Bed bugs are sweeping across the country. For the better part of a century, Americans have lived in the comfort of knowing that the pests were almost completely eradicated. Following major spraying operations in the years following World War II, the United States freed itself of most pests, with just a few hardy species remaining. But bed bugs appear to be enjoying a massive, nationwide return.
Most reports of bed bug infestation have occurred in major cities, particularly those in the country’s densely populated East Coast. New York City and Philadelphia are considered epicenters of the bed bug crisis, with hundreds of private apartment complexes hosting the parasites and a series of major hotel chains and commercial buildings falling victim to the ultra-hardy annoyances.
For the most part, Florida has been able to escape the bed bug plague. Due to its relative geographic isolation and the state’s large pest population, regular spraying and elimination efforts have removed most major insects from Florida’s homes. But in between the common roach infestations, nasty bed bugs are popping up left and right, and spreading between buildings at an alarmingly rapid pace.
Major cities in the state have reported sporadic outbreaks, with hotels in Fort Lauderdale and Miami forced to temporarily close due to the parasitic pests. Outbreaks in private residences have been rare and lacking in any specific infestation patterns, indicating that the major pests are likely arriving on city streets due to international travel and short-term visitors.
Either way, the bugs are a major annoyance for Florida’s permanent population, an irritating pest for its annual traveler load, and a giant threat to the state’s lucrative tourism industry. While authorities have yet to implement official measures similar to those seen in New York City and other areas that are affected by the bugs, it remains a possibility in many major commercial and residential centers.
We’ve outlined the origin and spread of bed bugs in Florida below, along with a detailed list of the bugs’ most probable targets. If you’re concerned about a possible infestation or merely planning to take preventative measures, please use our detailed guide to diagnose and treat any potential issues.
When did bed bugs become such a visible pest in Florida?
Florida’s bed bug ‘entry date’ is difficult to pinpoint. The state, along with many other regions in the country, has seen a significant increase in the amount of international tourists visiting its shores over the last decade. Travel industry analysts have pointed to the increased wealth of many Asian nations as a potential reason for the increase in international arrivals – news that’s very good economically.
But the increase in international arrivals also allows for the arrival of bed bugs, many of which are believed to have originated overseas. The United States had all but completely eradicated the pests during the latter half of the 20th century, but they appear to be back with a vengeance. Scientists are skeptical to blame any one group for their return, although international travelers do fit the bill.
Unlike cockroaches, ants, and ticks, bed bugs tend not to thrive in messy environments. The bugs don’t require spilt food or messy areas in order to live, and they certainly aren’t attracted to mold or unsightly rotten flooring. Instead, they require human blood for feeding and nutrition – something that can provide them with health and energy for up to twelve months per feeding session.
It’s this nutritional hardiness that’s made them such a pain to eradicate. Heavy spraying of DDT and other chemicals forced the bugs out of Florida in the early 1950s. But with the high-power chemical now banned and alternative solutions relatively ineffective, eliminating the bugs is proving difficult. Add in Florida’s high tourist turnover and you’re left with a major potential bed bug disaster.
The first modern reports of bed bug infestations can be traced back to a University of Florida news publication, which suggested that the bugs have been appearing in small quantities since 1999. The numbers today are significantly more shocking than those hinted at in the original article, though – about thirty times as many calls are answered today as there were in 2001, just nine years ago.
How are bed bugs spreading through Florida’s major cities?
Travel is considered the number one reason for the rapid spread of bed bugs. Florida’s status as a tourism haven has made bed bug transfer fairly straightforward and rapid, as tourists flock to the city in order to soak up sun and enjoy its collection of luxury hotels. As the bugs don’t favor low-end accommodation or messy areas, it’s equally likely to catch bed bugs in a high-end hotel.
A recent news report in Miami has highlighted the problem fairly well. The Marriott Hotel – one of the city’s most well-known and prestigious addresses – has been infested with the bugs for months, with guests complaining and some even going so far as to file a lawsuit. As the bugs are invisible in the daytime, it can be highly difficult for cleaning staff to locate and eliminate them.
Then there’s the city’s large hostel industry, catering to thousands of low-budget tourists on a daily basis. With sleeping density significantly higher than that found in a hotel and a clean-later policy structure, bed bugs can often go unnoticed for weeks at a time in a hostel. Cleanliness is not one of the bugs’ major preferences, although they’re often hidden in the creases of an older mattress.
Residents that holiday elsewhere in the United States are also at risk of bringing the parasites back to Florida. New York City – one of the nation’s most popular tourist locations – is considered the epicenter of bed bug activity in the country. Other major tourist draws such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are bed bug hotspots, leading many Floridians to inadvertently bring them home.
Finally, the state’s large student population may be contributing to the spread of bed bugs. With one of the country’s most advanced university networks, Florida acts as a temporary home for thousands of young adults annually. As students travel back and forth between their dormitories and homes in other states, the chance of picking up and carrying bed bugs increases on an exponential basis.
