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Woman says bedbugs bit her 200 times at Nashville hotel

10:17 AM, Jul 14, 2012   |    comments
Bedbug bites on the arm of Sue Silverstein, who is in town for the National Associaton of Music Merchants convention. The San Francisco music seller says she got the bites from her hotel room at the Howard Johnson on Brick Church Pike. Sarah Ruf / The Tennessean
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The Metro Public Health Department is looking into complaints at a local hotel after a woman complained she received more than 200 bedbug bites during a one-night stay.

Sue Silverstein noticed a few red spots Wednesday morning after her first night at the Howard Johnson on Brick Church Pike. But when she woke up from an afternoon nap, bright red, itchy bites covered her body.

"I woke up and got a shock," said Silverstein, 51, in town from San Francisco to sell ukuleles at the National Association of Music Merchants convention. She counted more than 200 bites on her legs, arms, hands and face.

"The owner said, 'I cannot do anything. I can just give you the money and you check out,'" she said.

In an emailed statement, hotel owner Sam Patel wrote, "Unfortunately, bedbugs affect numerous businesses and industries every year, from hotels and restaurants to retail stores and movie theaters. What's important is that businesses take action once a situation has been brought to their attention. Upon notice by the guest, we immediately stopped selling the affected room and have already brought in experts to professionally examine and clean the room as necessary."

Health inspector Clint Johnson validated Silverstein's story. He inspected her room after she reported the incident to the health department.

"I did see one bedbug - they are really hard to find. If you find one alive, you can assume there are more," Johnson said. "I've been on a couple complaints out there this year."

He said the critters are on the rise as Nashville draws more international travelers who may pick up bedbugs from outside the country.

"They can shrink down to the width of a piece of paper and slip through cracks," said Tom Dixon, general manager with Nashville-based US Pest Protection.

Johnson said he checks surrounding rooms if there is a heavy infestation. He did not find bedbugs after a second inspection in another room at the hotel, which was not adjacent to the one Silverstein stayed in.

Hot steam and a liquid treatment are part of the extermination process, but the pesky insects are skillful at hiding, especially the small, sticky eggs they can leave behind. "They can just lay there for long periods of time," Dixon said.

Problems arise when travelers claim to have bedbug bites just to get a free room, said Greg Adkins, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, which does not list the Brick Church Pike Howard Johnson as a member. Adkins said some Nashville hotels use specially trained dogs to sniff out the pests.

Last year, the health department received 67 bedbug complaints at hotels outside of regular inspections. Only 20 of those were declared valid, said Brent Hager, director of environmental services.

"We have to see a live (bug) for us to consider it valid," Johnson said.

Hotels can have their permits revoked if they do not comply with department treatment standards.

Silverstein said she'll choose a different hotel next time, but the incident won't affect her positive image of Music City. "This is a very nice place - I love the people here," she said.

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