Were they lice?  Or bed bugs?

The pests a Chicago CTA  rider encountered on the train and brought home this week were lice, not bed bugs, yet the media seems reluctant to confirm the ID before running their reports.

An ABC 7 Chicago headline last night announced “Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train”:

A train car was pulled from service after a passenger claimed they spotted bedbugs on the train. He then posted his experience on the social media site Reddit. The photos went viral.

You can view the Reddit story here.

ABC 7 also notes,

The passenger wrote online that he saw the bugs Monday morning on a southbound Red Line train as it traveled near the Belmont stop. He said he saw dozens of tiny insects – possibly bed bugs or lice – crawling on the row of seats where he was sitting.

Some ended up in the passenger’s clothes and home.

You can watch the full video here:

What’s frustrating about this story is that while the Reddit user may have been initially unsure about the type of pest found (and in fact, the Reddit user reported the urgent care doctor misidentified these as  bed bugs), there’s no reason the news media can’t confirm the ID before running such a story.

The pictures of the pest posted by the Reddit user clearly show lice, not bed bugs. Here’s a screenshot of the ABC 7 story showing one of the lice:

Screenshot of lice from ABC 7 Chicago "Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train"

Screenshot of louse from ABC 7 “Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train”

Why not confirm whether it’s bed bugs before you report it?

It’s not just ABC that ran with the incorrect bed bug ID. The Chicago Tribune, and Time Out Chicago are just a few of many examples. Chicagoist is sticking with the headline “Bugs Found on CTA Train Could Be Lice, Bed Bugs,” even after they consulted with entomologist (and friend to Bedbugger) Lou Sorkin, who confirmed they are body lice (as others also did in the Reddit thread).

There’s no “could be bed bugs” here at all.  So why so many hesitant headlines?

Now, let me be clear, it’s not okay for there to be lice on public transportation either. However, there is no reason for the news media to misreport such a story.

An image like this would be identified in minutes on our active user forums, even by non-experts like myself. ABC has access to a city’s worth as well as an internet full of entomologists (like Lou) who are capable of providing an expert ID for them.

Checking with experts is best if you’re in the news media and you don’t know what bed bugs look like. Remember the famous series of bed bug reports illustrated with a shield bug in 2010? I guess we haven’t come very far since then.

The media are misreporting this story left and right.  We can only conclude that, “bed bugs on a train!” is more sensational and sells more papers/gets more clicks than “lice on a train”.

Why does this matter?

It’s a shame to see misinformation circulated in the media, because the more people can identify what’s bugging them, the better off we will all be.  After years of looking at photos on the Bedbugger forums, I feel much more able to identify bugs, mites and spiders I encounter.  I may still seek an expert opinion, but I have some basic knowledge.

If you stay in hotels, do any kind of traveling, have kids, or work in a school, or ever leave your home at all, being able to identify bed bugs and lice are important life skills.  Being able do identify these pests means you can you help avoid exposure and bringing them home.  It also means you won’t lose sleep worrying about something you saw which isn’t actually a bed bug or a louse.

What do you think? Does the media have a responsibility to help educate people and stop spreading misinformation? Share your thoughts below.


Flag at Metsch Station

According to Yahoo! News, some Swiss Army recruits are battling a valiant foe: bed bugs in infantry training school dormitories:

The defense department said Monday that a parents’ day event planned for July 16 is being cancelled because bedbugs have appeared in dormitories and fabrics used by three companies at an infantry training school in several parts of French-speaking Switzerland.

It said no one’s health was in danger but “several recruits had bites typical of bedbugs.”

(Remember, though, that you can’t diagnose bed bugs from skin reactions, because they don’t look different from skin reactions caused by other pests and non-pest causes. [click to continue…]



Another person has set their apartment building on fire in response to bed bugs.  And this time, he was badly hurt.

According to Man trying to destroy bedbugs sets apartment ablaze in the Detroit Free Press, on Sunday at 4:30 am, a man in Detroit’s St. Antoine Gardens apartment complex (near Wayne State University) doused his couch and body with alcohol.

But then, while sitting on the alcohol-doused couch, the man lit a cigarette and also tried to set one of the bedbugs on fire, Austin said. That caused the couch to catch aflame, along with the man’s body.

