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L.A.'s slow trickle of bedbugs may turn into a flood

County officials are already confirming as many as 55 bedbug cases a month, but exterminators fear that holiday travel and gift-giving will cause the problem to explode.

December 04, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

Isotech Pest Management, based in Covina, won't name the store it recently treated in Beverly Hills, but co-owner Mike Masterson predicted that over the holidays "we're going to see such an influx of bedbugs in stores that it's going to catch a lot of people off guard."

Masterson, a former celebrity bodyguard turned star of the Discovery Channel reality show "Verminators," said Isotech did 39 bedbug treatments in 2004 and will probably "break 40,000" in 2010, including dorm rooms and faculty housing at major universities, and a 600-unit hotel in San Francisco. Treatments can cost hundreds of dollars.

Often, the first step toward confirming an invasion involves bedbug-sniffing hounds. One recent evening, Erik Alden, Isotech's canine and bedbug supervisor, and his colleague Robert Gregorio held the leashes of first Maddie, a coonhound, and then Zip, a beagle, as the dogs whiffed through several apartments in a Santa Clarita complex.

Only when Alden or Gregorio planted a vial containing live bedbugs under a mattress did the dogs begin scratching wildly to indicate they had located their quarry. "You don't have bedbugs; that's the glorious part," Alden told Maryann Elders, a jewelry maker who had trapped some insects in a plastic bag. The less glorious part? The creatures turned out to be carpet beetles.

For tips on how to prevent or limit bedbug infestations, see "Keeping bedbugs at bay."

martha.groves@latimes.com

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