Article in LA Times: bed bug press is good press, with a few reservations

by nobugsonme on January 29, 2007 · 11 comments

in bed bugs, california, new york, usa

A new bed bugs article in the LA Times today: nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s a fairly decent article with everything you expect: interviews with sufferers that convey the difficulty of dealing with this problem, quotes from entomologists about the scope and spread of bed bugs (I’m glad Dini Miller used the term “plague”!), and a run-down on bed bug attributes.

I had a few minor complaints. I didn’t like the fact that the author did not present this as a problem for Angelinos, or interview anyone from the local area. Although I know its sometimes hard to find people who will talk about bed bugs, I’m nevertheless annoyed that this article mostly pitches bed bugs as a NYC problem; it isn’t one. It’s a big problem around the world, in North America, and across the USA. While the author admits that “bedbugs aren’t confined to New York,” citing a Hollywood director who tried to get a NYC PCO to come and treat his mansion in Malibu, I think most readers see an article like this and extrapolate that it’s mostly a NYC problem–a common myth.

Daily statistics kept on the locations of people reading the blog indicate our readers are all over. Our last twenty visitors, the breakdown was as follows: 5 in NY, 2 in Massachusetts, 3 in the San Francisco Bay area, one each in Kansas City (Mo.) Wisconsin Rapids (Wi.), Winter Park (Fl.), Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C., Aberdeen and Nottingham (UK), Singapore, and Bogota (Columbia). The only thinig unusual about this is that there are usually more Canadians in the mix. Though many people may log in out of curiosity, we should assume that the bulk are afflicted or know people who are. This is not a NYC problem, nor is it simply a problem for only those who travel to NYC.By the way, most websites can track your location; you need not fear that we know who you are — the website can register only anonymous details like the locality of the internet provider used to read the site, and your operating system, for some reason: I’m glad we’re popular with Mac users! Nevertheless, the statistics say something about the scope of the bed bug epidemic.

The other slightly annoying point in the article was that the procedure of eradicating bed bugs is given as follows:

Mattresses get tossed. Ditto couches, chairs and rugs. Clothes are washed and bagged. Extermination and replacement costs in many households easily total $5,000 and often run much higher.

I realize that this is not so much a description of what people should do as what they often do, but I think it’s important to point out that the current advice most PCOs give is not to throw out furniture, mattresses, rugs, unless it’s impossible to treat them. In most cases, it’s safer to treat them than to move them and risk either spreading them around the building by taking the item out, or (from a public health standpoint) spreading them to neighbors, who according to plenty of anecdotal evidence, will often happily cart home even those items which are carefully marked “Warning, Bedbugs!” or even partially damaged to render them unattractive to curb shoppers.

Anyway, I don’t want to be too critical, but I think these are two important points people should remember. All in all, seeing more articles about bed bugs is a good thing.

Update: BoingBoing also covered bed bugs again today.  That may actually reach more people than a newspaper article.

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1 Bugalina January 29, 2007 at 9:55 pm

This article gets two and 1/2 stars..( out of 5) .It sends the message that bed bugs are a serious issue, financially, physically and emotionally. But is only skims the surface. It didn’t discuss the social stigma, and the stress that occurs because of it. It did not discuss the seriousness of the communicable nature of the bed bug. And it was very narrow cited in stating that NYC has a a Bed Bug problem…Stanford Univ. in Calif. had its freshman dorms evacuated, and San Francisco is the first City in the nation to have passed legislation for specific Bed Bug laws and guidelines….So its curious as to why this reporter seemed to think its only NYC…lets hope he does a follow up that goes into more depth..I would like to see media attention on the need to get Public Service Health announcments out….but if they did that, it would mean that they have acknowledged the scope of the problem….and they don’t want to do that….because they don’t want the economic chaos that will follow..just keep selling those “almost new ” mattresses on Van Dam St. in Long Island City, and on 8810 Queens Blvd…Bloombergs administration is turning a blind eye to this plague….he is well aware of it…but chooses to do nothing…..Bugalina

2 jessinchicago January 29, 2007 at 10:38 pm

I kind of like the article, Nobugs. Maybe that’s because I’m not from New York, and because I know that bedbugs are NOT just a New York epidemic. They’re everywhere.

I think I like it because I’m tired of bedbug victims being portrayed as complete lunatics, and I think the author does a good job of conveying the realities of bedbug infestations and the tolls those realities take on human lives. At least in the majority of the article, anyway.

I was happy to see that the article focuses on the universality of bedbugs- that they don’t care whether you’re filthy rich or just plain filthy, so long as you have blood pulsing through your veins.

