Students Report Head Lice and Bed Bugs in Dorms

Bed bug photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Carly Behm | The PHOENIXXavier Hall is one of the Loyola residents halls that has been infected with bed bugs in past years. This semester, the university has seen five reports of bed bugs whose inspections are made by a pest extermination company called Smithereen.

Exams aren’t the only things keeping students up at night; some have experienced pests such as bed bugs and head lice in dorms.

Earlier this semester, the Wellness Center saw cases of head lice from students living in Mertz Residence Hall, according to Wellness Center director Joan Holden. Holden said there were less than five students affected, and they received treatment quickly.
Holden didn’t know the exact time frame when students reported lice cases this semester.

First-year Joey Ripcho lives in Mertz Hall, and he said he heard about the lice cases after they were treated. Ripcho said word-of-mouth and social media spread concerns about lice quickly.

“It was like four or five people [who were affected], and it happened two weeks prior to everyone knowing about it,” the 19-year-old business and philosophy double major said. “By the time everyone was like ‘Oh my god, lice,’ it had been cured and [there was] a huge amount of downtime in between. So when it happened there were no lice at all.”

First-year English major Michael O’Sullivan also lives in Mertz, and he said he heard rumors about the lice cases, but didn’t know anyone personally affected. He said he thought concerns about it were greater than the situation.

“It was a big sense of pandemonium,” the 18-year-old said. “A lot of people got really nervous really quickly. A lot of people made a big deal out of it, but at the same time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. It seemed like a lot of people put a lot of importance on an issue that wasn’t really an issue.”

Lice cases are rare at Loyola, according to Holden, and she said she’s seen less than 10 cases in her time working at the Wellness Center since fall 2000.

“Lice often happens in young children that are sharing hats and sharing combs and brushes,” Holden said. “That’s how you get lice but you can [also] get them in college dorms.”

Bed bugs have been a more common concern for some students.
Neither bed bugs nor head lice transmit disease, but they can spread easily. Bed bugs can spread through travel on luggage, public transport and furniture. Head lice spreads through close contact and sharing hats, combs and brushes.

So far this semester, there were five reports of bed bugs, but only two required treatment, according to Jeff Terpstra, assistant director of Residence Life for Facilities, in an email to The Phoenix.

There have been bed bug inspections and treatments done every academic year since 2001, according to Terpstra. The 2016-17 school year saw 16 reports and four treatments of bed bugs.

Terpstra refused to say which residence hall reported bedbugs this semester because he didn’t want to alarm students, but he said that it varies every year. Residence halls that have seen bedbugs in past years include Fordham, Xavier and Baumhart. Smithereen, a pest extermination company, does inspections for suspected bed bugs, according to Terpstra.

To treat a room, exterminators will bring it to a temperature up to 135 degrees fahrenheit, which will kill any living thing, according to Terpstra. Terpstra said the process lasts six to eight hours.

Terpstra said students will sometimes mistake a general allergic reaction for bed bug bites.

“While allergic reactions to bed bugs are similar to the symptoms from other allergic reactions, often students jump to the conclusion that they have bed bugs before their symptoms are properly diagnosed,” Terpstra said. “If students are concerned, they should have their symptoms treated by a medical professional who can accurately diagnose whether or not they believe the reaction is due to bed bug presence.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health doesn’t require lice cases to be reported because they aren’t considered a public health threat, according to Public Information Officer Melaney Arnold in an email to The Phoenix.

Terpstra said travel is the main factor causing the yearly bed bug cases.

“With so many residents living on campus, participating in different activities around Chicago and traveling on a regular basis, it’s not unusual for us to need to deal with bed bug treatments a number of times each year,” Terpstra said.

Loyola junior Kylie Pettis said she’s glad the bedbug cases are minimal, and she said they are something people should be mindful of.

“I think anyone should be concerned about [bed bugs],” the 20-year-old biochemistry said. “I haven’t personally had any issues but it’s definitely something to take seriously. It’s just gross and I think just for the purposes of staying healthy and keeping the buildings healthy.”

Awareness of pests is the best way to prevent them from causing problems, according to Terpstra. Loyola’s website has information about bed bugs and head lice available.

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