For months, creepy crawling critters have found a home in Mayfield Hall. After spending nearly $20,000, exterminators continue to treat the hall for its bedbug infestation.
John Brown University maintenance personnel learned of the bedbugs last semester and began treating for the pests during Christmas break. Dean of Students, Andre Broquard, said that so far Terminix, a pest control service, has treated about 30 rooms in Mayfield, and there have been no confirmed cases of bedbugs on campus outside of Mayfield.
Terminix last treated rooms on Feb. 18. Mayfield, the oldest and only all-female dorm at the University, has 134 rooms total. The tiny culprit, Cimex lectularius, is a crawling bloodsucking insect that is about the size of an apple seed when mature. Bedbugs do not live on their hosts, but hide in mattresses and furniture and come out at night to feed. While not everyone reacts to bedbug bites, bites can become swollen and itchy. Bedbugs do not carry disease but can be a nuisance.
Broquard said that Residence Life is working to create a protocol for treating bedbugs in case of future occurrences.
However, when a few students first began noticing bites last fall semester, no plans existed for helping affected students. Broquard said the last time the University had a case of bedbugs was in 1993.
While Terminix began treating infested rooms over Christmas break, Karla Condado, a Mayfield resident, said she noticed bites in the beginning of the fall 2015 semester. When she noticed the bites, she went to see Rhonda Hostler, Director of Health Services at the University.
Hostler, a registered nurse, said that she saw a student with bedbug bites around Sept. 24. Hostler went on medical leave from mid-November until the end of the semester and did not treat any other students who complained that semester.
Hostler gave the student an anti-itch cream but said that she did not think the student had bedbug bites at the time.
“In September we still have mosquitos and chiggers out in Northwest Arkansas,” Hostler said. “The bites looked very similar to a mosquito bite.”
Condado said she actually caught one of the bedbugs in a container and took it to the nurse for identification. Hostler said the bug brought to her “looked like a small beetle.” The nurse, along with Billy Rochier, assistant director of Facilities Services, inspected Condado’s room but discovered no evidence of bugs.
Condado said the infestation grew worse, and she woke up at night to a bug crawling across her body. Condado continued to complain of new bites to Hostler, her Residence Assistants, Residence Director and Walton Scholarship Director, but was told that it had been determined that she did not have bedbugs and there was nothing more that could be done.
“I was crying because no one believed me,” Condado said.
She said she did not feel comfortable in her room and instead moved around campus, sleeping and doing homework in friends’ rooms or other study spaces. She said the process was emotionally draining.
“Not being able to sleep, not having a place to stay and feel comfortable in–it just reminds you that you’re away; you’re not home,” Condado said. “It came to the point where I was afraid to say something because I had been bringing it up so much and I felt like I was just bothering people.”
Condado said perhaps it was difficult for others to believe that she had bedbugs because her roommate, Erika Regier, was not complaining of bites. Frustrated that her room was not being treated for bedbugs, Condado moved out of the room she shared with Regier mid-semester to another friend’s room in Mayfield.
Over Christmas break Regier’s room was treated for bedbugs, but Regier said she had never noticed that she had them.
“People react differently to bites,” Regier said.
Several other students said detection of bedbugs was slowed for them because one roommate had bites while the other did not. Kate Garrison and Esther Salters, roommates in Mayfield, share a bunk bed. Garrison started getting bites when she returned from Thanksgiving break, while Salters slept unharmed.
Garrison had experienced bedbug infestation before and recognized the bites. She mentioned to her RA that she thought she had bedbugs, but was told that since her roommate did not have bites as well, it was not bedbugs. Garrison was also told not to talk about bedbugs to avoid unnecessarily spreading fear.
Garrison said she bought anti-itch cream and didn’t pursue it further. When Garrison left early for Christmas break, Salters started noticing bites. Salters said that the day she left for break she told Mayfield Residence Director, Erin Christner, that their room was likely infested. By this time, three other residents had also complained of bedbug bites.
On Dec. 18, Broquard, Christener, Rochier and Director of Facilities, Steve Brankle, inspected rooms from which there had been complaints of bugs and found several rooms infested.
“There were no signs before,” Rochier said, referring to the inspection of a room earlier in the semester. “But the second time there were visible signs to the untrained eye.”
The next day Terminix inspected the rooms and confirmed infestation.
In these four rooms, Broquard and Brankle had all clothes and bed sheets professionally dried on high heat to kill the bedbugs, replaced mattresses and furniture and disassembled and replaced parts of or entire bedframes. Terminix treated these rooms and also pre-treated the rooms adjacent to and above or below the infested rooms. In total, about 20 rooms were treated over break, Brankle said.
When students returned for the spring semester, several new residents complained to Hostler about bites. On Monday, Jan. 18, Christener notified Mayfield residents of the infestation in an all-hall meeting. The following day, Terminix returned and inspected every room in Mayfield and treated infested rooms and the rooms close to them. Afterward, some new rooms became infested, prompting Terminix to return three times to spray treatments.
The University is not alone in its fight against the parasite. Other universities have bedbugs
now or have dealt with them recently. Moody Bible Institute has dealt with the problem for years and treated more than 80 rooms this year, according to their student newspaper, the Moody Standard. The University of Illinois officially announced their problem on their website in 2012.
In fact, bedbug infestations may be on the rise. The National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky surveyed pest management professionals nationwide in 2013 and 72 percent of survey respondents reported that bedbug infestations in their region were increasing. Seventy-six percent said bedbugs are the most diffi cult pest to control.
Some students expressed frustration with the treatment process, while others were satisfied with the University’s efforts.
Regier said she was frustrated with a lack of communication concerning when Terminix would be in her room and when she would get her clothes back from the dryer. Loads of clothes took several days to dry and residents had to meet in the Mayfield basement for several hours to sort through their mixed-up laundry. Broquard said it would have taken longer to dry clothes if the loads were kept separate.
“You need to understand that when you come into my living space and tell me I need to pack everything up and not be there and you don’t tell me when I’m getting it back, it affects everything,” Regier said.
Rochier said he sympathizes with students who are frustrated. “I try to look at each of these students like, if that was my kid, what would I want done?”
Rochier said that while it has been a laborious process, the University’s efforts have always been to get rid of the bugs as quickly and painlessly as possible.
“It’s been a learning curve for them as well as the students,” Mayfield resident Anna MacLachlan said about University administration. MacLachlan’s room was first treated this semester. “My experience was not very good at first, but they’ve learned as we’re going along and they’re more supportive of the students now.”
Salters said it took a while to get her room back to normal after Christmas break, but she was relieved not to have bites again during the spring semester.
“It was obviously a hassle because that’s kind of what happens when you have bedbugs, but it was definitely worth it,” Salters said. “I feel like they did the best that they could.”
Rochier recommended that if students go on a retreat or stay off campus overnight in a place where they may suspect bugs, they may consider drying their clothes, pillows and bedding on high heat in the dryer when they return.
“With my experience in this, going forward, I’m going to be very cautious with where I take my family,” Rochier said.
Erika Warren, Mayfield resident, said that her view of bedbugs has also changed because of the infestation. “I had heard of bedbugs, but only in the song, like ‘don’t let the bedbugs bite.’ But now it’s like, ‘no really, don’t let the bedbugs bite!’”