Most international press about bed bugs reports on local infestations. But this article in Dubai’s Khaleej Times reports on NYC’s bed bug problems (and includes quotations from Lou Sorkin of the AMNH).
A few interesting points:
1/ The article implies that NYC’s bedbug epidemic started in Queens and Brooklyn and spread to Manhattan. While this is certainly plausible, and the NY Times recently published graphics showing Astoria and Greenpoint / Williamsburg among the neighborhoods with early infestations, I don’t think there’s been any proof that they spread in this manner, or that the point of entry, if that’s the right phrase, was Queens or Brooklyn.
2/ The article also talks mostly about residential problems, highlighting the personal stories of a French teacher and a book publicist, both women. The article only mentioned in passing that the bedbugs are also infesting hotels; this is strange, since you’d think that readers of an English-medium newspaper in Dubai might be most concerned about encountering the bed bugs on visits to the city.
3/ Neill Coleman, a NYC housing dept. spokesman, is quoted as downplaying the significance of the epidemic, citing the number of heat and hot water complaints (implying a comparison to the number of 311 calls to report bed bugs).
The number of bedbug complaints has mushroomed, according to city authorities. Between June 2005 and June 2006, the city received 4,638 complaints, compared to 1,839 the previous year.
To stem the tide, local authorities are considering a possible ban on the sale of used mattresses.
“It’s a concern. Bedbugs are certainly a challenge because they are quite difficult to get rid of, and they seem to capture people’s attention, that’s for sure,” said Neill Coleman, spokesman for the city’s department of housing preservation and development.
But he said it was important not to overstate the problem. “To put it in context, in 2006 there were almost 250,000 complaints about heat and hot water,” Coleman said.
I sound like a broken record here, but almost no one calls 311 about a household pest; most call their landlords. Calling 311 amounts to a housing complaint and most of us don’t want to file a report on our landlords, thus antagonizing them, when we can simply ask them to call an exterminator. On the other hand, if your heat or hot water are off, your landlord is clearly negligent. These are problems they are probably aware of, and which you need some city pressure to solve, fast. Bed bugs, on the other hand, in most cases come to a landlord’s attention only when reported to them by tenants.
I fear that we are soon going to find that this bug has spread beyond the point of being controlled, and part of the reason for this will be that the city is in total denial about the scope of the problem. We need a city-wide bed bug registry that is not tied to housing complaints; one where people can record the existence of the problem without filing a complaint against a landlord. After all, bed bugs are not usually caused by landlord’s negligence. We should be able to register the existence of the problem even in cases where the landlord is trying to treat it swiftly and as efficiently as they can.
Banning the sale of used mattresses, furthermore, is a good idea. But the city needs to go much further. Neither of the women in the article appear to have their bedbug problem from a used mattress (one got it from a secondhand table; should we regulate the antiques industry, perhaps?) And while we can’t generalize from two instances, talking to lots of bed bug sufferers tells me most did not. The bug easily travels on any manner of fabric and wood items, in books and papers, in suitcases, and from neighbors along pipes and through cracks in the floor. Banning used mattresses is not going to solve the problem.
I was very interested to see an international perspective on this local problem. I am also intrigued that Dubai doesn’t have bed bugs yet (at least this is implied by the article, if not directly stated). It might be nice to have bed bugs in the desert. Wouldn’t you simply have to turn off the a/c for a week to get rid of them?