Bedbugs infest homeless shelter

Following a bedbug outbreak the past two weeks at a Charlotte Salvation Army homeless shelter, the organization is investing in new bedding and washers and dryers to try to control the problem, an official for the group said Thursday.

The Spratt Street shelter has spent $50,000 in overall renovation work that includes buying more than one hundred metal frame beds, new mattresses and eight washers and dryers, said Deronda Metz, director of Social Services for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.

“My whole body was eaten up with them,” said a 45-year-old woman who did not want her identity revealed. When she woke up last Tuesday morning, her ears were so swollen from bug bites that she couldn't put her earrings in, she said. She went to the emergency room, where they gave her steroids to relieve the swelling and cream to calm the itching.

Despite the discomfort they cause, bed bug bites don't pose a serious health threat, according to Lynn Lathan, the environmental health supervisor for the Mecklenburg County Health Department. “They're annoying but not transmitting disease,” she said.

In cities throughout the country, reports of bedbugs at college dormitories, hospitals and hotels have increased. Bedbugs are tiny brown insects that can grow to the size of a ladybug and feed on human and animal blood at night. During the day, they hide in wood or cloth objects.

Some Charlotte hotels have also seen an increase in bed bugs in the past decade, Lathan said.

This year the Health Department has not been contacted about the shelter's bedbugs, but it advised them on another bedbug problem last July, Lathan said. It recommended sealing off holes in wood frame beds and storing peoples' personal belongings in plastic bags to prevent spread.

Bedbugs live in environments where people frequently come and go. The Spratt Street shelter houses 220 people at any one time. After the recent cases of bedbug infestation there, an exterminator sprayed at the facility. The shelter did not close and is currently at full capacity, Metz said.