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Bed bugs invade University of Washington library

A University of Washington official says employees found bed bugs in some returned library books. (AP Photo)

Talk about a scary book coming to life. A University of Washington official says employees found bed bugs in some returned library books.

Word of the creepy crawlers comes in a new report from The New York Times, which says it’s a growing problem across the country.

Stephanie Lamson, head of preservation services at the UW, says she gave the bugs the cold shoulder, putting the books in a plastic bag in a freezer for a week at the natural history museum. Employees checked the books for bugs after the week at minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, then put them back in the freezer for another week just to make sure they were pest free.

Lamson says she went with cold because heat speeds a book’s aging.

The Times story has sparked plenty of attention and concern, suggesting it’s a widespread problem nationwide. It says people might want to think twice about reading library books in bed because the bugs and their eggs can hide in the spines of hardcover books then crawl out at night to eat. It also says some people have stopped checking out books altogether.

The head of the King County Library System tells the Seattle Times he hasn’t heard of any bed bugs in their books, but exterminators the system uses are on alert just in case.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle Public library says there haven’t been any reports of bed bugs in their books either.

While the New York Times calls it an epidemic, other reports are raising some serious doubts. The Reluctant Habits blog says the report is misleading. It says many libraries have taken preventative measures because of recent media stories, not an actual infestation.

“The odds of you picking up a bed bug from a book in a library are so low that it’s not even worth talking about,” said Michael Potter a professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

In fact, a recent study finds the threat of bed bugs in libraries is far lower than hotels, college dorms, movie theaters and other public places.

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