The big bed bug news this week is that researchers have found that bed bugs have been around much longer than we thought.

We’ve previously been told that the earliest Cimicidae had bat hosts, and eventually moved on to parasitize humans living in caves. The new research has confirmed that bed bugs originated 100 million years ago, before bats or humans existed. The original host would have been some prehistoric animal.

Much of the research work (involving, among other things, digging around in bat guano in caves) would not appeal to the squeamish. But the researchers also considered other forms of evidence. According to the New York Times:

Insights about bedbugs emerged from other surprising sources, such as Hopi folklore. “They have quite a strong cultural heritage relating to bedbugs,” especially with one species that infests eagles and other birds, said Dr. [Klaus] Reinhardt [of Dresden University]. “The Hopi must have had a lot of contact with this bug, otherwise they wouldn’t have several stories about it.”

The team’s efforts, which began in 2002, have culminated in a sprawling Cimicidae family tree with roots deep in the Cretaceous period. Their data corroborate fossil evidence of a bedbug ancestor, Quasicimex eilapinastes, preserved in 100-million-year-old amber, which was first identified by Michael Engel, a University of Kansas entomologist, in 2008.

It matters how bed bugs have evolved because they’re going to continue evolving.

You can read the research study in the new issue of Current Biology.

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According to Gothamist, the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City has bed bugs— and has had them for over a month. (Gothamist’s story is worth viewing if only for the revival of their intergalactic bed bug warfare imagery which we can’t reproduce here.)

The New York Post’s source suggests the bed bugs were spotted in employee-only areas like a manager’s office, but also in a public area, in a roped off table:

One worker said the issue has been going on for “nearly a month” and “Friday was the first day they acknowledged they found something.”

The employee said the issue started about three to four weeks ago during the overnight hours at the 24-hour store, which frequently has homeless visitors, when a table on the second floor was “cordoned off” because a bed bug was found, believed to have come from one of the homeless visitors.

Everyone is quick to blame the easy target. I can’t believe that after so many years, this is still the level of discourse around bed bugs and who to blame for their appearance.

Sure, bed bugs can be a particularly persistent problem for some homeless folks, who -— once having made contact with bed bugs —- may have more trouble getting rid of them, depending on access to showers, laundry facilities, and other factors.

However, anyone could have brought bed bugs into the store —- employees, managers, tourists, people who live nearby in fancy buildings, hipsters, and so on. Bed bugs don’t target people of lower social standing. They are just easier to deal with when you have more money.

Which does raise questions about why the Apple Store —- run by a big multinational corporation —- would wait a month to address such an issue?

Glad to hear the problem is being addressed. If you had any doubts whether spring has sprung, the appearance of bed bugs in public places is a good sign the warm weather is once again hastening their spread.

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Two 911 dispatch centers in Jackson, Mississippi have been infested with bed bugs, according to Mississippi News Now:

(If a video does not load above, you can watch it on the MS News Now site.)

According to MS News Now,

The insects are in two dispatch locations and the city is trying to track down the source. “Our 911 operators shouldn’t have to work in this type of environment,” said Mississippi Alliance of State Employees President Brenda Scott. Jackson city officials confirm that bedbugs have infested the temporary 911 center located at the EOC basement [in the Eudora Welty Library] on State Street and the 911 center on Tombigbee Street, which is under renovation. Pictures of the insects were taken by a city employee inside in the Tombigbee Street location.

The article mentions that some employees are refusing to go to work until the problem is solved. That’s proving very tricky, however. According to WJTV 12 in Jackson:

“We sprayed at the EOC location. They went away. Then they came back,” Chief Vance said. He added that by the end of this week, they plan to move the workers from the EOC location, “We’re going to have to move the personnel back to the communication center. But prior to doing that, we’re going to spray the communication center before we move them back. And then we’re going to go back down and spray the EOC again once they’ve left.”

 

Bed bug, Cimex lectularius

Image credit: Bed bug, Cimex lectularius by AJC1, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

If employees have taken bed bugs home from work, they could be bringing them back in, so it’s important that any such problems are also identified and treated. Employees have been offered free home inspections by Terminex.

