Noreen Dorsey-Freeland hadn't expected to spend January cleaning her mother's home from top to bottom.
But that's how the month is likely to unfold after the York City woman made a disturbing discovery in her mother's apartment at Broad Park Manor, a complex managed by the York Housing Authority.
Curious about the rumor she'd heard of a bedbug infestation, Dorsey-Freeland lifted her mother's mattress one day earlier this month. Sure enough, tiny bloodsuckers had invaded the place where her 83-year-old mother sleeps.
"They were everywhere in her mattress," Dorsey-Freeland said. "The next thing we know, we see them walking across the comforter on her bed."
Creeped out, the two left the apartment and set about the process of remedying an increasingly common problem that's posed a unique challenge to public-housing managers.
To be clear, reports of bedbugs in public housing do not equate to building-wide infestations. The insects can certainly travel -- but not as efficiently as other types of creepy crawlers, said Craig Zumbrun, the authority's deputy director.
At the time Dorsey-Freeland discovered bedbugs in her mother's apartment, residents in three other units were dealing with the same problem, Zumbrun said. There are about 300 units in each of the three high-rise buildings at Broad Park Manor.
Difficult to remove: The trouble with bedbugs is that once you've got them, they're a real pain to get rid of.
Bedbugs appeared on the housing authority's radar about three years ago, Zumbrun said.
At that time, he said, the authority responded by pursuing an integrated pest-management program designed to address the problem without simply spraying an abundance of poison into residents' homes.
Yet, bedbugs continue to invade mattresses in places like Broad Park Manor, where elderly and disabled residents live.
Another Broad Park Manor resident, Adelaide Barton, said she believes bedbugs are rampant in her building.
Barton, 54, said she's never had bedbugs in her apartment, but she knows some of her neighbors are less diligent about cleanliness.
"Everybody deserves to live in a clean, safe living environment," Barton said. "I think the housing authority can do a better job with the upkeep."
Factors: Authority staff regularly attend trainings about bedbugs and perform annual inspections of units, Zumbrun said.
But, he said, whether bedbugs ultimately show up comes down to the resident's own housekeeping and organization.
"A lot of it's on the individual," he said.
Bedbugs have also been a problem at the York County Prison.
In November, county officials approved a $3,800 contract with Orkin, a pest-control company, for the treatment of a bedbug infestation in the prison's work-release trailers. About 90 minimum-security inmates were sent home for 72 hours while exterminators worked to kill the bugs.
There's no single reason why bedbugs move into one mattress and not another, said Bob Grimwood, owner of Penn Pest in York County. The company performs pest-control services for the housing authority.
"It's not a cleanliness issue, but it is sometimes," he said. "It's not an issue of not vacuuming, but it is sometimes."
When it comes to public housing, Grimwood said, he's noticed one troublesome trend. Hand-me-down furniture tends to make its way into the apartments -- and sometimes arrives infested with bedbugs.
"The best thing you can do is to be very careful about bringing in any used furniture or bedding," he said.
Visitors can also bring bedbugs into the buildings, Zumbrun pointed out.
Killing bedbugs: As individuals, bedbugs -- which have evolved to thrive in the cracks and crevices of beds -- are easy to kill, said Grimwood, who's been in the pest-control business for 18 years.
"You can spit on a bedbug and you'd probably kill him," he said. "The problem is, it's the way the way the bedbug lives and reproduces."
As a species, the insects are annoyingly resilient. A bedbug egg -- as fine as a grain of salt -- can survive for 16 months snug in a mattress, Grimwood said. You might think you've eradicated bedbugs from your home, only to rediscover the problem a year later.
The pest-control industry is still working to find the silver bullet for bedbugs, which had disappeared for decades and then re-emerged just a few years ago, Grimwood said.
For example, steam works -- but only at the right temperature with no moisture left behind. Don't get it perfect, and bedbugs might return with a vengeance, Grimwood said.
The first tool Grimwood said he uses to rid a home of bedbugs is a vacuum cleaner. Then, he uses a disinfectant to clean anything that can't be thrown into hot water and a hot dryer.
After treatments, Zumbrun said, the housing authority follows up by providing residents with encapsulated mattress covers that should prevent any remaining bedbugs from escaping to wreak more havoc.
For elderly residents of places like Broad Park Manor, thorough cleaning can be a challenge, Grimwood said. But it's an essential part of ridding a home of bedbugs, he said.
While rumors of bedbugs are often blown out of proportion, it's "not hype by any means," he said.
"They're here now," Grimwood said.
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.