PHOENIX — The mere mention of bed bugs might make most people uncomfortable.
But it’s a growing problem in Arizona and getting rid of them is turning into big business for exterminators.
Some pest-control firms have diversified and grown their businesses by adding bedbug eradication as a specialty niche.
National revenue in bedbug extermination and management increased to $258 million in 2009 from $98 million in 2006, according to the National Pest Management Association.
Of the two other major insect pests described in the association’s report — fleas and fire ants — the bedbug-extermination industry was the only one to grow every year.
Fred Willey owns Invader Pest Management of Glendale. He says bedbugs account for about 5 percent of his business now and he expects that number to double this year.
“I plan on developing more of the niche market,” Willey told The Arizona Republic. “There’s going to be a select few companies that specialize in it. Bedbugs are probably the toughest pest to control that we’ve dealt with.”
Wiley said most people are not aware of how easily they are spread and how fast they repopulate.
According to a survey conducted by the pest-management association in cooperation with the University of Kentucky, 95 percent of U.S. respondents indicated that their company or organization had encountered a bedbug infestation in the past year.
In a previous association survey of pest-control firms, 6 percent of respondents said they had performed more than 100 services for bedbugs. In a survey conducted two years later, 20 percent of those surveyed said they had performed more than 100 bedbug jobs in the past year, with 7 percent saying they had done 500.
Ron Ketner, owner of AZEX Pest Solutions, said about 90 percent of his business now is bedbug extermination. When he created his business in 2007, Ketner focused on termites.
“We were maybe getting a bedbug call a month,” Ketner said.
Once the housing market crashed, he said, there were far fewer customers looking for termite inspections.
Ketner said that was about the time bedbugs started to dramatically increase in number; now, he receives about 12 inquiries a day.
Ketner, a proponent of thermal treatments, uses heaters to warm the room to temperatures of up to 155 degrees. The treatment takes about a day, and afterward, he brings in an independent third party with bedbug-sniffing dogs to double-check that all the pests have been exterminated.
Dawn Gouge, an associate professor and associate specialist of entomology at the University of Arizona, said bedbugs are “an increasing problem” in the state.
Gouge has been an entomologist and integrated pest-management specialist since 1995. She has written numerous articles on insects, including bedbugs.
She said bedbugs are far more prevalent in areas with large populations, and Arizona has seen a dramatic increase in bedbug numbers because of the state’s explosive population growth.
“You name it. At this point, we’ve found bedbugs in those environments … everywhere where people are. … They’re expert hitchhikers,” Gouge said of the pests.
She said bedbugs are primarily unpleasant and don’t pose a major health threat because they do not transmit diseases to humans. Although many people don’t have severe reactions to the pest, Gouge said, some people can have dangerous physical reactions to bedbug bites.
Gouge said the real damage of bedbugs may not even be physical.
“People will spend every single penny they don’t have on bedbug remediation,” she said. “Psychologically, they are an enormous stressor.”
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com