Within minutes, Phyllis Waller heard shouts from her room just down the hall, on the building’s eighth floor. When she looked through the peephole, the smoke was so thick that she couldn’t see the door across the hall. She said she escaped by crawling to the stairwell.

The man who started the fire escaped as well, but his burns were severe. When resident Johanahn Larsosa saw him in the lobby, the skin on his arms seemed to be falling off. While they waited for help to arrive, the man got to his knees and asked Larsosa to pray with him.

This is a horrible situation.  The man who started the fire has severe burns, four apartments were destroyed, and a dozen were damaged by water, according to the article.

There’s always someone who responds to such a situation with a comment on the victim’s poor choices — using alcohol to spray his person and the sofa, lighting a cigarette to top it off.  Clearly, one might say, he is not thinking.

However, keep in mind this man has had bed bug treatments for four months, and has been treated weekly during this time.  Eight treatments spaced 2 weeks apart is a sure sign the problem is not being handled thoroughly by management.  The article also mentions that a 5th floor resident claims his floor has seven apartments with bed bugs.

Keep in mind that some people become very stressed and anxious (as opposed to just stressed and anxious) when dealing with bed bugs.  Add the fact that it is 4:30 am and you may be dealing with someone who is very tired and upset, and desperate.  We can’t know if there were other factors (mental illness, drugs, drinking alcohol, etc.)

We do know that desperate people do desperate things.

I hope this man recovers and I hope his neighbors get thorough bed bug treatment, and soon.

As for the DIYers reading this: 91% isopropyl alcohol is often touted as an effective contact killer for bed bugs.  However, it should be used only sparingly if at all.  It’s flammable and the fumes are probably not great for you either.

Alcohol shouldn’t be used if you smoke or light candles, obviously, and should never be sprayed on people (which isn’t a way to treat bed bugs anyway).  But remember fires can also be started by sparking outlets or electronics, something that happens sometimes — and if it happens when you’ve treated with alcohol, it’s very dangerous.

Please be careful out there and consider safer options, like killing bed bugs with steam, where possible.

Image: public domain.


An anonymous reader, let’s call her “Fiona,” asks via our contact form,

“I’m trying to find reliable information about buying secondhand teak furniture [online] and how concerned I should be about bedbugs, which precautions should I take (if any), etc. I’m specifically thinking of a teak coffee table (not too many places to hide, etc., but I know very little about bed bugs). Anyway, I’m not sure if you’re willing to do this, but I would love to hear your opinion on this. And if there are any steps you’d take in treating the furniture or whether it sounds like I should avoid buying it entirely.

“Many thanks for your time with this…”

Not being an expert myself, I asked some of the experts known to our Bedbugger forum users for their advice.

I consulted with some of our experts and got the following helpful responses:

David Cain, of Bed Bugs Ltd. suggests that,

It is actually safer to check and buy a secondhand piece of furniture than it is to assume that the new store-bought stuff is ‘going to be bedbug free because it’s new’– we all know a few stories of how that false sense of security has panned out for a few.

Therefore once the table has been picked it needs to be checked before the transaction is complete.  The easiest way to do this is as follows:

  • Start off in a well-lit environment and supplement that light with a bright flashlight, the LED types with the “bluer” light are best, the “yellow/orange” bulbs should be avoided.
  • Make sure you have access to example images to compare and contrast, use a magnifying loupe if needed or better still a microscope attachment for your phone.
  • Inspect all the cracks and crevices looking for:
    • Live samples
    • Cast skins
    • Faecal traces
  • If you find anything, take pictures, document and if needed confirm suspect marks with Bed Bug Blue* as it’s more accurate than visual confirmation alone.
  • Teak stain will be more translucent than faecal and is less likely to have a physically detectable relief when a finger is run over it.
  • Once you are happy it’s checked and clear then it’s time to start transporting to your own property. If the item is delivered to the home, check it before bringing it inside.

In most parts of the world it is illegal to sell/transact an infested item, and as such “it’s got bed bugs; here is the proof” is an acceptable reason to break the contract for the sale.

Now here is the flip side of this.  Aside from beds any item that does actually have bedbugs which is brought into the home will not usually remain as the nexus of the infestation for more than a few feeding cycles.  Therefore there is a viable logic that says: Inspecting items that come into your home is not as critical as having your home correctly set up to detect and eradicate.

