For the Gipson family of Harvey, La., last summer’s trip to the Liki Tiki Village condo resort in Winter Garden is one that they will never forget.
“Pretty much all of them went to the doctor and got creams,” Archie Gipson said about eight of his dozen relatives, including a 9-month-old baby, who vacationed together and who, he said, were bitten by bedbugs. “No one got fever, but the bites were kind of severe.”
Bedbugs are persistent parasites that have likely been around as long as the human hosts from whom they suck blood. Since 2000, there has been a resurgence of bedbugs around the world. The bugs’ resistance to pesticides, international travel and the growth in human population all have been blamed.
But no expert can pinpoint the reason for the parasites’ defiant prominence.
They prompt headlines when they bite people in movie theaters and clothing stores or hitchhike in children’s backpacks.
In 2010, inspectors from the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation found bedbugs in 68 accommodations, accounting for just 0.18 percent of 36,947 licensed hotels, motels, apartments and condos, an agency spokeswoman said.
In 2009, when there were slightly fewer lodgings, 30 establishments, or 0.08 percent of 36,866 licensed facilities, had bedbug violations.
People, who can carry the bugs in their clothing, laptop computers and luggage, brought them to Florida counties with the most popular destinations: Broward (with 13 establishments cited) and Orange County (10 accommodations with bedbug violations) led the state with confirmed parasite infestations.
And no lodging, whether fancy, family-friendly or budget, is immune from the scourge.
In New York City, even the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue has been stricken by bedbug infestations and is reportedly being sued by customers who claim to have been bitten by the parasites.
The glamorous landmark has hosted President Barack Obama, as well as other heads of state, royalty and celebrities. A spokesman for Hilton Worldwide, which owns the Waldorf-Astoria, said that for hotel management, “the safety and comfort of our guests are our top priority” and that the hotel “maintains high levels of vigilance and performs regularly scheduled inspections.”
“If the Waldorf can get ’em, anybody can get ’em,” said Allen Fugler, executive vice president of the Florida Pest Management Association. “Bedbugs are not respecters of property or prestige. They are equal-opportunity offenders.”
While Broward leads the state in bedbug violations, Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said of the county’s approximately 565 hospitality business owners: “Unfortunately, any location that hosts world travelers is susceptible. Broward hoteliers, many of which carry the top flags in the hospitality industry, are aware of the global issue and are diligent in their operating procedures to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and fix any problems that might arise.”
The global issue is fueling “a steady number of calls for support,” Fugler said of the growth industry for the pesticide control group’s 800 members.
“It’s good, steady business, at a higher level than two years ago,” he said. Those were the days when the state’s exterminators did not even report doing bedbug work, Fugler says. “Now there is a segment of the industry dedicated to it.”
Specialists use tactics like bedbug-sniffing dogs and heat treatments for building interiors to bake the bugs to death.
Fugler thinks international travel is the most probable cause, considering that Broward and Orange counties attract tourists from around the world.
“Aircraft containers are likely prospects, with luggage adjacent to each other in dark holds for a long time,” Fugler said. “Because aircraft are not kept on the ground for long, with luggage holds there are not large opportunities to do treatment, and holds are not the most frequently thought of places to treat. More often, experts are treating the galley for cockroaches because of food and beverage service.”
Though travelers rely on websites like bedbugregistry.com to see if hotel rooms and apartment buildings are infested, Fugler says, “those sites are consumer-driven, not monitored, not verified and information cannot be considered conclusive or authoritative.”
But such sites can give peace of mind, along with searching a hotel bed’s headboard, mattress seams and the 8-foot floor area surrounding it for the bugs, blood spots and fecal matter, as Fugler advises.
And if the telltale bites appear on your body, or the bugs scurry in your luggage or bedroom, experts advise you to forgo home remedies and use a licensed pest-management professional with experience in the identification and treatment of bedbugs.
That’s what community college instructor Archie Gipson did after his family’s long, itchy trip home to Louisiana.
“We had an exterminator come to two houses as a precaution,” Gipson said. “Total it all up, it was close to three or four grand, with the exterminators and doctors.”
He called last summer’s trip “a lost vacation.”
“It killed the whole spirit of the thing,” he said. “We were talking about that for weeks.”
He said that he asked Liki Tiki, which did not respond to the Sun Sentinel’s request for comment, to make amends.
“It’s a beautiful place. You wouldn’t expect that to happen because of all the staff they have on duty,” Gipson said. “Seems like housekeeping should have found it.”
He said he belongs to a time share, and that Liki Tiki was the family’s destination to enjoy Walt Disney World Resort or the Universal Orlando Resort every two years for the past 15 years. But Orange County won’t be the family’s 2012 destination.
“We would always go there, but I’m going to another [time share] instead near Daytona, because it’s brand new and will be near the beach,” Gipson said. “The kids don’t want to be bit no more.”