Donald Jewett has bedbug bites all over his body. Confined to a wheelchair much of the time due to a variety of health issues, Jewett says his helper discovered bedbugs in his Westport apartment a few weeks ago.
"Try sleeping with bedbugs, it's not fun, you itch, you scratch and you end up like this," Jewett said as he showed his bite marks.
"So the unit right now is going out at 194 degrees," said SOS Pest Control Tech Conor Johnson.
Johnson explained the heat treatment taking place to kill bedbugs in Jewett's apartment and a neighboring one.
Johnson and Tech Tyler Ogden's half-day-long setup and treatment include huge propane tanks to fuel heaters. They're attached to a fan and a long tube to crank up the apartments to 130 degrees everywhere.
"The bedbugs can't survive in that kind of heat for that long, so essentially you cook them," said Pat VanHooser of SOS Pest Control.
"There were probably 2,000 to 3,000 live ones here," said Ogden.
He and Johnson showed the 41 Action News Investigators the now dead bedbugs lining Jewett's recliner.
"You can see them on the label," Ogden said. "Right here there's spots from where they've been here."
Dead bedbugs were clearly visible on the recliner and in a pile in the living room corner.
Jewett is far from alone. Recently, Rachelle Allen was moving out of her apartment at Ninth and Holmes. Allen sent us pictures of bites all over her body, including marks on her scalp where hair is now missing.
Allen says she had to leave her job and spend all her extra money to deal with the problem. She also had to throw away a lot of her belongings due to bedbug infestation.
"Right now, I'm in the process of that so I'm having to let go of a lot, and it's heartbreaking," she said.
Apartment complex owner Jake Tonsfeldt declined an on-camera interview with the 41 Action News Investigators, but he admitted Allen's unit did have bedbugs.
But he said it was being addressed.
Another tenant says he hasn't had a bedbug issue.
"The landlord, he sprays on a regular basis, usually twice a month, sometimes three times a month," said Paul Lantsberger.
"They're chemically resistant now and so there are very few things that will actually kill them," VanHooser said.
The bedbug problem is so widespread in the Kansas City area, SOS Pest Control alone does the maximum two heat treatments a day, five days a week. And those treatments are booked weeks in advance.
VanHooser says the increase in infestations can be attributed to chemical resistance for the bugs, the banning of some pesticides and an increase in people traveling.
However, under Missouri law, bedbug incidents are not reportable to the health department.
"Bedbugs don't necessarily carry disease or transmit disease, so what they are is a nuisance," said Bridgette Casey, the Jackson County Health Department director.
"I can't even sleep in the bed, the bedbugs were making me itch so bad," Jewett said.
Getting rid of bedbugs is not only difficult, it's very expensive. The heat treatment runs about $1,000 per treatment.
One other effective treatment is to spread silica dust, which is not harmful to pets or people. The dust dries out the bedbugs' bodies. But they have to come in contact with it, so the dust can sometimes take weeks to be effective. And that treatment runs into the hundreds of dollars.
Andy Alcock can be reached at email@example.com.