Defying their reputation as a scourge of households, blood-sucking bedbugs are creeping into a growing number of cubicles, break rooms and filing cabinets. Noted in a USA Today article, nearly one in five exterminators have found bedbugs in office buildings in the U.S., according to a recent survey of extermination firms by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky. That compares with less than 1% in 2007.

Most cubicle dwellers and corner office executives are blissfully unaware of bug problems. And many wrongly think infestations take place only in the homes of unclean folks or in college dorms. But bedbugs can survive in a multitude of eek-evoking settings, such as offices, movie theaters and libraries.

Concerned about the swelling number of infestations in New York City, publishing giant Time recently brought in bedbug-sniffing dogs. The canines found a few cases, which Time had treated two weeks ago.

The District Attorney's office in Brooklyn recently discovered that they had the critters, as well, and exterminated over a weekend.

The IRS had bedbugs in its offices in Philadelphia and Covington, Ky. It had exterminators into those offices and is still monitoring the situation.

Bedbug issues are "a complicated mess," says entomology professor Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky. "In my career — and I've dealt with just about every critter that bothers people — this is the most complex."

Commuting In
Once bedbugs settle into corporate digs, it's tough to get them out. The apple-seed-size insects dine on human blood. They hide in crevices and are resilient to many insecticides. They can live for a year without feeding, and they replicate quickly. The offspring of two bedbugs that move into an office in September can produce more than 300 bugs and lay about 1,000 additional eggs by January, says Harrison.

They infiltrate the workplace through various routes, such as on the suitcases of frequent travelers or on the purses, laptop cases and gym bags of employees who have infestations at home. They can also be brought in by office visitors, vendors or maintenance staff.

As the parasites spread at hotels, hospitals, schools and homes, it's natural that some workers will inadvertently transport them into the office, says Larry Pinto, co-author of the Bed Bug Handbook. And in a big office, there can be more than one carrier. "(Different) people can be bringing them in," he says.

Pest management firms have had a 57% increase in bedbug-related calls in the last five years, and an 81% increase since 2000, according to the survey. Nearly all the firms polled — 95% — said they've had to tackle a bedbug case in the last year.

Four out of every 10 treatments were in commercial buildings.

In one bizarre case this summer, custodians at the Argonne Armory municipal office building in Des Moines found a bag of bedbugs left on a hallway floor. Police have no idea who left the bag of bugs or why.

Infestations Spreading
Putting aside the rare, rogue acts of a saboteur, pest control professionals have a few main theories about why the bugs are resurging in the U.S. They include increased travel, more immigration and the bug's resiliency to pesticides. In addition, the "denial/lack of incident reporting by tenants, workers, landlords, hotel or business management (and) universities," has exacerbated the problem, according to the survey.

The insects are especially troublesome in densely populated cities, where they can spread quickly. But smaller areas aren't immune.

"Cincinnati is awash in bedbugs, and Detroit is coming on strong," says Mark Sheperdigian, vice president of technical services at Troy, Mich.-based Rose Pest Solutions. "We even have some small towns here in Michigan that have way more troubles with bedbugs than they deserve."

Some ways they have an impact on the workplace:
• Lawsuits and human resource woes.
• Unwanted publicity.
• Physical and mental anguish for workers.
• Widespread infestations.

Challenging to Destroy
There can be indications that bedbugs have moved in, such as employees seeing the six-legged crawler or its black fecal matter. But usually it takes a professional exterminator — and even a bedbug-sniffing dog — to unearth the full extent of the problem. It often takes multiple treatments to completely quash an infestation.

It took three fumigations and a heat treatment to get the situation under control at the Des Moines Armory. The total cost was $5,150. Smaller offices often pay $5,000 to $10,000 for bedbug exterminations, while the price for larger offices can easily hit six figures, says Pinto. Just to hire the keen-smelling canines to investigate a full floor at a large corporate office building could cost $1,000 to $5,000.

Barry Beck, chief operating officer of New York City-based exterminator Assured Environments, says client requests for examinations and treatments of commercial buildings have skyrocketed. Even after shelling out big bucks, it's almost impossible to know that every bug is dead. And if an unidentified worker has a large infestation at home — or if company business travelers stay at bedbug-ridden hotels — the critters will likely keep coming back.

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