WJTV 12 also notes that one employee with bed bug bites has been home from work for three weeks and is on four different antibiotics.  It’s not clear what the treatment is for.  It’s possible for bed bug bites to become infected, but four different antibiotics seems unusual to me.  However, I am not a medical professional!  It would be good to know more about what the treatment is for.

I hope the city gets to the bottom of this problem soon. Workers in 911 dispatch centers do an important job and deserve to be comfortable and safe while at work.

(You can view the video on the WJTV 12 website.)

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Three Four Charleston, South Carolina firehouses have been infested with bed bugs– these include stations 7, 13 and 20 [as well as number 19 per the update below], as News 2 reports:

Due to employee concerns about the residual effects of the pesticides used, the department’s health and safety officer researched and located a mitigation effort that uses high heat to eradicate the pests. This effort was applied to Station 20 and a professional cleaning company was brought in to deep clean the station. Crews returned to Station 20 this week and a bug was located on Sunday. It has yet to be confirmed as a bedbug but the crew was relocated back to Station 18 as a precautionary measure.

Bedbugs were reported at Station 13 and then Station 7 this past week. A specially trained K-9 that detects bedbugs was brought in to search the buildings and “alerted” on a few of the mattresses and sofas at both stations. The items were removed from the station for disposal at Station 7 and some of the items were removed from Station 13. Crew concerns halted further furniture removal at Station 13 until the affected living areas can be treated.

There are some interesting points here.  First, we know that heat treatment is often not fully successful in eradicating bed bugs, and that many companies now back it up with dusts or residual chemical sprays, in order to kill any stragglers.

one of Charleston's firehouses

Image credit: Fire Department by Cliff Beckwith, Charleston Fire Department, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License

It’s also interesting that the companies are disposing of furniture from some firehouses, since heat treatment is often touted as a way to save furniture.

Another point worth highlighting is that k9 teams were used to inspect the firehouses — and as the article notes, the k9 teams will be checking every firehouse in the city.  Bed bug dogs can be very useful, but most experts we know think it’s important for handlers to verify alerts, and it’s not clear from the description whether this was the case here. (See our FAQ: Bed bug dogs: what you need to know for more on that). News 2 also highlighted how crews were being accommodated as their bed bug problem persists:

The crews from both stations [7 and 13] were relocated to two air-conditioned “Wester Shelters”, temporary structures frequently used by urban search and rescue teams and wildland fire teams for crew operations. The tents have been erected outside of Station 13 along with a portable shower and toilet facility to reduce the impact on emergency services coverage in the area. The interior kitchen space was isolated from the impacted living spaces based on recommendations from a professional pest control manager and the bedbug K-9 handler to provide the crews with access to essential laundry facilities, stove and refrigeration.

The article notes that crews were given information on how to avoid speeding the bed bugs to their homes.  Hopefully this was also something the crews were mindful of when moving from the affected firehouses to the unaffected locations (since Station 20 firefighters were lodging at unaffected Station 18, and those from Stations 7 and 13 were staying in tents).

You can also view  video on the News 2 Charleston, SC website.

Fox 24 in Charleston also has an interesting video here.

Update: it was announced today that another Charleston firehouse has now been found to have bed bugs– number 19.  According to WCSC,

In a statement sent out Thursday, The City of Charleston said a K9 found bed bugs on a couch at Station 19 on Bees Ferry Road after someone reported being bitten. Personnel there were relocated to Stations 12 and 16, both in West Ashley.

The article also noted that three more stations would be searched Friday, and that after consulting with Clemson University entomologist Dr. Eric Benson, bed bug mattress and box spring encasements and ClimbUp Interceptor bed bug monitors would now be employed by the fire department.

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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 at ABC News.

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.

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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…]

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Detroit

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.

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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.

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Detroit tenant watched alcohol-sprayed floor ignite

November 5, 2015

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 […]

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Bed bug treatment with smoke bomb destroys building in 3-alarm fire

November 5, 2015

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, […]

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Bed bugs discovered at Saratoga Springs city hall

November 2, 2015

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 […]

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Jury awards $100K in Red Roof Inn bed bug lawsuit

September 23, 2015

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 […]

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