DEBUGGING: George Williams of Norwood’s Environmental Health Services, Inc. helps clear a bedbug infestation from the home of a disabled Mattapan veteran by using 148-degree heat monitored by computer to kill the insects and its eggs.
Boston seems to be slowly winning its battle against bedbugs more than a decade after the scourge broke out.
The number of complaints about the tiny, blood-sucking pests has dropped 16 percent, from 410 in 2012 to 344 last year, the Department of Inspectional Services said.
“A lot of the decrease in cases is due to education,” said John Meaney, director of ISD’s Environmental Services Unit. “A lot of companies now have bedbug specialties. A general pest-control company won’t be able to do it.”
Although now-banned pesticide DDT all but eliminated bedbugs by the end of World War II, they re-emerged more than 10 years ago with a vengeance.
“Bedbugs are equal- opportunity pests,” said Jack Tracy, principal health inspector at the Boston Public Health Commission. “They don’t care if you’re rich or poor. They don’t transmit disease, but they’re a public health nuisance.”
One of the worst cases Tracy said he has ever seen was reported by a disabled veteran whose Mattapan home became infested last June after a relative with a severe case of bedbugs came to stay with her.
“I had lived in my house for 20 years and never had this problem before,” said the 47-year-old woman, who asked that her name be withheld. “It got so bad, I didn’t even want to lie in my bed. I was going to go to a shelter just so that I could get some sleep.”
An exterminator told her it would cost at least $3,500 to get rid of the insects, which she couldn’t afford.
So she found Tracy and Meaney, who contacted the New England Pest Control Association to see if any of its members would be willing to do the work for free.
Last week, HouseWorks in Newton took apart the woman’s bed and emptied her drawers and closets. A Malden laundry service put her clothes and bed linens in industrial dryers. And Environmental Health Services in Norwood heated the home to as much as 148 degrees for up to six hours to kill the bedbugs and eggs.
My Brother’s Keeper, a Christian ministry in Easton and Dartmouth, donated new mattresses as well as new bed linens.
“We wanted to give back to someone who had given to our country,” said George Williams, staff entomologist at Environmental Health Services.
The Inspectional Services Department estimates the work totaled more than $5,000, but cost the veteran nothing.
“It was just a blessing that God put all of these people in my life at a time when I was really in need,” she said.