- One of the Navy’s most powerful attack submarines has been battling a bed bug infestation.
- USS Connecticut sailors have been dealing with this since at least December, possibly longer.
- The Navy says it responded quickly and effectively, but some sailors have said help came too late.
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Sailors aboard Seawolf-class submarine USS Connecticut, one of the US Navy’s most capable attack submarines, have been battling an bed bug infestation.
Naval Submarine Force Pacific told Insider that the Navy launched efforts to find and eliminate the difficult-to-kill bed bugs after the problem was first reported last December, explaining that the “physical presence of bed bugs” was found in February.
Sailors told Navy Times, which first reported the infestation, that the problem actually started last March while the submarine was participating in an Arctic training event. Family members of Connecticut sailors told the Kitsap Sun that the infestation has been an issue for about a year.
“People were getting eaten alive in their racks,” a petty officer assigned to the submarine told Navy Times. The sailor added that the situation got so bad sailors were sleeping in chairs or on the floor in the mess.
A sailor told Navy Times the outbreak negatively affected people’s sleep, a problem for sailors with a stressful job. “If someone’s sleep deprived because they’re in the rack getting eaten alive by bed bugs, he could fall asleep at (the controls) and run us into an underwater mountain,” the sailor said.
When the submarine returned to port, some sailors took to sleeping in cars to avoid their racks, the Kitsap Sun reported.
Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown, blood-sucking insects that burrow into beds and other furniture, and they are exceptionally resilient. The bugs feed at night, often biting any exposed skin while people asleep. They do not fly but instead crawl quickly across floors, ceilings, and walls.
The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center says that “immediate action should be taken if an infestation is discovered.”
Sailors told Navy Times that when they first raised concerns about bed bugs aboard the Connecticut, the command dismissed them because they “didn’t have proof.”
“Navy criteria for treating submarines or ships requires physical presence of bed bugs to establish existence,” Navy Submarine Force Pacific spokeswoman Cmdr. Cynthia Fields told Insider.
She said that multiple inspections of the submarine after reports of possible bed bugs came in last December produce “no evidence of bed bugs.” Even then, “the command continued to pursue resolution,” Fields said, adding that “the Navy takes the safety and health of Sailors very seriously.”
The spokeswoman told Insider that “daily inspections have occurred since the initial discovery of the insects” last month. “All berthing on board was searched, to include removing all bedding and thoroughly inspecting all mattress seams and folds.”
“All linens and privacy curtains were laundered or replaced to destroy the insects,” Fields said, explaining that bed bugs cannot survive the high temperatures of standard clothes dryers.
Mattresses in the affected areas were replaced, all clothes were laundered, and affected areas were thoroughly cleaned.
She said that the response to the infestation was overseen by Navy Preventative Medicine technicians and Navy entomologists, who directed the application of “deadly countermeasures.”
Fields said that pesticide was applied twice after an initial application of diatomaceous dust. The entomologists then took steps to seal off areas where the bugs might escape the pesticide before putting down more diatomaceous dust to draw out any remaining bed bugs.
During the extensive treatment process, living areas were set up pierside at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton for Connecticut sailors. Navy entomologists have since recommended that sailors return to their racks.
“All appropriate countermeasures have been taken with plans firmly in place to address further breakouts underway if they occur,” Fields said.
The Kitsap Sun, however, reported that the bed bugs have not yet been completely eradicated. Connecticut sailors told the Navy Times that they were being forced back into their racks, claiming that the command is “using us as live bait…to see if (the bed bugs) are still there.”
At least one sailor characterized the command response to the infestation as “employee abuse.”
The Navy did not answer Insider’s question of whether or not it will investigate allegations that the command reacted improperly to sailor concerns about an infestation aboard the Connecticut.
The service did say, though, that Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit personnel, Preventative Medicine Technicians, and the ship’s corpsman “addressed crew concerns” and repeated that “the Navy takes the safety and health of Sailors very seriously.”