By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There was plenty of squirming in City Council chambers this morning, as lawmakers convened a hearing on the vexing problem of bed bugs — and how hard they are to exterminate in a city of row homes.

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“The problem is real, and it’s only getting worse,” said Martin Overline of Aardvark Pest Management.

Overline was one of the exterminators who came before city council bugged by bed bugs. He told of one recluse whose home he visited.

“I saw literally hundreds of bed bugs in his front window,” he said. “That’s just in his window, that’s not even counting what’s in his bedroom. He wouldn’t allow nobody in his house. But unfortunately for the neighbors and the rowhouses next to him, three on each side now have activity in their homes now from bed bugs from this gentleman.”

Bed bugs are wingless insects that feed on human blood and can be found not just in beds and box springs, but even in drawers, couches and electrical outlets. Dr. Palak Raval-Nelson, director of Environmental Health Services for the city Health Department, said eradicating bed bugs is no easy task.

“You have to de-clutter, you have to find the source of the bed bugs,” she said, “and wherever possible find somebody to help you with the problem.”

Michelle Niedermeier of the Philadelphia office of the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management program testified that many residents don’t know what to do.

“Residents often seek the cheapest and most readily available materials, including insect foggers, boric acid dust, bleach, detergent, rubbing alcohol and moth balls,” Niedermeier said. “All of these are ineffective in managing bed bugs and many can be harmful or even dangerous.”

Michelle Neidermeier of the Philadelphia office of the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management program.  (credit: Mike Dunn)

Michelle Niedermeier (center) of the Philadelphia office of the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management program. (credit: Mike Dunn)

And Niedermeier said the social stigma of bed bugs can make the situation worse.

“No one ever wants to admit to having a pest, because there are stigmas, like ‘you’re dirty, you don’t keep a clean house,'” she said. “There are financial stigmas associated with it as well.”

But Niedermeier said cleanliness or finances are not factors in bed bug infestations, and that the insects are simply drawn to human blood.

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The committee heard from some victims of bed bugs, including one of their own, First District Councilman Mark Squilla.

“I for one, had bed bugs,” Squilla said. “Now everyone knows. It’ll be the headline tomorrow: ‘Councilman Squilla has bed bugs.'”

Squilla said the problem can become psychological.

“It’s not only the bugs and the bites, but it becomes sometimes a mental issue,” he said. “We’re talking about it right now, and I just started itching.”

Experts said row home neighborhoods are particularly prone, since the bugs can spread easily from one house to another through wall cracks.

“A person can spend a lot of money, and then it eventually comes right back into their home again,” said Squilla.

And Raval-Nelson of the city Health Department said in dealing with bed bug issues among neighbors, the city’s powers are often limited.

“Often times, if it’s a tenant-landlord issue, we can’t necessarily go in there without the owner’s permission,” she said.

Squilla vowed to form a task force to look at how the city can do more. Overline was thankful.

“The problem is real, and its only getting worse,” he said. “So whatever you can do to help us out here would be greatly appreciated.”

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