Florida depends on tourism. Could bed bugs threaten the industry?
Bed bugs do have the potential to threaten Florida’s hotel and tourism industry. As the bugs are most common in high-turnover rooms and oft-used bedding, the state’s numerous large hotels are thought of as high-risk breeding grounds for the bugs. A single outbreak can trigger lengthy problems, with some hotel owners opting to close indefinitely in order to completely remove the pests from rooms.
The negative effects of bed bugs are visible on three levels. The first is their impact on public health and morale. While the parasites are not known to transfer diseases, their bites are painful, itchy, and highly unpleasant. The stigma associated with the pests is also a major risk for residents, as the bugs can be one of the most frustratingly persistent creatures when it comes to removal and spraying.
Secondly, the negative press associated with a bedbug infestation can be enough to close a hotel on its own. The Hilton and other major chains have been affected by the bugs over the past five years, paying out millions of dollars in order to eliminate the pests and regain their brand. While bookings are stable in Florida right now, a major outbreak could compromise the hotel industry’s revenues.
Finally, the bugs represent a major risk for Florida’s hotel financiers, largely due to their fear of any litigious involvement. Hotel chains and residential building boards have been successfully sued due to the bugs’ presence in the past, particularly in the case of repeated infestations. If the bed bugs are not under control in Florida’s hotels, litigation and extensive lawsuits could become a major issue.
Bed bugs in the Orlando Metropolitan Area
Bed bugs have been reported in the Orlando area, particularly at hotels frequented by package tours and other short-term tourists. As the city is one of Florida’s most prominent tourist locations, it may end up playing a major role in the state’s fight against bed bugs and their anti-business potential. A single major case has been reported in the last twelve months, from the Disney Hotel in Orlando.
Other isolated reports have occurred, although most tend to be of a small scale and few involve recurring infestations in a single building. While the bed bugs are notoriously difficult to remove from a residential building – particularly one in a shared apartment complex – Orlando’s largely house-based population has yet to see outbreaks on a similar scale to New York or Philadelphia.
Bed bugs in the Miami Metropolitan Area
Miami has been at the center of several bed bug reports over the past twelve months, including a recent story on outbreaks in local college campuses. Keeping in line with scientists’ theories that student moving patterns could prompt the bugs to return, a number of universities in the Miami region have reported bed bug cases around student breaks, returns to class, and major holidays.
This report from the a Miami-based student newspaper explains the cases in greater detail. While bed bug cases have occurred in Miami over the past few years, the city is home to relatively few major infestations and rarely appears in nationwide bed bug reports. As usual, guests should use common sense when staying at hotels – check sheets, mattresses, and pillows for bed bug traces.
Bed bugs in Jacksonville
Outbreaks have been fairly rare in the Jacksonville region, although isolated infestations continue to attract the attention of local media outlets. Bed bugs have been found in several housing complexes throughout the city, including a series of ‘repeat offenders’ – buildings that have been found to house the pests despite repeated spraying efforts and occasional anti-pest heat treatment.
The First Coast News has reported recently on the psychological damage that bed bugs can cause to residents, particularly those that are forced to deal with a recurring infestation. Unlike major centers of tourism such as Miami and Orlando, the vast majority of reported cases in Jacksonville are from suburban homes, dense inner-city housing buildings, and commercial office spaces.
Bed bugs in the Tampa Area
While bed bugs are not a major issue in the Tampa area, the pests have been present in some form since early 2005. A five-year-old article mentions the parasites and goes into detail on how they’re moving from home to home in Tampa – in unwashed clothes, ‘new’ furniture, and even in the bags residents use when traveling. Calls for treatment are up in the city, as are suspected infestations.
One Tampa Bay pest control expert has blamed the increase in outbreaks on the banning of high-power chemicals and anti-pest sprays. With DDT – one of the leading anti-bed bug sprays used in the 20th century – now outlawed, the pests are becoming harder and harder to remove. Elimination of the bugs often requires expensive heat treatment – a once-only $1,000 cost for homeowners.
Recent outbreaks in Florida and their potential economic impact
Due to the state’s position as a tourism leader in the USA, local media outlets have had a field day with the recent increase in bed bug infestations. High-profile hotel chains have been quizzed as to their cleanliness, major retail outlets have been scanned, and even exclusive condo developments have come under the radar of local bed bug ‘exposer’ squads, many of whom are news outlets.
However, definitive reports are fairly rare. The Bed Bug Registry does not report any of Florida’s urban areas as danger spots, nor does it list any hotels in the state that should be avoided. Despite the amount of press that bed bugs are getting in Florida, the likelihood of catching the parasites in one of the state’s many hotels is significantly lower than it would be in New York or San Francisco.