LEWISTON — Central Maine Medical Center has closed a medical-surgical unit while it gets rid of bedbugs.
CMMC found an infestation in the unit over a week ago when a patient alerted staff. That unit was shut down and patients were temporarily moved so exterminators could treat the unit and, as a precaution, the adjoining areas. The unit is currently closed, but no more bugs have been found and it will likely reopen Monday.
CMMC isn't the only medical facility in the area to deal with bedbugs
In the past month, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees hospitals and other medical facilities, received reports of bedbugs at Lewiston's Montello Manor and Montello Commons, which provide nursing care and assisted living services. A Sept. 13 complaint involved both Montello Manor and Montello Commons, according to a DHHS spokesman. An Oct. 5 complaint involved only Montello Commons.
Officials for Montello Manor and Montello Commons could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston has also dealt with bedbugs. A spokesperson for the hospital there said were a "few isolated incidents" of bedbugs brought in by patients, though she was unable to say Friday when the bedbugs were found or how widespread they were.
DHHS has also received reports of isolated incidents in medical facilities in southern Maine.
Bedbugs are apple-seed-sized insects that feed on human blood. They tend to infest beds and bedrooms, but they also hide in walls, under floorboards, in piles of clothes and inside couches. Because bedbugs are so tiny, it can be difficult to see them.
Some people don't realize their homes are infested until they find themselves covered in itchy red welts or discover that their bare mattresses look like they've been sprinkled with pepper — dried blood-waste left behind from the bedbugs' previous meals. Bedbugs do not spread disease, though they can make sleeping nearly impossible and their bites can cause itching.
Nationally, bedbug infestations have been on the rise. The insects have increasingly been found in hotels and department stores, as well as homes and apartment buildings. The problem has become so common that the website BedBugRegistry.com has popped up as a way for people to tell their horror stories and track bedbug infestations in hotels and apartments.
Bedbugs have been creeping into Maine for the past five years and into Lewiston-Auburn for the past three or four, hitching a ride on clothes, in suitcases and in used furniture. Infestations have nothing to do with cleanliness.
Although the state recently issued guidelines for schools dealing with bedbugs, it has not issued such guidelines to hospitals. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has posted bedbug information and pest management advice on its website.
To deal with future infestations, CMMC has created its own protocol that includes isolating any area containing bedbugs, double-bagging clothes and other private belongings and removing them from the area, double-bagging bedding, drapes and other items that could be contaminated and having them cleaned outside CMMC, hiring pest control experts to spray the area using approved pesticides that offer extended protection against reinfestation and having CMMC's environmental service staff clean the area. When it's possible that bedbugs may have spread, the hospital plans to use trained dogs to pinpoint their location.
St. Mary's has also created a protocol that includes hiring trained dogs to pinpoint the bugs' location. Then, depending on the situation, the hospital plans to steam-clean the area, put furniture in a super-heated truck or replace it, put clothing, bedding, drapes and other items into a dryer to kill the bugs or use carbon dioxide traps.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has released a video on searching for and avoiding bedbugs in hotel rooms.
For visitors to hospital rooms, Jim Dill, the cooperative extension pest management specialist featured in the video, recommends not carrying purses or other belongings and not setting items on or near the bed. For patients, he suggests thoroughly inspecting anything taken home and immediately drying clothes to kill any hitchhiking bedbugs with heat.