PINELLAS PARK — An infestation of bedbugs closed a residential mental health facility for four days last week.
Officials believe that the bugs got into the Personal Enrichment for Mental Health Services' center in a client's possessions, said Erin Gillespie, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Children and Families, which oversees the facility.
The behavioral outreach program that provides mental health services for children and adults, including foster care for special needs children and services for at-risk youths. Personnel reached at the facility declined comment.
The bedbug infestation came to light last week after the Pinellas County Health Department received an anonymous call about the problem.
Unlike roaches, which can be spotted easily, bedbugs hide, so "we don't even bother looking for them," said Charles Minor, a supervisor with the Health Department's environmental division. "If we get a complaint, we assume that they're there. We focus on getting rid of them."
The program closed the facility June 23 and moved the residents elsewhere. Officials tented the building, 11254 58th St. N, the next day, Gillespie said. Employees and residents were back in the building by Monday.
The center also tossed out a couch and some mattresses and sprayed some furniture, Minor said. The Health Department will monitor the situation.
Gillespie said the DCF planned to check the building Wednesday. "We're not going to have people working in a (contaminated) facility," she said.
The center is not alone in coping with bedbugs. The critters, which had virtually disappeared in the United States, have been making a comeback in recent years, said Roberto Pereira, an associate research scientist in the entomology school at the University of Florida.
"They are becoming very prevalent," Pereira said. That seems to be especially true in New York, where "they're saying that even benches in the metro system are infested. People have found infestations in restaurants, buses, cruise ships, hotels."
The reasons are many, including that bedbugs have become resistant to many pesticides over the last 10 to 15 years, Pereira said. But it's not just a built-up resistance. Pesticides in general are less toxic, and more people are using bait-type poisons, which don't work well against the critters.
One of the best ways to get rid of them, at least at the beginning, is to wash clothing and other items in hot water and run them through the dryer at a high temperature.
High temperatures kill them, Pereira said.