April 10, 2013

Bed bugs are real. You can pick them up anywhere. Protect yourself at BedBugsAreReal.org or 503-988-BUGS.

That important message is rolling out across Multnomah County roadways this week on 30 TriMet buses. The king-sized billboards are the heart of a new public awareness campaign to educate people about the bed bug parasites.

Lamar Advertising donated the advertising space after nearly two years of concentrated study and work by the Bed Bug Workgroup. The group, made up largely of community volunteers, includes pest management operators and people who have survived bed bug infestations.

The workgroup timed the public information campaign for April and May when Oregonians begin spring cleaning, moving or their vacations.

“The more people who have information about bedbugs, the better our community will be able to prevent their spread,’’ said Melissa Greeney, co-chair of the Bed Bug Workgroup. “Knowledge is power.”

For decades, bed bugs seemed largely the stuff of nursery rhymes. Then in 2007, Multnomah County began receiving reports of bed bugs in transitional housing, hotels and shelters in Portland as the pest resurged across the United States.

In 2011, county Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, the Housing Authority of Portland (now called Home Forward) and the Multnomah County Health Department sponsored a bed bug summit. The workgroup that emerged is the first regionally coordinated response to the issue.

Bed bugs feed on the blood of humans and their resurgence is linked to our highly mobile society and the parasite’s ability to survive. Bed bugs cause physical distress, anxiety, are costly to remove and can interfere with someone’s ability to stay in their home. But because the bugs are not believed to cause disease -- like mosquitoes, for example -- there is little to no state, federal or local funding to help.

Despite that challenge, the workgroup has developed resources for the community. A webpage hosted by Multnomah County Environmental Health offers general information. The county also created a Bed Bug Hotline staffed by environmental health staff to provide resources and referrals. Nearly 300 calls have been made to the hotline in the last year.  The work group has also worked closely to educate and communicate with waste haulers, lodge operators and landlords and tenants.

Organizers hope the bus billboards will let people know they can prevent the spread of bed bugs.