After all this is a simple extension to the reality of a [detection] system protected hotel, the introduction method is less critical than the detection onsite.

Another expert, Paul Bello of PJB Pest Management Consulting offers the following advice for Fiona and others contemplating a used furniture purchase:

  • Do not bring any furniture items into your home or vehicle without conducting a thorough inspection thereof first.
  • Depending upon the individual item, the quantity of potential hiding places may vary from a relative few to many. Of course, the more there are the more time and possibly more difficult it would be to inspect. However, you still must be thorough.
  • In the event that you suspect the presence of bed bugs and/or eggs the following methodologies may be utilized to remediate/eliminate the bed bug threat:
    • Do not bring any suspect items into your home or vehicle, ever!!!
    • Conduct a thorough inspection of any such items.
    • If bed bugs and/or eggs are found, treat to kill bed bugs using steam, heat, vacuum, contact insecticides, combination method and/or prolonged isolation/storage of the item as needed.

Paul suggests the following treatment options:

  • Heat – heat may be used to treat the item in a variety of ways. Heat may be applied in a heat chamber** or by heat generating device.
  • Steam – steam kills bed bugs and eggs on contact. Steam*** may be applied using a suitable steam generating device.
  • Vacuum – bed bugs may be removed via vacuuming however, it may be possible for some bed bugs and eggs to elude removal by vacuum if hidden in inaccessible locations.
  • Contact insecticides – insecticides may be applied to potential bed bug hiding places such that any bed bugs and/or eggs which may be hidden in such areas are killed.
  • Pest strips**** – pest strips may be used to treat the furniture item in a sealed treatment space where the vapors from the strip will be contained therein to kill the bed bugs.
  • Combination – use of a combination of the above methods.
  • Isolation – the furniture item may be wrapped and/or sealed and stored for a prolonged period of time such that any bed bugs present will die of starvation.
  • Hire a Professional – hire a professional to treat your furniture item prior to taking possession of it.

Paul notes that “Whichever methodology you decide is best for you, you will be best served to be thorough and conservative in your approach such that you avoid ‘purchasing’ a bed bug problem due to used furniture.”

So the big takeaway here is: inspect secondhand furniture before it comes into the home, and treat if needed. And don’t assume new items are never a problem– inspect those too if possible.

Many thanks to David and Paul for their helpful responses and to Fiona for asking this question!

Some products and product types referenced above:

*David references Bed Bug Blue, a test for bed bug feces.  You can read more about Bed Bug Blue, and presumptive blood tests which may also be helpful, in our useful tools page.

**Paul references heat chambers.  Some PCOs have such chambers. You can read about various consumer-oriented products which heat items to kill bed bugs in the useful tools page– one of which, the Zappbugg Room, is actually large enough to contain larger pieces of used furniture such as a table.

***Paul references steam; you can read our FAQ about killing bed bugs with steam or view dry vapor steamers in our useful tools page.

****Paul references pest strips, available in the US under the brand name Nuvan (outside NY and CT) or Hot Shot (in NY and CT and elsewhere). You can read about DDVP pest strips in our useful tools page.

Disclosure: Bedbugger runs affiliate ads for the products above (among others) and if you shop through the links in Useful Tools or the banner ads, it helps support the continued running of this site at no additional cost to you.  More details in our disclosure policy.


This is an update from our story last night on the bed bug treatment-related fire in Detroit.

The tenant who accidentally started the fire in Detroit on Tuesday has now spoken to journalists, offering a heartbreaking apology for her actions:

According to Fox 2 News, the tenant had bed bugs for a whole year, and desperation when the bed bug problem persisted after professionals treated the home led her to take matters into her own hands:

“They had sent exterminators over, but it didn’t work, and these things just kept at me, they just kept at me,” she says. “I went in there with clear skin, now my skin is all bitten up and looking like leather. I just want to get rid of these bed bug tormentors.”

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, says she killed some of the bedbugs a few weeks ago by turning up the heat in her west side apartment, which is near Outer Drive and Rouge Park. So, she says she did the same Tuesday and doused her floors with alcohol, which is often used to kill bedbugs. But, she also had her oven on and she did not know the fumes are flammable.