And I am relieved to read these words from Bonnie Friedman, which ring so true:

“People in New York are used to cockroaches, where you have the exterminator come once but it doesn’t lay siege to your life. This does. Having them turns your life upside down.”

In fact, people EVERYWHERE are used to other kinds of bugs, from cockroaches to carpet beetles to earwigs to ants, all of which are eliminated with a simple spraying by Joe PCO. Not so with bedbugs, and it’s refreshing to see a reporter quote a sufferer so poignantly.

I like, particularly, that the author mentions the Hollywood director who begged the PCO to come from NY to California to treat his infestation. There is a distinct sense of urgency in that quote, one that captures what most of us feel when we realize that we have bedbugs. We want them out. Now. And we’ll pay the price, if we can.

Yes, there are some downsides to the article. I found the quotes from the Long Island sufferer to be examples of the extreme, at best. I’d venture to guess those quotes were taken out of context, but they do not help our cause, in any case. Fortunately, though, this author chooses not to focus on the extreme, as many of us are trying to live normal lives- and that should overshadow the rare cases of self-inflicted isolation and social withdrawal, if those cases exist at all.

I like it. I think the article is immature, in terms of information and scope, but it is a step in the right direction. It’s a hell of a leap from the Village Voice article, no?

Jess

3 nobugsonme January 29, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Hi Bugalina and Jess,

Jess–I agree it’s not a bad article! Those were just minor annoyances. You’re absolutely right about the range of sufferers being portrayed (actually, in this case, only the higher end of the economic range, but it’s a nice change).

Bugalina–to be fair, the author did not claim it was only a NYC problem–but I agree the Malibu director as an aside hardly represents the scope of the west coast problem.

4 Bugalina January 30, 2007 at 12:00 am

He did mention the Malibu director…but here is the title of the article-
Badgered by bedbugs: It’s hard to sleep tight in N.Y. – I think its hard to sleep tight in Calif. too, as a matter of fact I think one of our bloggers pinpointed their infestation to a hotel in Glendale Calif. . I am curious as to why he thinks its mainly a NY problem…it doesn’t matter…since I am a New Yorker this is where I will wage the public awareness war/campaign …Bugalina

5 nobugsonme January 30, 2007 at 12:19 am

No disagreement there, Bugalina.

6 buggedinbrooklyn January 30, 2007 at 11:38 am

I too like it for the same reasons Jess likes it.

buggedinbrooklyn

7 nobugsonme January 30, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Another thing: this is NOT something I’d expect this article to include, but it is crucial for anyone who is thinking about the scope of this issue to understand this: the LA Times article cites NYC’s 4600 comlaints in one year, but this really misrepresents the scope of this problem. According to the Village Voice Article last month, Pest Away (a NYC PCO) claims to get 100 bed bug calls per day, 85 of which are actual cases. Multiply 85 x 5 days a week x 52 weeks a year, and that one pest control operator is seeing 22,100 homes with bed bugs per year. And there are HUNDREDS of PCOs in the NYC area, most of whom treat bed bugs. The reason the city’s statistics are so woefully inaccurate is because they’re based on calls to 311 to report housing violations. But most tenants and all homeowners do NOT call 311 to report pests. They call their landlords or they call a pest control operator. The local government needs to keep a registry of infestations which isn’t tied to reports of housing violations, so we can see how this is spreading and where. For now, our mayor has his head in the sand.

Again, I don’t fault the article for not knowing about this, but we need to keep spreading the word on that every time we see the “4600-something in one year” statistic. (Which, amusingly, the city says is a gross overstatement, since most of the 4600 calls do not pan out to be actual cases.)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if Pest Away is truly getting 85 legit cases a day, then add their 22,100 per year to the hundred(s) of thousands more per year that PCOs in NYC must be seeing as a whole.

8 bugzinthehood January 30, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Yeah, the article was pretty mediocre but an interesting side note. I picked up on it on http://www.boingboing.net/, which is a website for the young, hip, technically minded and nouvelle culture cats. There are actually a couple of links to BB articles.

9 Bugalina January 30, 2007 at 6:59 pm

bugzinthehood…good to have you back…I thought maybe you fell into some cracks and crevices with a strong residual !!! Bugalina

10 nobugsonme January 30, 2007 at 9:26 pm

Hey bugz– I am glad to see you back. I noted the boingboing connection in the article above, when I found it last night, and you’re absolutely right, it’s a good thing they’re spreading the news.

11 jessinchicago January 30, 2007 at 10:15 pm

Bugzinthehood- I have missed your humor.

Good to see you!

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