According to the clustermap, we have a number of readers in Australia. And in neighboring Aotearoa/New Zealand too–in fact, I’m a bit worried about New Zealand–a few more of those red dots on the clustermap, and the island is going to disappear from the map like the much smaller island group of Hawai’i has, under the weight of too many dots. I have a hunch (based on stuff I’ve found on the internet) that bed bugs hit Sydney and were being talked about there well before anyone was saying anything in the press about them in New York City.
I have the same hunch about Toronto and Vancouver. In 2003, when NYC claimed to have 16 bed bug violations (as per this 2005 NYTimes article) and the local and national press was still reporting bed bugs as a bizarre anomaly suffered by mattress-foraging Greenpoint hipsters, , the Canadian media outlets were writing much more about bed bugs. More to the point, Toronto was already surveying the incidence of bed bug infestations, of which PCOs treated 847 that year in that city; a whopping 70% were in single-family dwellings. (The study notes that Toronto Public Health, in contrast, had only 46 complaints by comparison: this is why I keep insisting that NYC is likely to have many more than the recorded number of complaints filed to 311.)
The US CDC published the Toronto study on their website, but to my knowledge no similar survey of the incidence of bed bugs as reported by PCOs in a US city in one year has been undertaken. But if this were done now in NYC, as I argue it should be, Mayor Bloomberg would have to admit we have a very serious bed bug problem here, indeed. (Denial ain’t just a river in Africa.)
As far as Australia goes, This article from The Age, an esteemed Australian news outlet, speculates about the origins of the Aussie bed bug epidemic, and dates it to the 2000 Sydney Olympic games, when people from all over the world descended on Sydney. The article states that
. . . Australia is in the grips of a bedbug resurgence. There was a 5000 per cent increase in the treatment of bedbugs between 2000 and 2005 – with Victoria one of the worst affected states, according to Westmead Hospital scientist Stephen Doggett.
I do find the Sydney Olympics theory (which I’ve also seen elsewhere) slightly less offensive than the “immigrants brought bed bugs to Astoria” theory of the origins of NYC’s bed bugs. It’s more probable, to me: Foreign tourists from countries where bed bugs were, at the time, more common, visiting hotels which are later visited by Australian business people and domestic travelers = bed bugs! The Olympics theory is even more probable if the rise in Australian bed bugs spiked in a way NYC’s and Toronto’s bed bug cases didn’t. I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Stephen Doggett is the fabulous bed bug scientist who gave us permission to post his Bed Bug Life Cycle, which allows us to see all stages of the bed bug life cycle side by side. He’s also the principle author or the Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia (June 2005), which can be downloaded here. Anyway, there’s a point to all that digressing, besides expressing our gratitude to Stephen Doggett once again, which is that the fact that the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association has had time to build up a Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations which is now almost two years old, reinforces my view that they were slightly ahead of us in suffering the bites. (Again, possibly because they had a spike, brought on by this Olympic influx, whereas we in NYC have had a slower arc?)
In this interesting article by Doggett, (clicking there will get you a PDF —>) “Bed bugs: the Unwanted Guest” from a 2006 edition of Executive Housekeeper (for those in the Australian hospitality industry), the author claims that from 1999-2006 the US has suffered a “ten-fold increase” in bed bugs, while in Australia there’s a 1000% rise in infestations treated from 2001-2006. (This number really conflicts with the 5000% increase also citing Doggett as a source, but I suspect it relates to the context from which the figures emerged.) Since statistics are tied to years when data was taken, it’s impossible to settle the US vs. Australia bedbug-chronology question based on this. (By the way, you can read other articles by Doggett here.)
What’s being done to stop bed bugs in Australia, besides the sharing of best practices? Australia is a favorite destination of young travelers (both native and international), who often stay in the country’s extensive assortment of backpacker hostels. This article, from the Sydney Morning Herald, details a new law passed in the city to protect those who stay in backpackers hostels:
The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has a plan to stop bed bugs biting Australia’s most lucrative tourists: backpackers. Under the plan, all new hostels will have to provide washed mattress protectors and pillow covers to reduce the extent of bug infestations. The rules will make every hostel use dense foam in its beds “designed to eliminate potential harbourage of vermin including bed bugs” while providing coverings for mattresses and pillows, washed after each backpacker.
I do hope those are sealed, not just washable, mattress and pillow protectors. (In fact, I am hoping they’re washed on the mattress, since removing them seems like a dangerous thing to do, bedbug-wise.)
The City of Sydney has no power to apply the rules to existing hostels, as they are applied during the development approval process in the conditions attached to a hostel’s consent.
Not only do the laws not apply to existing hostels, as one hostel association spokesperson pointed out, many hostels are operating illegally, and they also obviously won’t have the rule enforced. It’s a start though, and budget travelers who are aware of bed bugs and the laws and which hostels are covered can vote with their feet.
Besides adding mattress covers and using foam mattresses (I’d love to see documentation on what those do):
The rules . . . ban triple bunks and discourage carpets, also to cut down on the spread of bed bugs.
Last year the Herald reported council findings that almost eight out of 10 eastern [Sydney] suburbs backpacker hostels had infestations.
The bottom line is that some things can only be legislated so far; mattress pads rip and will need to be checked and kept in good repair or replaced. (As an aside, I visited a YMCA retreat center that had cheap vinyl covers on the beds which were full of rips, and therefore pointless.) For this to be helpful, hostel managers need to care. (And what about hotels? Some do have zippered covers. They all should, and they should be of the sturdiest type, and checked often. Even the best-made ones can get torn.)
The article from Executive Housekeeping had one other tidbit I forgot to mention. (This is a post of asides, but there’s just so much in these sources and I want to get it all in.) In emphasizing the need for hotels to use experienced PCOs who know how to deal with bed bugs, Doggett mentions the case in one Sydney hospital where an employee residence was infested; a small infestation that would have cost AU$500 to treat, ended up costing AU$50,000, all because the infestation was handled poorly by an inexperienced PCO. I just thought that was a fascinating case study, but I bet it happens all the time, and I know similar things, on a smaller scale, have happened to many of you. College dorms are another prime example, since most news reports we get to see detailing dorms being treated (with the exception of Stanford) appear to be mismanaged, if the news reports are accurate.
I hope we can continue to record what’s being done to fight bed bugs in various places. And I hope some of our readers from down under will drop us a comment and say hello!
I almost said, “G’day,” but I know you were dreading it coming from me, as much as I dread, but await nevertheless, the “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” crap that gets trotted out by the end of 80% of media reports on bed bugs.
Down with bed bugs, and down with cliches, Dear Reader.