As another cool Fall hits Illinois, the state has more to contend with than just icy temperatures. One of the United States’ biggest public health problems is beginning to spread to the highly developed state – bed bugs. The small bugs have caused major problems in cities such as New York and San Francisco, and they have the potential to become a major nuisance in Illinois, Chicago in particular.

Bed bugs were almost completely eliminated from the state’s houses in the 1940s and 1950s, as the usage of preventative chemicals increased and the construction of high-density housing took off. In recent years, however, they’ve reappeared due to the weaker chemicals allowed to pest controllers, and a distinct lack of public awareness. Chicago is one of several cities playing part in the boom.

The biggest bed bug centers are, as to be expected, New York City and Philadelphia. As part of the nation’s highly urbanized Eastern Seaboard, the cities attract a great deal of travelers and temporary residents. But unlike New York or Philadelphia, Illinois and its major population centers, despite being a major tourism destination, aren’t exactly close to other populous urban areas.

Nevertheless, the bugs are making a comeback in the state. An article from the Illinois Department of Public Health has highlighted the problem, offering advice to residents that spot the bugs and are facing a major infestation. It’s an unusual occurrence, given that other states have typically acted on the issue after the bugs became a major feature in local media programming and newspapers.

For residents, the proactive release is very much a good thing. While Illinois is facing a major bed bug problem, it’s still years behind centers such as New York City and San Francisco when it comes to their prevalence. The bugs are notoriously difficult to remove, making the early release and any attention building efforts a positive investment. If the state can act quickly, the bugs may not win.

This guide aims to educate readers as to the extent of Illinois’ bed bug problems, the options which residents can employ to remove the bugs, and major outbreaks in commercial buildings. While bed bugs aren’t as much of an issue in Illinois as they are in other states, their presence is certainly one that could lead to major economic, social, and public health problems.

How are bed bugs spreading through Illinois?

Illinois is not a major stopover point for road travelers, although the state’s network does allow for fairly rapid cross-country travel. Most experts have pointed towards Chicago’s status as a traveler-friendly city as a potential cause for the bugs, along with the extreme density often seen in suburbs within the inner city. Public transportation remains a possible location for the bugs to spread.

While news outlets have claimed that the bugs can be found in low-end hotels, they remain just as likely to appear in luxurious resorts or high-end serviced apartments. Travel accommodation is one of several major breeding grounds for the bugs, with high turnover rates making it difficult for staff to detect and remove the pests. Overnight trains and buses are also major infestation sources.

In addition, a number of residents have reported home infestations after purchasing new clothing. Cases of retail infestations have appeared in New York City, and the presence of the pests in retail stores is a potential risk in Chicago. While no major commercial outbreaks have been reported, pest control experts have dealt with infestations in office buildings and major business centers this year.

Finally, the state’s biggest city – Chicago – is a major air travel hub. With O’Hare International Airport servicing hundreds of flights daily, the propensity for bed bugs to spread in hotels is an alarming thought for residents. Long-term tourism destinations are surprisingly not a significant breeding ground for the bugs, but Chicago’s status as a frequent stopover spot puts it at risk.

Public transport and hotels are major sources. Should they be avoided?

Public transportation, particularly inner-city trains, should not be avoided. However, a reasonable degree of caution should be exercised when storing luggage and clothing, and when traveling on a long-distance vehicle. The bugs have been spotted in overnight train carriages and bus seats, and a quick scan of any seams and edges is advised before sitting down and becoming comfortable.

In addition, it’s worth storing any luggage on elevated platforms, particularly those that don’t touch seats or other areas lined with fabric. Most trains provide an isolated storage area for luggage and personal items, though some ask passengers to store it on the seat. If you have no other choice, it’s best to use a plastic suitcase cover to ensure that the bugs don’t reach your favorite possessions.

Which cities are most at risk of bed bug infestation?

News reports have pinpointed Chicago and outlying suburbs as the state’s most problematic bed bug city, although many believe that its prominence in news reports is more due to its size than a major problem. The state’s smaller cities have largely escaped widespread bed bug outbreaks, with isolated infestations having been reported in Springfield, Joliet, and several small cities in the Chicagoland region.

Within Chicago, the most problematic areas are those located within the city’s belt of high-density buildings and urban accommodation. Office buildings have largely escaped any infestations due to regular cleaning and consistent examinations, with residential buildings making up the bulk of any complaints. Callouts have increased significantly in central Chicago over the past three years.

However, despite the significant increase in complaints throughout Chicago, the city isn’t featured on the Bed Bug Registry’s metropolitan outbreak list. With city government taking rapid action on the bugs and residents growing more aware due to outbreaks in other cities, Chicago’s issues with bed bugs may end up being significantly less damaging than those in other major US cities.

What bed bug treatments are available for residents of Illinois?

