Rising concern about bedbugs spurs rise in pest control calls in Austin

Austin pest control companies have received a boost in business in recent months from property owners who believe they may have blood-sucking bedbugs in their homes and offices. And they expect those calls to keep coming.

Nevertheless, Brian DiCicco, CEO of Pest Management Inc., said the problem has stayed under the radar in Texas, although he believes that’s about to change.

“I think this state is starting to see the true effects of bedbugs, and they are difficult insects to get rid of,” DiCicco said. “I’ve dealt with clients in Austin and Dallas who don’t know what to do with the problem.” Bedbugs spread quickly from room to room through pipes, in vacuum cleaners, on clothing and in luggage, according to the National Pest Management Association Inc.

While complaints of bedbugs have risen steadily in the last few years, reports have remained relatively stable in the last few months, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

““We typically get maybe 10 to 15 reports of bedbugs a month,” Van Deusen said.

Brian DiCicco, CEO of Pest Management Inc., said dogs can be a homeowner’s best friend by detecting bedbugs early.

Most of the complaints that reach the department are from people who have stayed in hotels. The department investigates those reports and requires a hotel to hire an exterminator if bedbugs are found. Les Stobart, director of marketing for ABC Pest Control and Lawn Services, believes most Austin pest companies are seeing an increase in the number of phone calls and service hours stemming from bedbugs. “Industrywide, it’s been occurring the last 12 to 18 months. I’m not sure when we began being impacted by it, but I would say in the last year,” Stobart said. Pest Management and ABC Pest Control have seen an uptick in calls from homeowners and businesses, such as hotels, apartments and retailers. Both said they receive at least two calls a day about bedbugs. Pest Management, part of Hill Country Pest Control, was started a few months ago to handle bedbugs, DiCicco said. Pest Management, which works throughout Texas, has 25 employees and plans to hire four to five more professionals in the next six months.

DiCicco said Pest Management plans to open a branch in Dallas in the next 12 months and one in Houston in the next 18 months. Before that, it plans to enter the Louisiana market in the next few months. Pest Management offers thermal remediation, in which it raises the temperature inside a home or building to 135 degrees, at which bedbugs cannot survive. This treatment, while expensive at $1.25 to $1.50 per square foot, is effective and environmentally friendly.

Additionally, Pest Management has two dogs, Bernie and Lenny, trained to smell bedbugs, which secret a glandular oil that the dogs can detect. DiCicco said the company is adding a dog to its canine unit to handle the volume of work.

Dogs are a big key to prevention, DiCicco said, adding that the animals are able to detect a bedbug issue early.

ABC Pest employs a combination of steam, which works as a heat treatment, and chemicals to combat bedbug infestations, Stobart said. Anecdotally, the company reported seeing an uptick in service calls for bedbugs, although it has not tracked the increase in such business during the last few months. Bedbugs are becoming a hot topic among various groups, including apartment owners and lawyers, who are examining how they might affect their businesses or clients, Stobart said.

DiCicco and his company established the Texas Bedbug Association to raise awareness about the problem. The association is calling for a more formal recording of bedbug reports and is pushing for legislation that would set guidelines for landlords and tenants to better define who is responsible for getting rid of bedbugs. Van Deusen said there are no current plans to make changes to statutes regarding bedbugs, nor does he expect any to be enacted because bedbugs are more of a nuisance than a public health threat.

“Bedbugs are not a reportable condition since they don’t carry disease or infection,” he said.