Our Opinion: Don’t overreact to bugs

Published 8:40 am Monday, December 16, 2013

It’s creepy, crawly and kind of gross, but it’s time to start talking about bed bugs. It is not, however, time to overreact.

Health and Human Services workers told state Rep. Jeanne Poppe, state Sen. Dan Sparks and Mower County Commissioners Polly Glynn and Tim Gabrielson Thursday that bed bugs are becoming a “very serious” issue in Mower County.

The issue will require discussion and cooperation from area groups and leaders, but we urge common sense when discussing ways to address the pesky pests.

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There’s a key problem: From the discussions Thursday, it appears there are few obvious, easy and affordable options for combating bed bugs.

Community Health Director Lisa Kocer pointed out that bed bugs are not a public health threat because they don’t carry disease. That means there’s really no state funding sources to help people eradicate bed bugs. That’s problematic, as county employees said Thursday that low income, elderly and disabled residents are seeing issues with bed bugs, and they often don’t have the money to eradicate.

We would like to echo comments Poppe made at the meeting: We completely agree it’s time for area groups to start talking about bed bugs and discussing ways to face the issue. Poppe suggested the county, city, Austin Area Landlord Association, Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and other groups work together to at least ensure the public is aware of the issue.

We urge these groups, along with local apartment complexes and other leaders, to be open to the discussions and to bring ideas to the table, but we also urge everyone involved to avoid finger-pointing. Bed bugs are like head lice: They can spread easily, and it’s impossible to know what child brought them into a school first. Finger-pointing will only hinder attempts to find solutions.

But Poppe was wise to tell county workers that she doesn’t foresee the legislature passing any bed bug laws.

“Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a law, if good common sense can prevail, and people can kind of recognize that something needs to be done,” she said Thursday.

It’s often easy for leaders to enact a law addressing something like bed bugs, but the fact is it’s hard to envision a law that would anything to hinder the spread of bed bugs. A rash law would often do little but place unnecessary or costly requirements on homeowners, renters and landlords.

We urge state, city and county leaders to get involved, but not act too rashly by creating unnecessary laws or ordinances.