UW libraries say bedbugs are gone from library books

Library books previously infested with bedbugs are now declared free of the insects, according to UW Libraries. 

The bugs were discovered in approximately 10 books last August, first by a student-employee who noticed black droppings from the bugs in his own books. The employee notified library officials, who took swift action to terminate life in the books. Since then, there have been no reported cases of bedbugs in library books, said Stephanie Lamson, a preservation librarian at UW Libraries.

When the droppings were found, UW Libraries contacted UW Environmental Health and Safety, which identified them as bedbug waste, according to the UW Libraries website. Forty-five volumes were quarantined as a precaution. Those books were double-bagged, boxed, and exiled to the Burke Museum’s walk-in freezer, where temperatures reach the inhospitable cold of minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, Lamson said. The boxes were left in the freezer for seven days, then removed and thawed for six days, then frozen for another seven days to ensure no bugs or eggs would survive.

Since then most of the once-insect-ridden books have been returned to the libraries.

Bedbugs are small insects the size of watermelon seeds that feed on human blood, according to King County Public Health. The wingless red bugs feed at night to avoid detection. The creepy crawlers make their homes in mattresses and box springs and in wall cracks and carpets, and can live several months to a year without feeding.

“Books are no more likely to have bedbugs in them than a backpack or something else that’s dark,” Lamson said. “The person who returned the books probably had them close to their bed. The [bedbugs] like tight, dark spaces.”

Lamson said it was the first time in her library preservation career she had to deal with bedbugs. She said her main insect problem is silverfish, which feed on the glucose and starch in book spines.

Recently, there has been a worldwide increase of bedbug reports. Considered rare since World War II, when people moved away from cities and into suburban areas, bedbugs are making a comeback with growing globalization and urban living, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most often, bedbugs congregate around clutter and sleeping areas. UW’s most recent cases of bedbugs were reported toward the end of fall quarter in the residence halls: one case in McMahon Hall and two more in Haggett Hall, said AJ Duxbury, resident director of the north tower of McMahon Hall. She said these incidences were “on par with the nation” in frequency.

“We got the confirmation that they are now free and clear,” she said.

If students suspect bedbugs are in their rooms, they are advised to contact their resident adviser or resident director immediately. The UW has procedures in place to safely eliminate bedbugs from residence-hall rooms. 

For the UW community not living in residence halls, bedbugs can be prevented by inspecting rooms regularly, cleaning, vacuuming, and laundering sheets and clothes on high heat, according to King County Public Health. If you detect bedbugs, contact a licensed pesticide-control operator immediately.

Reach reporter Kevin Vandenburg at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @KevinVandenburg

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