The lead story in the “News” section of today’s New York Daily News is on bed bugs. That’s good: it’s always good to see bed bugs in the news.

It’s not a particularly helpful story, however.

For starters, there are inaccuracies. Let’s start with this caption below a photo of an adult bed bug:

Unfed bugs are 1/4 to 3/4 inch long. They are brown or red-brown in color…

No!

They are never 3/4 inches long. Bed bugs, fed or unfed, range from 1/32 to 1/6 inch long. After hatching from the egg, they have 5 nymphal stages and one adult stage. Unfed bed bug nymphs (first instars that have never eaten) are clear in color. Fed bed bugs can be anywhere from red to rust to brown in color.

(Editor’s note, the error was made less egregious: by late Sunday night, it said “Unfed bugs are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.” This is still inaccurate, however.)

This matters because people considering whether they might have bed bugs need to know the correct size, and that unfed nymphs are translucent, not red or brown.

Also, the “do’s and don’ts” suggests people “bag books, papers, most loose objects, and contents of closets so exterminators have access to all cracks and crevices in the home.”

This is not good advice in and of itself. If you bag up everything in your home, or discard it (for that matter), before a Pest Control Operator (PCO) has inspected and verified the presence of bed bugs, then it may be very difficult for them to diagnose your problem. You may end up with all your stuff in bags and PCOs telling you you don’t have bed bugs. And they may be wrong.

What’s more, simply bagging stuff that contains bed bugs or their eggs means you have bags full of bed bugs. What are you going to do with that, now?

Your PCO may advice you to carefully inspect and clean and bag items, for a time during treatment. Make sure you do so only after the problem has been identified by the PCO, and after the PCO has told you when you will be removing stuff from those bags. The answers on that seem to vary. Reading this FAQ might help you be prepared to discuss the issue with your PCO.

One interesting tidbit was an update of the previous data from HPD on bed bug complaints and violations.

The numbers are off the charts: In 2004, New Yorkers placed 537 calls to 311 about bedbugs in their homes; the city slapped 82 landlords with bedbug violations, data show.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, 6,889 infestation complaints were logged and 2,008 building owners were hit with summonses.

They must get rid of the pests within 30 days or face possible action in Housing Court, the city Department of Housing, Preservation & Development says.

This would be for fiscal year July 2006-June 2007. You’ll recall that approximately 1/3 fewer complaints were logged by 311 the prior fiscal year, and less than half as many were declared actual bed bug cases.

But these numbers are misleading because they only represent cases where those with bed bugs were tenants in city apartments and called 311 to report their bed bugs. As I have been saying for more than a year, most people do not do this. Out of a hundred tenants in NYC with bed bugs, I’d be surprised if more than one or two called 311. Most people don’t even realize this is an option–they know from past experience that pest complaints are directed at landlords. Moreover, those who do know, more often than not, choose not to call, because they’d rather work through the landlord if possible, rather than file a housing complaint and risk alientating the landlord. (This is often the last resort.)

The numbers are also misleading because they don’t include public housing, which logged, “1,708 verified bedbug cases in 277 public housing projects this year, the city Housing Authority says.”

The numbers also do not include statistics for those who own co-operative apartments, condos, or other housing.

The statistics offered on bed bugs in the schools (50 schools suffered a total of 74 bed bug “cases”) don’t line up with data the same newspaper shared back in February 2007, when the same newspaper reported that 43 schools had identified a total of 95 live bed bugs. (The story is gone, so you will have to read about it here.) Though it’s interesting to know that only an additional 7 schools have discovered bed bugs in the last ten months, it seems they must be defining “bed bug case” differently now than then, to have gone from 95 “bugs” to 74 “cases”.

Any statistics from the schools are skewered, however, since teachers have to see, catch, and mail away a bed bug for verification before the presence of a bed bug in the classroom will be registered. And while this may seem reasonable, anyone here will tell you you can be bitten badly and for a very long time before you ever see one. A lone teacher in a busy NYC classroom has slim chance of finding a bed bug on a student. Shall we assume, then, there are more?

