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updated: 9/2/2011 11:54 AM

Bedbugs at Lombard hotel send woman to hospital

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Carrie Brown thought it was one mean and hungry spider that was biting her -- and biting her and biting her -- during her stay at a Lombard hotel.

She was wrong.

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The insect was a bedbug.

A letter she received from TownePlace Suites Chicago Lombard, where she began staying Aug. 21, informed her "a bedbug" was found in the room, and confirmed as such by Ecolab, a Minnesota-based company that specializes in cleaning, sanitizing, infection control and food safety.

Brown's estimated 50 bedbug bites itched and swelled so much that on Wednesday, she had a friend drive her to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, where she was admitted for treatment of an infection called cellulitis.

"One (bite) on my leg got infected to the point where I couldn't walk or stand on it," said Brown, 42, of Los Angeles, Calif.

Bedbug bites are a relatively uncommon occurrence among patients at Good Samaritan Hospital, said Dr. Pranjal Shah, an internal medicine doctor and attending physician. The hospital will see about one patient a month with the bites, which usually can be treated with an antihistamine, he said.

But Brown ran into extra trouble because her bites became infected.

Infections occur in rare cases when scratching at the bite allows bacteria to enter the body, Shah said.

"What happens while scratching it is that you break down the skin around it," Brown said. "Once the bacteria that are normally present over the skin and other bacteria can get into that and that's how you would get an infection."

After noticing the first bites Aug. 23, Brown said she tried treating the itch with Benadryl. But she couldn't sleep. She couldn't avoid scratching the welts. And she just kept getting more of them.

By Tuesday, she knew "there's something really wrong."

A longtime friend who was staying in the same room and sleeping in the same bed as Brown found a bug in the bed Aug. 27, snapped a photo of it to show to hotel staff and killed it. The friend, however, has not gotten any bedbug bites, Brown said.

Each person's body responds differently to bug bites of all kinds, Shah said. So it's possible Brown's friend also was bitten but did not react to the bites.

When a person is bitten by bedbugs, Shah recommends washing clothes and inspecting all personal belongings for small bugs as soon as possible. The hospital and hotel took the same precaution with Brown's belongings, having them sanitized to prevent bedbugs from spreading and others from being bitten.

A representative of the Marriott-owned TownePlace Suites Chicago Lombard said he would issue a statement in an email, but the Daily Herald has yet to receive the email.

The infected bites and overnight hospital stay caused Brown to miss two and a half days of a cake-decorating class at Woodridge-based Wilton Enterprises. The class was the reason for Brown's stay in Lombard.

She said she saved up for the class and was excited to share her new cake-decorating skills with students at the middle school where she teaches.

Brown said doctors told her she should be released tday and free to fly home. But she's unsure if she'll be able to teach right away or how much continued treatment her infected bedbug bites will need.

"It's just unfortunate. I can barely stand," she said. "I don't teach from my chair; that's not me."

But as a teacher, Brown said she wants to let people know it's important to check for bedbugs when sleeping in a hotel bed.

Organizers of the first National Bed Bug Awareness Month that began Thursday, Sept. 1 and the North American Bed Bug Summit scheduled for Sept. 25-27 in Chicago are trying to spread the same message.

Bed Bug Central, an information source about the insect run by entomologists, suggests keeping luggage closed and away from the bed while staying at a hotel. A list of bed bug-free travel tips on the site also suggests checking the bed's linens, mattress and box springs for any signs of live bugs or dark brown to black spots.

"I'll check now. I'll lift the sheets; I'll check mattresses," Brown said. "I'll be more careful in the future."

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