Residents in the Chicagoland area have access to a wide variety of chemical and heat-based bed bug treatments. The most frequently used is an isolated spray-based treatment, which targets infestations at their source through repeated spraying. While this method is the most affordable and widely used, it requires multiple spraying sessions to prove effective and can often miss hidden bed bug colonies.

Other disadvantages of standard spraying include a significant decrease in the effectiveness of most modern preventative chemicals. With DDT banned and most bed bugs resistant to chemicals, it can often take several spray sessions to see any real effects. Heat-based treatments – which use a heater to bring the home’s ambient temperature to 150ºF – are a costly yet effective extermination option.

Residents of Springfield, Joliet, and other smaller cities have fewer choices when it comes to bed bug elimination. Pest control services in these areas tend to offer less specialized solutions, largely due to the limited demand for bed bug removal services. However, with the prevalence of the pests increasing rapidly, more small-town eliminators are employing heat and spray-based treatments.

What steps can Illinois residents take to avoid or eliminate bed bugs?

Bed bugs are difficult to remove – the best way to eliminate them is to avoid them entirely. When staying in hotels, be sure to check bedsheets and mattresses for any sign of the bugs. A small trail made up of dark moss-like matter can often indicate their presence, as can small blood stains that are left after feeding. If you suspect that bed bugs are in a hotel room, alert management promptly.

Finally, use the steps listed above to avoid picking up the bugs when on long-haul trains and public transportation. While it’s unlikely that bed bugs are living on the L Train, there’s always a chance to pick them up when you visit a dense, frequently used area. Seats, luggage storage areas, and other carpeted sections are frequent homes for the bugs, and should be treated with slight caution.

Bed bugs in the Chicago (and Chicagoland) Metropolitan Area

Several cases have been reported in the Chicagoland area, with bed bug infestation rates increasing dramatically since about 2005. Most outbreaks have occurred in private homes or shared residential buildings, with a growing number of residents contracting the bugs as they spread from a neighbor’s unit. Most cases are dealt to quickly, although some can swell to $10,000 monster eliminations.

Alarmingly, several cases have been reported in the last year of bed bugs appearing in new furniture and refurbished mattresses. A summary from Chicago’s The Grio website has listed the retail stores in question, one of which has subsequently been shut down. Many of the infested mattresses haven’t been properly refurbished or were refurbished in poor conditions – both violations of Illinois law.

Finally, several residents of infested Chicago apartment buildings have filed lawsuits against both their landlords and the building’s management team, claiming that the bugs have caused repetitive injuries and health problems. While most landlords are happy to comply with local regulations for treating the bugs, this may be the only route for tenants that are constantly troubled by the pests.

Bed bugs in Springfield and Sangamon County

While Springfield has not experienced outbreaks on a similar scale to Eastern cities, the bugs are causing problems for residents and hoteliers in the city. Several cases have been documented this year, with residents complaining about the bugs at a higher rate than ever before recorded. While the bugs are typically eradicated quickly with treatment, removal can cost thousands of dollars.

Most bed bug infestations in the city have been based in hotels, with a smaller amount of homes and apartments falling victim to the parasites. Several pest control companies operate in the city, and all offer at least some form of bed bug outbreak treatment. Popular options include routine spraying, a new heat-based ‘home oven’ treatment, and a more expensive home freezing treatment option.

Bed bugs in Joliet and Will County

While there have been few media reports of infestations, Joliet and other Will County towns have experienced some small bed bug outbreaks. The parasites are typically found in hotels, apartments, and other residential dwellings in the area, although several cases have been reported in shopping malls and movie theaters. As the city is largely suburban, pest control treatments are very effective.

As with other suburban cities, the leading cause of bed bugs is international travel, particularly the spread of the pests through luggage and exposed clothing. Residents should take caution in hotels, especially those in bed bug hot spots such as New York City or Cincinnati. Vacuum luggage before returning to your home, and ensure that your clothes are treated if any bugs are spotted.

Recent outbreaks, media coverage, and its economic effects

When compared to other populous states, Illinois’ bed bug problems are fairly minor. Chicago is the third-largest city in the nation, and has experienced only a handful of high-profile cases. While New York has seen the closure of many high-end retail stores – Abercrombie and Fitch, for example – no significant retail clothing outbreaks have been documented in the Chicagoland area.

However, the state is experiencing a problem, and it has the potential to hurt the local economy. The potential fallout from a bed bug infestation is often too much for a hotel to bear, with negative word of mouth coverage spreading quickly via the internet. Hoteliers in Chicago and other Illinois cities are concerned that the outbreaks could grow more frequent or severe – a major blow to business.

The state is taking action on bed bugs, most likely due to the bugs’ rapid spread throughout New York City. A small team of city government employees have been tasked with eliminating the bugs in Chicago, with other small cities following suit in the form of bed bug education and awareness programs. Despite their hardiness, the bugs may not stand a chance in highly prepared Illinois.