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Bed bugs force fifth-graders to leave camp



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April 20, 2011 - Camp ended early last week for approximately 150 Oxford students after bed bugs were discovered at the Howell Conference and Nature Center in Marion Township, Livingston County.

Fifth-graders from Clear Lake and Lakeville elementaries returned home on the evening of Thursday, April 14 after bed bugs were discovered earlier that day in one of the cabins occupied by Lakeville students.

A Lakeville parent was bitten as were some female students from that school.

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects, the most common type of which prefers to feed on human blood through biting usually at night. Their bites are not known to spread disease.

The bite does not hurt at first, but it may become swollen and itch like a mosquito bite. Clusters of bites, usually in a line, on exposed areas of the body should be looked for.

"Upon the discovery, Camp Howell secured a pest management contractor who verified the infestation and they contacted the Livingston (County) Health Department," said Nancy Latowski, deputy superintendent of Oxford Community Schools. "A meeting was held for all of the parents at camp and Eric Foster of the State of Michigan Health Department answered questions via phone."

As a safety precaution, Latowski indicated that "all clothes and items in the contaminated cabin were sealed in plastic bags and were kept separated from the students."

"All luggage and belongings (from the contaminated cabin) were transported in the bus undercarriages to avoid contact with the children," according to an April 14 school letter sent home to parents.

Lakeville Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall noted some of the belongings from the contaminated cabin were transported home by the parents of children who stayed there.

Camp Howell staff laundered the children's bedding from the contaminated cabin before it was sent home, according to the letter.

As a further precaution, the luggage and belongings from the other cabins was also transported home in plastic bags.

Gibson-Marshall noted even though the state health department indicated wrapping and sealing everything in single garbage bags would be sufficient, it was decided to use two garbage bags to be extra cautious. Bed bugs cannot get through one bag let alone two.

The district advised parents who may have medical concerns to contact their doctors. Complete information regarding bed bugs can be obtained at www.oakgov.com/health or www.michigan.gov/bedbugs.

Gibson-Marshall wanted to make it absolutely clear that Lakeville students were in no way, shape or form responsible for the infestation in the cabin they were staying in.

"The bugs were there," she said. "Lakeville didn't bring them with us."

Her statement was supported by Richard Grant, executive director of the Howell Conference and Nature Center.

"Did Lakeville bring them in or Clear Lake bring them in? Absolutely not," he said. "None of those schools brought them in. They were here. For anyone to say that Lakeville brought them in that is not true."

Grant indicated this same cabin more specifically a single room inside this cabin had a bed bug problem back in July 2010 and again in November.

"Each time we eradicated them and felt we were in good shape in that particular area," he said. "This third time tells us that we may have more of a chronic issue in that room. We haven't had (bed bugs in) any rooms other than that (one). They have not spread in that building."

Grant indicated the contaminated cabin was occupied for about 80 out of 120 days prior to Lakeville's arrival, so the bed bugs could have come from someone else staying there during that period or "it could have been something we did not eradicate in July."

"Eggs will stay dormant for a number of months," he noted. "Bed bugs are very easy to kill, if you can see them. It's the ones that you can't see. They're very good hiders. They hide in crevices and furniture and base-boards, all over. Sometimes it takes several applications to get rid of them entirely."

Following the July and November 2010 infestations, Grant said chemicals were used each time to eradicate the bed bugs and "we felt we had the problem taken care of."

Given this third incident, he said the camp is exploring using alternative methods such as killing the bugs by heating the room to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit and bringing in dogs, primarily beagles, that are specially trained to sniff out bed bugs.

"We want to make sure that we don't have a fourth incident," Grant said. "We're going to take every step we can possibly take to make sure that space is taken care of."

Fifth-graders from Leonard and Oxford elementaries are scheduled to stay at Camp Howell in May.

"The camp has assured us that the facilities will be free from the problem prior to our return," Latowski said. "They will have inspections conducted to ensure that the facilities are free from contamination. We will not put our students at risk and will ensure that the inspections have been completed."

"Do I feel the nature center is safe today to come out (and) use any of our buildings, except for the building that's being treated? Absolutely," Grant said. "I have 100 percent confidence in all of our buildings right now."

When the Leonard and Oxford elementary students come out, if the contaminated cabin still isn't free of bed bugs, Grant said the camp will lodge the students in its other buildings. "Our Number One concern is the safety of our guests," he noted. "We would never put them in harm's way."

According to Latowski, none of the Lakeville and Clear Lake student camp fees will be refunded because of the early departure, however, "the parents will not be charged for Thursday."

The Clear Lake and Lakeville students arrived on the morning of Wednesday, April 13 and originally, weren't scheduled to return until Friday afternoon. The cost of the trip was $142 for students. For parents, it was $35.50 for one day or $71 for two.

To make it up to the students, Latowski said Camp Howell has "agreed to bring their staff to Oxford to spend a half day at each building (Lakeville and Clear Lake) and provide activities for the students, as well as their lunches."

The Howell Conference and Nature Center is the same facility at which approximately 97 fifth-graders and 33 adult chaperons from Clear Lake and Lakeville contracted the norovirus and got sick in April 2007.

When asked how the recent bed bug incident combined with the previous norovirus incident will affect Oxford Schools' future relationship with the Howell Conference and Nature Center, Latowski replied, "We will be evaluating the location of the (fifth-grade) camp for 2011-12 to determine which location will be used."

"Of course, we do not want to put our students at risk," she said. "However, it should be noted that the staff at Camp Howell handled this situation professionally and promptly, and were very accommodating."

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