Around Valentine’s Day weekend, a student in Lanman-Wright Hall had a visitor in her bed.
The freshman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she initially thought she was having an allergic reaction. The red blotches on her body — on every surface of her skin that was not covered by pajamas — were a reaction to another culprit: bedbugs.
“I found a friend on my pillow,” she said of the bedbug, which, she recalled, was the size of her pinky nail.
Although the L-Dub bedbug was a seemingly isolated incident, in the month after it was discovered a group of administrators gathered to discuss the problem of bedbugs, Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske ’74 said. Old Campus residents were informed of the incident at the beginning of March.
The University decided to re-inspect the affected suite and its neighboring room during spring break, even though the rooms were treated for bedbugs within two days of finding the pest in February. No other bedbugs were subsequently found.
One of the students in a neighboring suite said she was surprised to hear about the microscopic guest across the hall.
“I thought it was something that only existed in nursery rhymes,” she said.
After seeing the live bedbug on her pillow, the freshman said, she put it in a Ziploc bag and searched for photos of bedbugs on the Internet. After confirming that the brownish insect was indeed a bedbug, she said, her and her suitemates called Yale Facilities, which sent an exterminator to her room.
A pesticide was spread in the room the next day while the girls were in class, and their luggage, furniture and other fabric items that could not be moved were inspected for bedbugs. The suite next door, which is connected by a fire escape, was also thoroughly cleaned in order to “quarantine” the bugs, one of the girl’s suitemates said. The girls had to move out of their suites while it was treated on Friday night and could not return until Saturday evening.
“The school did a great job by preventing its spread so fast,” said the suitemate, who also asked to remain anonymous.
The University paid for the girls’ dry cleaning, she said, while she, her roommates and next door neighbors washed other fabrics in hot water. Pierson College reimbursed the affected freshman for the cost of new bedding, she said. They all received new mattresses.
Despite all the cleaning, she said, exterminators told one of the suitemates that the incident was “random” and unrelated to the cleanliness of the room.
“Our room is one of the cleanest dorm rooms I know, which made it kind of ironic on our part,” she said.
The single bedbug found in Lanman-Wright Hall was just one of many that have been making appearances on the East Coast.
While bedbugs have been alarming residents in New York City — the New York Times reported last week that the city has established a bedbug advisory board to deal with the problem — their population has also surged in New Haven and its surrounding areas, said Leonard Munstermann, senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health and associate curator in the division of entomology at the Yale Peabody Museum.
“Prior to the 1940s, there were a lot of bedbugs in the area,” Munstermann said, noting that they were fairly rare after the 1940s and 1950s. “So it’s kind of a re-infestation.”
John Anderson, an agricultural scientist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station who does research on bedbugs, said the increase of bedbugs over the past 13 years has been substantial: In 1996, only one person brought a bedbug to the attention of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; in 2008, there were over 90 cases reported to their offices in New Haven and Windsor, Conn., he said.
“That’s a good indication that the numbers of bedbugs are increasing rather dramatically in Connecticut,” he said.
There are a number of possible theories for the resurgence of bedbugs. One is that bedbugs were killed when the pesticide DDT was widely used, Anderson said, and now that DDT is outlawed, bedbugs are coming back. Another possibility is that the resurgence is simply cyclical, he said.
A bedbug population can start with one bedbug, Munstermann said. Once a bedbug feeds on human blood, it lays eggs in the area where it found its “blood meal,” he said. It takes little time for a number of them to reproduce and develop, he said. While digesting, bedbugs like to situate themselves in cracks, crevices or seams in a bed, he explained.
Hotels and dormitories might be more prone to bed bugs since traveling guests and students are frequently exposed to populated living areas that might carry bedbugs, he said. Munstermann emphasized that the spread of bedbugs are not easy to prevent, and can often get into the crevices of luggage.
“The only thing that a bedbug needs is a warm, human body and a place to hang out while digesting a blood meal,” he said.