ELKHART - Call them the guests that won't go away.
Judy Welch encounters them each night when she jumps into bed. "You feel 'em crawling on you and then they bite you," she says.
Here's one right now, a black spec trapped in a small plastic container, scurrying for a way out. "I don't want it," says Carol Sayger, a tenant, like Welch, of the Waterfall Highrise here.
Bedbugs, a growing pest in many big-city hotels, have made their way to Elkhart. They've apparently moved into the 10-story Waterfall, one of Elkhart's largest apartment buildings, and Tony Young, an Elkhart-based exterminator, reports that the bugs probably won't be moseying from the city anytime soon.
"It's gradually increased and I think it's going to stay," he said. From no cases in 2006, Young said he's handled 100 bed bug cases alone so far this year, spread around the state.
At the Waterfall - managed by the Elkhart Housing Authority - Larry Milliken, another tenant, said four or five of the bugs crept out of his heat register just the other day. He caught them and flushed them down the toilet.
"It's just getting worse, and every morning when I get up I have several new bites," he said.
He displays a red bite mark on his arm and another on his ankle, caused, he says, by bedbugs. Then he pulls out his cell phone, calling up some pictures of bites, since healed, on his neck and stomach.
Elkhart Housing Authority officials have called in an exterminator to spray some individual Waterfall units, according to Milliken and Sayger, who estimate the bugs have been a problem for a month or so. Milliken said a neighbor threw out a mattress apparently inundated with the insects.
But the Waterfall tenants maintain that much more needs to be done, that the Elkhart Housing Authority needs to invest the money necessary to properly tackle the issue.
"We can't live like this," said Milliken. Spraying only certain selected units, he maintains, just makes the bugs move to other, untouched apartments in the low-income housing complex.
Officials at the agency referred queries to Kim Sindle, the Elkhart Housing Authority executive director. He isn't in the office this week and was unavailable for comment.
'a Psychosis issue'
Bedbugs aren't necessarily dangerous, thus control of the insects doesn't fall within the purview of the Elkhart County Health Department.
"There is no disease transmission," said John Hulewicz, the department's environmental health supervisor, who's received three calls from worried Waterfall tenants. "It's no different than other nuisance insects."
Still, he said they're "hard to live with, moreso than others," and tough to get rid of. Young, the exterminator, said bedbugs can leave an indelible psychological mark, even after they're eliminated from a home.
"They still feel like they got them," said Young. "It really does become a psychosis issue."
The complaining Waterfall tenants say the bites itch like crazy - it's hard to keep from scratching them till they're red and sore - and that the insects defy their best efforts at erradication.
One of the residents, with at least seven small bites on his arm, took up all his bedding and wiped all around his bed. "But it didn't do anything," he said.
He didn't want to give his name, fearful he'd be tagged a rabble-rouser and face eviction.
Another tenant, calling herself Cat, went to the doctor, who diagnosed her welts as bed bug bites and prescribed medicine to help deal with the itch. She subsequently closed off her apartment and turned on her oven to deal with the insects.
Sustained heat of over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or thermal remediation, is one of the best ways to erradicate bedbugs since it also kills eggs according to Young.
Little Ralphie, Little Sleep
Up in Milliken's apartment, he, Welch and Sayger are passing around the plastic container with the trapped bed bug, originally from Sayger's unit. Milliken has dubbed the insect Little Ralphie.
"You can still see the bumps from the (bites) from last week," says Sayger, alluding to red marks on her leg. She recently found three bedbugs in her bed.
Milliken had his daughter give him a crew cut, he says, because he didn't wan't bedbugs creeping in his hair.
Welch complains of fatigue. With bedbugs crawling around, "you don't want to go to sleep," she says.