Sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam veteran Karl Epperson thought his fighting days were done, but for the past three months he has been in the heat of battle, a battle with bedbugs.
"You can't sleep because they come up in the bed with you," said Epperson.
A short-sleeved shirt revealed raspberry-sized bug bites that spotted his arms.
Epperson has lived in the privately owned Overlook Apartments in the Westside for nearly a decade, but contemplates moving because of the creepy crawlers.
Overlook management officials could not be reached for comment.
At least a dozen bedbug infestations in Chattanooga hotels and public places have been reported to the Hamilton County Health Department within the past two years, said Bonnie Deakins, director of environmental health.
The Health Department gives hotels with infestations 10 days to get rid of them and the hotel has to close the infested room until they do.
Bedbugs don't carry disease, Deakins said, but they are hard to exterminate. The problem is getting to them. They're in the cracks of the walls, inside the mattress and in the bed, said Deakins.
"It's been a big problem within the past eight years or so," she said. "For years we didn't see them but apparently they've become resistant to the pesticides."
Epperson said that Overlook Apartment officials called an exterminating company for his unit but that they didn't eliminate the pests. There are scuff marks on his wall from where he has tried to kill some with bug spray and a fly swatter.
Epperson estimates that at least 10 apartments in the 162-unit complex have been infested with bedbugs. One resident who lives near him had to throw out all of her furniture, he said.
It's an expensive problem, said Epperson.
He has a limited income but spent more than $200 because of bedbugs. He spent $100 just on laundry and dry cleaning alone, he said.
Epperson said his bedbugs are not a result of being unclean. A housekeeper cleans his apartment for him. The problem is when one unit gets bedbugs, management only treats that unit. That allows the bedbugs to move to the next apartment, he said. Epperson wants several apartments to be treated at the same time.
But treating bedbugs is costly, said Adam Vannest, director of training and technical services at Jody Millard Pest Control.
Vannest advises public awareness to prevent bedbugs from spreading. When possible, encase mattresses, box springs and pillows. And check box spring seams for bedbugs or brownish-red spotting before moving into a new apartment, he suggested.
Epperson said he has complained to his management and to the City Council about bedbugs in his apartment but has had no resolution.
"The stress of it," he said. "Right now I'm having chest pains. You're afraid to lay down and sleep."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-6431.