Bed bug battle at Dubuque shelter - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Bed bug battle at Dubuque shelter


The Dubuque Rescue Mission houses men and, for now, bed bugs.

Executive director Rick Mihm said Thursday afternoon it has been an ongoing battle since summer.

Places that offer housing for transient or homeless people are at higher risk for bed bugs than private homes, with so many people coming and going.

"Anytime there's a report, the room gets stripped down, everything washed, vacuumed up, and that's our protocol," Mihm said.

In the last four months, about a dozen men have complained of bites, Mihm said. Reports, however, have come from just five of the mission's 22 rooms.

"We're so vulnerable. We're a shelter," Mihm said. "Men who are coming here for a shelter, having and transporting eggs and things: real possibility."

The Dubuque Rescue Mission can house up to 30 men, but it also serves meals to anybody in need and operates a thrift store.

"I've had a few people call about the meals or the thrift store, and we have no bugs in any of those places," Mihm said. "The only place we have bugs are in the men's dormitory at this time."

The bugs don't transmit diseases, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, but they can leave itchy red welts.

Mission resident David "Doc" Wilhelm has the scars from bites more than a month ago.

"It gets to the point after about two or three nights there, I did even start dreaming about it," Wilhelm said. "Something like that, kind of like ants in the house or a mouse in the house. It happens."

The mission uses special cups under each bed's legs, to keep bugs from climbing up. There is organic, non-toxic cedar oil meant to kill the bugs on contact. There are even bug-lock mattress protectors on the mattresses.

On top of those methods, plus keeping the dormitory tidy, is the power of prayer.

"We've blessed every room, trying to exorcise the demons from our building, the little demons, but, I don't know, sometimes it feels like the plague," Mihm said.

Every man who comes to stay at the mission has to shower, Mihm said, and any bag he has and his clothes are either washed or altogether replaced from the thrift store.

Mihm said there was a bed bug outbreak at the mission in 2006. That, too, was limited to the men's dormitory.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bed bugs are reddish brown, oval-shaped and flat. They liken an adult bug to the size of an apple seed.

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