New York Magazine has a new bed bug story dated November 12th (print edition of 11/19), by Melissa Kirsch.
It contains lots of solid advice about not picking up curbside furniture, being wary of Craigslist finds, and searching for fecal spots and blood stains. But it also contains some advice we don’t normally see. Especially pertinent, this comment from our friend Lou Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. (Hear him talk about bed bugs and other pests today–Tuesday–at 10:40 on 99.5 WBAI in NYC, or listen to the streaming live audio here.)
The telltale signs of their presence are itchy welts on your body, frequently in clusters of three or more. You might see tiny red or brown marks on your sheets where you’ve crushed bugs in the night. If you suspect infestation, check under carpets and in moldings, and survey mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. Look for feces and shed skins. And look for nymphs: “Ninety-nine percent of papers written on bedbugs neglect to mention that a bedbug starts as a tiny egg and hatches from it to become a [1- to 1.6-mm.] nymph that’s translucent white,” says Louis Sorkin, entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. “If people knew to look for nymphs, they could head off the problem much sooner.” The bugs pass through six stages of development and feed at least once during each, which means you can get bites before there are full-grown adults visible. If you think you have a problem but can’t find anything, press packing tape or a lint roller underneath carpet and in the corners of beds. Nymphs and eggs will stick to it.
Lou is bringing up a really important point here: many people first see a bed bug that is a fed or unfed nymph. And neither bed bug will look much like the image of an adult bed bug typically pictured in a media story. The first five photos in our page with photos of bed bugs and signs of bed bugs convey the enormous visual difference between fed vs. unfed first instar nymphs, and between nymphs vs. adults. Since people who have not yet had bed bugs often hear of them via the two-minute segment on Fox, or an article in their local paper, it would be best if more news outlets would feature a visual comparison giving people some awareness of this range when and if they do encounter a bed bug.
The article warns people against self-treating with Raid or foggers / bombs, and talks about the importance of dealing with clothing properly, notifying neighbors, and getting a professional in.
What I found most interesting was the final paragraph, which was centered around the need for action on the part of the city:
SEE SOMETHING (DISGUSTING), SAY SOMETHING
Last week, bedbugged tenants mounted a Craigslist-based attack on their Greenpoint building, and protesters in front of the Department of Health demanded action on asthma-exacerbating roaches and rats. They’re not the only ones who think the city could do more to crush creeping menaces. “Bedbugs are a major mental-health issue. I get tired of the Department of Health saying, ‘It’s not a physical issue, so we’re not going to focus on it,’” says Upper West Side council member Gale Brewer. She (and many exterminators) advocate a campaign along the lines of the subway-safety ads to spread word about bug-suppressing preventive steps. Other strategies: certification of bedbug-specialist exterminators and bans on mattress resales. To fight other pests, exterminators would like the DOH to enforce pre-demolition extermination laws more aggressively and hire more pest-control experts to manage parks and public spaces. For its part, the DOH says it has retrained staff after the KFC/Taco Bell rat debacle and is working on plans to combat residential bedbug and rodent problems.
I am really glad that Gale Brewer, who originally proposed the ban on reselling used mattresses in NYC, is still speaking out against bed bugs and their very real negative effects on health. I hope we will get an update on the NY City Council Bed Bug Task Force that was begun over a year ago, but is yet to take action (to our knowledge).
The recommendations here–enforcement of pre-demolition extermination laws, the mattress re-sale ban, and the certification of bed bug specialist PCOs are all good ones. We’ve been talking about the need for a public education campaign (subway ads, TV ads, and so on) since Bedbugger.com started.
Finally, Kirsch said, when describing what to do when you determine you do have bed bugs,
Don’t terrify yourself with horror stories on the Internet; check informative sites like Bedbugger.com.
Informative is good: thanks, Melissa Kirsch! We’re doing our best to get information out there and help people with bed bugs stay as calm as possible, so they can fight bed bugs in an effective way.
I hope we can also have something to do with getting people involved–maybe not so calmly–in fighting for change in public policies, like the ones suggested in this article. It’s always a good time to call your city council representative, or to write to the mayor, about bed bugs. Wherever you live, whether it’s New York, Halifax, Melbourne, or Lexington, Kentucky, take a moment to tell a local politician that bed bugs had a serious impact on your life–whether it was on your family, your finances, your job, and your health.
Click here to email Mayor Bloomberg.
Click here to look up and email your city council representative.
Click here to email Gale Brewer about the Bed Bug Task Force even if you’re not in her district.
And here’s a few words from the Rolling Stones–way back in 1978–that still ring true:
Don’t you know the crime rate is going up, up, up, up, up
To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough!
You got rats on the west side,
Bed bugs uptown!
What a mess– this town’s in tatters
I’ve been shattered
My brain’s been battered, splattered all over Manhattan
Pop this mp3 on your iPod and muse on how little things have changed. And don’t forget: email your city council representative and remind them there are, once more, “bed bugs uptown.”