Housing amps up already-aggressive approach to eliminate bedbugs

University officials demonstrate how heat treatment bags work. The bags are designed to eliminate bedbugs on small items, like book bags.
University officials demonstrate how heat treatment bags work. The bags are designed to eliminate bedbugs on small items, like book bags.

UNL housing leaders are continuing to take an aggressive approach to finding and eliminating bedbugs across residential facilities and on Wednesday announced new plans to take their efforts even farther.

In a briefing with media, leaders said their goal is to search every room in every residential hall on campus while striving to minimize disruptions for students. There are more than 3,200 rooms in UNL residence halls, and to date, less than 1 percent of university residential areas have been affected, said Sue Gildersleeve, director of University Housing.

"We want it to be zero percent," she said.

Housing officials outlined their plans, including the establishment of a task force that will meet frequently to share information and develop new protocols for preventing, identifying and treating bedbugs. Housing officials continue their search for bedbug-sniffing dogs they can bring to campus from other states. They also are considering buying a dog for their sole use. The university has found success using Nebraska's only dog that is trained to detect bedbugs, Spots, who is said to have a 95 percent accuracy rate. Spots will return to campus on Friday, and beginning Feb. 6, will be on campus every day for at least the next month.

Housing officials also have purchased eight heat treatment bags and a carbon dioxide freezing machine. The bags will allow for the treatment of individual items like book bags, while the machine will kill the pests on specific areas like furniture. They also are looking at purchasing more heaters to treat entire rooms. They're currently working with outside vendors to rent the devices. To effectively treat a room, it must be kept at a temperature of 130 degrees for four hours.

"We are doing everything possible to address the problem," said Juan Franco, vice chancellor of student affairs.

The university has already spent an estimated $20,000 on outside resources and officials said the cost could rise to $100,000 or more, if that's what it takes to eliminate the problem.

Bedbugs are small parasitic pests. They tend to live in beds, in cracks and crevices around beds and other hiding areas where they have easy access to people. They live off human blood and tend to bite at night leaving red, itchy welts on their victims. They do not carry disease. Their resurgence in recent years has become a problem across the country, including on many other university campuses.

Since Jan. 9 bedbugs have been detected and treated in 25 UNL rooms and a handful of common areas in Selleck and Abel Halls and in The Village. Housing officials have been updating the UNL community daily via housing's website, http://housing.unl.edu. They also have been in direct communication with parents and students.

Students have been asked to report any suspicious activity, whether they notice what they think is a bite or if they see the bugs.

"We are also looking, of course, for our students to be partners in this, asking that they be our eyes and ears," Franco said.

Housing leaders plan to organize open forums with students in coming days to address questions and educate students about what to look for.

— Jean Ortiz Jones, University Communications