OK, Who Tried to Infest This Pennsylvania Walmart With Bed Bugs?

Photo: Alex Brandon (AP)

Police in Washington Township, Pennsylvania near Erie are searching for whoever left pill bottles containing live bed bugs at a local Walmart, the New York Times reported on Monday.

According to the Times, the Pennsylvania State Police found that a closed pill bottle containing the virulent pests was left in a “boy’s jacket that was for sale” in the men’s changing room on Thursday; a worker for Ecolab subsequently found bedbugs crawling around the room. On Saturday, another vial of bed bugs was found inside the Walmart’s men’s fitting room, which was also found to have the insects roaming around it. It’s not clear whether the bugs were alive or dead, the Associated Press reported.

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Police are considering the possibility it was some kind of disgusting prank.

Trooper Cindy Schick, who collected fingerprints from the second bottle, told the Times, “I would hope that it was not a prank by an employee. It sounds as if two separate employees found two separate bottles two days in a row.”

“... We have not had any other incidents in our area involving bedbugs,” Schick added. Walmart told the paper that a “third-party pest management service has visited the store, and after conducting a thorough review found no evidence of an infestation,” adding it appeared to be an “isolated incident.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes that bed bugs are “small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep,” which really sort of understates the terror and paranoia that these sick creatures can inspire in anyone familiar with the havoc they are capable of causing.

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Bed bugs were once nearly eradicated across the U.S., but the nation is experiencing a resurgence as the creatures have evolved resistance to common pesticides and now require concentrations up to 1,000 times larger to effectively eradicate. Getting rid of them often entails washing, drying, and bagging all clothing and bedding in the affected area, cleaning and boxing other possessions, and multiple rounds of chemical treatment (other methods like heat treatment may skip some of the hassle but are far more expensive). That is often not enough, as the insects can survive a year without feeding and a single fertilized female survivor can be all it takes to restart an infestation.

While bed bug bites can cause massive welts in the estimated 40 to 70 percent of the population allergic to them, only their feces are known to be capable of spreading disease. Research has also indicated they can raise histamine levels within an infected residence, potentially causing health problems similar to allergic reactions produced by cockroaches and dust mites.

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According to the AP, as of Monday police have made no arrests and have no suspects in the Walmart incident. Trooper Schick told the AP that if police locate the perpetrator, they could be charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct stemming from public inconvenience, annoyance and alarm.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post