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Bedbugs appear in Tampa Bay libraries

A bedbug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington. [Associated Press (2011)]
A bedbug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington. [Associated Press (2011)]
Published Jun. 19, 2015

Overdue books are one thing, but these days local libraries are dealing with a creepier problem:

Bedbugs.

The bloodsucking little critters have cropped up in libraries in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Pinellas Park.

The libraries stress that the recent bedbug incidents were small in scale and the pests have been taken care of. They're quick to emphasize that this has not been a problem for the general public.

"It was very isolated. Everybody's on top of it. It will never be an issue," said Cheryl Morales, executive director of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative.

In response, Pinellas County's libraries established new policies, such as inspecting returned books more thoroughly and bringing in bedbug-sniffing dogs on a quarterly basis to hunt for the insects. No bedbug sightings have been reported so far in the libraries of Tampa or Hillsborough County.

In general, bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) have been making a comeback in the United States over the past decade, pest specialists say. It's partly because some of the pesticides that kept them at bay have been phased out.

Hotels are particularly vulnerable, but in recent years bedbugs have also infested libraries throughout the nation. The reason: So many people spend time in these public buildings, it's easy for someone to unknowingly carry in a bedbug on their clothes from an infested home. The nocturnal bloodsuckers can also enter libraries in the binding of books returned from infested homes.

"They tend to come in through books. People have their books by their bedside," said Clearwater library director Barbara Pickell. "For whatever reason, bedbugs tend to like books as well."

Within the past few weeks, staffers at the Clearwater Main Library noticed bedbugs in a couple of locations, including spots in the children's section and the main fiction area.

"We closed off those spaces and had them treated," Pickell said. "Now we have a program to monitor for them."

It was the first time any of Clearwater's libraries had seen the bugs. But they have shown up at the Pinellas Park Library and the St. Petersburg Main Library.

In Pinellas Park, the problem appeared to be isolated to books returned by one library patron whose home had bedbugs, said the city's library director, Angela Pietras. That prompted an inspection of the library by a bedbug-sniffing dog.

"We're opening all the books and inspecting them carefully" when they get returned, she said. A complicating factor is that two dozen Pinellas County libraries share nearly 1 million books and other items as part of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative.

"Materials get swapped around the county," Pietras said. "What's happening in someone's home can be dropped in a library's book drop and then it kind of becomes all our problem."

Like in Pinellas Park, a bedbug issue at the St. Petersburg Main Library was traced back to one particular library patron who returned some infested materials, officials said.

"We follow a protocol. We immediately isolate the item so it gets nowhere near any other materials," said St. Petersburg library director Mika Nelson. "The item is discarded at that point."

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The tiny brown bugs can be seen with the naked eye, but usually hide out in bedding, particularly in the seams and folds of mattresses. They typically wait for a person to lie down, then launch their attack on exposed body parts, piercing the skin to draw blood.

When asleep, the victim may not even feel the bite, but may notice welts and itching upon awakening. The bites don't transmit disease, but can cause infections and allergic reactions.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Mike Brassfield at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.

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