“When I was standing in the front room, the whole floor just ignited. The whole floor just ignited! I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher,” she says.

As we noted in our previous post, Fox 2 reported yesterday that officials had confirmed the fire was started after the tenant used a smoke bomb and then tried to put it out with a pillow.

It’s not clear from this report whether that is correct, but the tenant here reports that a floor sprayed with alcohol ignited from the lit oven.

Alcohol is a contact killer for bed bugs but is highly flammable and if used at all, should be used with great caution.

This is a tragic situation and the woman’s story of living with bed bugs for a year makes the desperate nature of her actions more understandable.

Her phone call on the news report is quite heartbreaking. I really hope she can forgive herself and move on.

No one should be in the position of living with bed bugs for so long. This story highlights the need both for education about how to kill bed bugs safely, what to expect during treatment, and how to resolve bed bug problems in apartment buildings.

If bed bug treatments fail, there will be reasons why (which might include attached neighbors with untreated infestations, or the methods being used, among other things).

If you are in this situation, there are safer options. Ask landlord to provide more treatment, and ask if they have professionally inspected attached units.

Don’t assume treatments can’t work. In this case, it isn’t clear whether the tenant had given up on professional treatments too soon, whether the landlord stopped providing them, or what other factors were involved.

Self-treatment can be done if professional treatment truly isn’t an option, but you need to educate yourself about safe and effective methods.

If you must self-treat, seek out good information from sources like the Comprehensive Guides to Bed Bugs and Treatment in our resources page, which offer treatment advice.

Above all else, please be careful.

Alcohol is flammable, smoke bombs and other bug bombs and foggers have their own dangers and don’t work well on bed bugs anyway, and heating your home to treat bed bugs isn’t a do it yourself job and can be dangerous.


A Detroit apartment building burned for five hours in a 3-alarm fire and five people were injured due to a tenant’s attempt to treat bed bugs with a smoke bomb (which the tenant then attempted to put out with a pillow, causing the fire), according to Fox News Detroit.

According to the Fox News report,

A fire raged for hours injuring five including three firefighters. One suffered burns to the face, another burns to an ear, after the roof collapsed on them. All three firefighters are home from the hospital, expected to recover.

Investigators have confirmed that a tenant set off a smoke bomb in an attempt to kill bed bugs then tried to smother it with a pillow.

Two dozen families have been displaced in this incident.

Ironically, the fire appears to have been going at the very same time Gwen Pearson published an article in Wired reminding everyone of the stupidity of killing bed bugs with fire.

Sure, this tenant wasn’t trying to kill bed bugs with fire (as officials originally thought was the case), but fire is how the attempt ended.

Unfortunately, this bed bug treatment attempt was likely doomed to fail even if the product was used according to label instructions — experts tell us bug bombs are not effective for killing bed bugs. It’s understandable that consumers would think they are effective, since at least one bug bomb or fogger product (Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Fogger) is labeled specifically for that purpose.

So I ask you again, “Why are bug bombs and foggers still being sold to treat bed bugs?”

This practice should be ended immediately.

Update (11/5):

Here’s an update to this story. The tenant tells her story, offers an apology, and describes watching her alcohol-sprayed floor go up in flames.


Bed bugs have apparently been hanging out at City Hall in Saratoga Springs, New York. Some local politicians are using them in a mudslinging match as the local election season heats up.

According to The Saratogian News on Friday,

… the issue of bedbugs was hurled at incumbent Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco by his challenger, Bill McTygue.

McTygue sent out a press release Oct. 29 to alert the public to the presence of bedbugs in City Hall, alleging that Scirocco had swept the problem under the rug for several months and had failed to tell the public.

“It is most troubling that the commissioner of public works has known for more than five months, since spring, about the infestation of sewer flies in City Hall,” McTygue wrote. “He sat on this information until recently when it was discovered that City Hall is also infested by bedbugs. Numerous ‘hot spots,’ including the City Council meeting chambers, have been discovered by the local exterminating company Ehrlich Pest Control.”

While there was apparently a fly issue for five months, Scirocco tells the Saratogian that the bed bugs were only a known issue since October 26.

