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Health News Florida

Dogs Help Hospitals Fight Bed Bugs (VIDEO)

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Bill Whitstine is in the business of training dogs to detect bed bugs. Business is good, he said, and some of his customers are health-care facilities.

"Bed bugs over the last ten years, it's become an epidemic in many states and here in Florida as well," Whitstine said. "And the fastest and easiest way of detecting them is with a drug dog or a bomb dog."

"Bed bugs over the last ten years, it's become an epidemic in many states and here in Florida as well," Whitstine said. "And the fastest and easiest way of detecting them is with a drug dog or a bomb dog."

He runs a training facility called the Florida Canine Academy in Safety Harbor. The inside is set up like a bedroom with beds and furniture to help the dogs get used to working in a real life environment.

But the key to the dog's training lies in the wheel. It's a piece of equipment that consists of six cups filled with various materials. The wheel spins and the dog sniffs each cup. When he smells the bed bugs, he comes to an alert.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrT9Mn709Rw

Whitstine brings his trained dogs into hotels, houses and hospitals.  They can tell the difference between live bed bugs and dead ones -- and they don't need to actually see the bugs.

Quick detection is key, especially when it comes to hospitals.

"When someone comes into the hospital and has a bed bug problem,  it's possible they might bring it with them," Whitstine said. "But the hospitals, especially in Florida have a routine and a plan in place where immediately a room is shut down and is inspected by both humans and dogs."

Several Tampa Bay area hospitals say their policies on dealing with bed bugs include the use of detection dogs.  When the bugs are found, the staff closes the room off and either heats it up to more than 130 degrees or treats it with chemicals.

Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey used a dog and heat treatment a few weeks ago when a patient brought bed bugs into the  emergency department, and solved the problem quickly, a spokeswoman said.

Alan Fugler with the Florida Pest Management Association said the problem isn't new -- it's as old as mankind.

"They actually grew up, evolved with human beings with our ancestors in caves they cohabitated with us," Fugler said.

While he said they don't carry disease, they are viewed as a serious problem because of how quickly they reproduce, and their diet.

"They feed entirely, almost entirely on human blood," Fugler said.

Jeff White is an entomologist and the technical director for the BedBug Central website.

"BedBug Central is an online information resource that you can go to learn everything you could ever want to know -- or not know -- about bedbugs," White said.

He said up until about a decade ago, bed bugs were almost a non-issue.

"For decades, bed bugs were virtually eliminated from the United States, due to the widescale use of a product called DDT," White said.

But that product was pulled off the market because of environmental concerns.

"What it's left us with is one primary class of pesticides that bed bugs have built up a large resistance to," White said.

So the best protection is to detect an infestation early. That's where Whitstine and his dogs come in.

"People do get panicked, but they're just like any other bug. But with proper inspections, you can take care of it," Whitstine said.

And that's what he's been doing, several times a day, seven days a week.

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.