public health crisis.

It can be a very complicated issue because of loopholes and gray areas. To verify why, we reached out to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Alamance and Guilford Health Departments and State Representative Jon Hardister.

Kay Harris, Program Administrator for the Sleep Products Section with the Department of Agriculture explained the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency determine whether a pest is considered a human health risk.

In the case of bed bugs, Harris said, “This particular pest has not been determined to be a human health issue because this particular pest is not known to carry disease.”

So, bed bugs are considered annoying by all humans, but, they don’t carry disease, like roaches or rodents. Therefore, they’re not considered a public health crisis. However, the EPA admits the bugs  can cause severe allergic reactions, skin infections and mental and emotional health problems.

According to North Carolina state law, a hotel or motel must have an operation permit from the local health department. Alamance Health Department Director, Carl Carroll explained they'll inspect a lodging if they receive a bed bug complaint and devise a plan with management to get rid of the pest. Health departments can request the manager close off any rooms with bed bugs, and can revoke a permit if complaints continue or if the hotel or motel does not take proper action to get rid of the bugs.

Both Carroll and a spokesperson with the Guilford Health Department said they rarely, if ever, have to take permit action against a hotel or motel.

But, again, since there’s no law declaring the bug a public health crisis, local health department cannot get a customer’s money back.

So what about when you travel? USA Today reports no federal bedbug law exists, but some states have their own laws. Eight states enforce some form of bedbug-specific law, but only three states, Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia require hotels stop using the room and exterminate the bedbugs before another guest stays the night.
 
Back in North Carolina, there's a plot twist. There’s a loophole in North Carolina’s public health law. Turns out, while local health departments can inspect hotels and motels, no one has the power to inspect extended stay facilities. Extended stay facilities are classified as a lodging that rents by the week, instead of day by day like a hotel. There’s approximately 50 known chain-type extended stay lodging establishments across the state and none of them are subject to permitting and inspection.

2 Wants to Know reached out to Representative Jon Hardister in 2016, when the loophole was discovered. At the time, Hardister said he wanted to consider fixing the law and planned to bring together a committee to get some answers by the end of the year.

In a recent email exchange, Hardister said he forwarded information to Representative Jon Dobson, the co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight HHS Committee. Hardister is pushing to have the issue added to the November agenda, in hopes of closing the loophole. 

 

© 2017 WFMY-TV


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