A bed bug report from one weekend moviegoer at Independence's AMC 20 Theater might have creeped out plenty of people on social media, but local health officials already have investigated and closed the case after the theater was treated.
Bed bug bites can surely be annoying and lead to scratching, Independence Health Department Director Andrew Warlen said, but the bugs themselves rarely carry diseases, so the biggest health risk is an infected wound from scratching too much.
The tiny parasitic insects are expert hiders and tend to be found in or near areas where people sleep, and while they can feed on dog or cat blood, “Human blood is their preferred meal,” Warlen said. “They're attracted to the carbon dioxide you're putting off.”
In a Facebook post that went viral, a woman who went to the movie theater at the Independence Commons said she felt a bite on her lower back about halfway through the film. She and her husband found at least one bug and notified management, who blocked off that row of seats and gave the woman some free movie passes.
The woman posted pictures of her bite mark and a bug.
By the time she filed a complaint with the health department, they had seen the post, and AMC personnel had taken steps to eradicate any critters that remained, based on the complaint.
“They were already aware of it and closed down,” Warlen said Tuesday of his department's investigation. “They already had pest control out there and were doing a steam treatment on the seats. They were doing what we would have advised them to do.
“To my knowledge they did not observe any (more) bed bugs, and neither did we.”
Warlen said the particular theater of complaint had cloth seats – as opposed to leather at some of the other theaters at AMC – but that might not make much difference regarding the likelihood of bed bugs.
“Leather's not porous, but there's still crevices,” he said. “(Leather) certainly makes them easier to notice.”
Warlen said it's not the first time the department has fielded a bed bug complaint from a moviegoer, and over the past few years it has received about five to 10 bed bug complaints citywide per year – not just from movie theaters. Only once last year and once this year has a health department official found bed bugs during any inspection in the city without that specific prior complaint.
If someone makes a bed bug complaint, Warlen still encourages them to pay a visit to the health department for verification purposes.
“We need to have that contact face to face, to make sure it's legit,” he said.
As for how the bed bugs got in the theater in the first place, Warlen said it's quite possible a moviegoer carried them in – without their knowledge, of course.
“That's typically how they would get there in the first place,” he said. “It's possible they could have colonized there, but they don't have a natural habitat, they live around people.
“It's like head lice – they don't just magically appear.”
AMC officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.