On the other hand, The Albany Times-Union cites comments from Scirocco suggesting that the problem may be extensive:

The bedbugs were found “all over,” but there was no infestation, Scirocco said in a phone interview. “If we didn’t do anything about it, it would have been much worse,” he said. Scirocco, a Republican, slammed McTygue, a Democrat who is challenging him in next Tuesday’s election, as “desperate” for making the bedbugs an issue.

[Emphasis mine.]

Now the building is getting some kind of heat related treatment. I assume the pest control company has ruled out closely-related species bat bugs, since according to the Albany Times-Union, City Hall also has a history of bats.

I am not sure what Scirocco means by saying bed bugs were found “all over” but it doesn’t sound like a small problem if that is accurate.

And, by the way, how many bed bugs in how many places constitutes an “infestation”?

For those concerned they’re at risk, education is important, but panic is not warranted or helpful.

Remember that you can be exposed to bed bugs in lots of kinds of public places, but even if a place has some bed bugs, everyone who enters won’t be exposed, let alone bring them home. The danger increases if more bed bugs are present, and if you’re where the bed bugs are in the building.

Anyone in Saratoga Springs who is concerned about exposure should learn what bed bugs and their signs look like, and then either learn to inspect their home, or hire a professional to do a careful inspection for signs of bed bugs.


A woman has been awarded $100,000 in a bed bug lawsuit she filed after allegedly encountering the bugs in a Maryland Red Roof Inn, according to the Washington Post:

Stacey Belle, of Winston Salem, N.C., said she stayed for one night in January 2014 at one of the chain’s hotels in the 6100 block of Oxon Hill Road. She woke up itching. When she turned on her lights, she saw welts covering her arms and hands, lifted her pillow and found bedbugs crawling.

“She was completely disgusted,” said her lawyer Daniel Whitney, of Towson.

In the lawsuit, Belle claimed that the Oxon Hill motel had previously found bedbugs in guest rooms and treated infestations. But the hotel did not check that Belle’s room was free of bedbugs before it rented it out to her, the lawsuit claimed.

The Post also notes that Belle’s lawyer — Towson, Maryland attorney Daniel Whitney, who has filed many cases related to bed bugs — has become known as the “bed bug attorney”.

We’ve mentioned some of his previous bed bug lawsuit wins — in 2013 for a Maryland tenant who lived with bed bugs for eight months while her landlord allegedly mishandled the situation, in 2011 for a tenant whose landlord allegedly waited 48 days before treating her apartment for bed bugs, and in 2012 for a mother who allegedly bought bed frames which gave her family bed bugs.

I’m not a big fan of the litigious culture we have in the US. However, bed bug lawsuits are useful if they can change the ways hotels (landlords, furniture sales and rental places, etc.) deal with bed bugs. And that could help everyone.

You can read about more bed bug lawsuits here.


Craigslist warns of bed bugs in Pawtucket curbside freebies

August 6, 2015

It’s not unusual to see “curb alerts” on Craigslist, where a poster lets others know of something laying on the curbside to be freecycled. However, today we have a Craigslist poster warning others not to take the items outside a particular address in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which the poster claims has bed bugs: The ad […]

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Bed bugs in hotels? What two Wisconsin Dells visitors did

July 19, 2015

Since summer is a big time for bed bugs (which multiply more quickly in the warmer months), you may be wondering what you should do if you encounter bed bugs in hotels. Two coaches for a high school dance team traveling to the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells in Wikipedia) for a dance camp recently encountered […]

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Bed bugs in Memphis HUD housing

May 31, 2015

Residents of a housing complex in Memphis for elderly and disabled people are dealing with what sounds like a serious bed bug problem, as LocalMemphis.com reports: (You can also view the video on the Local Memphis website if it doesn’t load here.) First, this sounds like a bed bug problem which has been growing for […]

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Bed bug death match film from Paul Bello

May 27, 2015

People who are dealing with bed bugs sometimes find this stuff encouraging, and maybe you will too. Bedbugger Forums participant and pest management professional Paul Bello (credited as P.J. Bello) and an accomplice (N.P. Bello) re-enact an ancient Roman-style Christian vs. Lion death match with the lion played by a jumping spider (Salticidae) on Wikipedia, […]

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