Perhaps the most intriguing story in the article was that of Bernard Spitzer’s apartment building. We’re told,

[Bed bugs] even contaminated five or six apartments in the swanky rental tower at 220 E. 72nd St. owned by Bernard Spitzer, the governor’s 83-year-old father.

Several tenants described a persistent, if intermittent, infestation on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors.

A few infested floors, midway up a high-rise: nothing unusual there. But wait:

Spitzer’s 28-story building sits atop the six-story home of Marymount Manhattan College, which discovered seven infestations in two residence halls. The problem was under control by October, a spokeswoman said.

Marymount Manhattan has three residences for students, none of which are in this building. It does cause one to wonder whether there is any connection between the incidents on the 15th-17th floors and in the homes of some of those who spend part of their time in the first six floors.

We also get an update on the city’s “response” to bed bugs:

City officials say HPD inspectors are increasing enforcement as complaints mushroom and the Health Department is handling education and prevention efforts. It’s not more actively involved because its focus is on disease-spreading pests, officials said.

“That’s not good enough,” said City Councilman Gale Brewer (D-upper West Side.) “It’s great that we’re not smoking as much, and great that we’re not eating trans fats, but we need to focus on bedbugs in the same aggressive manner.”

Brewer wants to create a Bedbug Task Force and bar the sale of reconditioned mattresses, which the Bloomberg administration opposes because it “would adversely impact lower-income New Yorkers,” a mayoral spokesman said.

I love Brewer’s comments about smoking and trans fats, both of which are banned from local restaurants. Bed bugs are not.

Brewer first went down this Bed Bug Task Force/resales of mattresses road in the fall of 2006, but we haven’t really seen any results yet from these initiatives.

All in all, the city’s response is very ostrich-like. Let’s compare with other cities in the US: San Francisco has guidelines for dealing with bed bugs in apartment buildings, hotels, and other locations, as does the state of California. Lexington, KY and Cincinnati, Ohio health departments (yes, health departments, Mr. Bloomberg) have both declared war on bed bugs.

Lexington tells residents to call the health department if they think they have bed bugs.

Cincinnati has a hotline just for bed bug information. They also have dedicated bed bug trash pickup for discarded furniture. We think encouraging residents to throw furniture away, rather than helping them pay for treatment, is misguided. But Cincinnati is trying. They think education is key. Hear that, Mr. Bloomberg?

San Francisco City Supervisor Chris Daly got $63,000 in this year’s budget to help low-income residents pay for laundry and freezing of possessions. San Francisco politicians listened to SRO activists who told them this money was needed. Because poor people seriously can’t afford to do the necessary tenant’s part of bed bug treatment.

And let me be clear: not one of these localities is doing enough to combat bed bugs. None of them, not by a long shot. Much more help is needed, especially laws about disclosure of infestations, tracking of infestations by government agencies (so someone is actually paying attention to where bed bugs are spreading), and financial assistance to landlords, homeowners, and tenants who are having trouble paying for preparations and effective treatment. Bringing back some of the recently outlawed, more effective pesticides for targeted bed bug use would go a long way (and no, I do not mean DDT).

Meanwhile, NYC is doing none of this. The NYC Department of Education has deployed “bed bug kits” to schools. Their website claims:

Schools are not an ideal location for bed bugs to reproduce, because they are nocturnal insects that require feeding prior to reproduction; but in the event that bedbugs do show up in our schools, the DOE’s Pest Management Unit is providing a Bed Bug Kit to deal with specimens.

This is erroneous information. Bed bugs are nocturnal if food is available at night, pure and simple. Transplanted to schools, they will bite, reproduce, and thrive. This is an example of wishful thinking, which seems to be the backbone of NYC’s bed bug policy.

NYC does not even tell tenants to call 311 about bed bugs, unless they wade through the HPD website looking for this directive.

And yet bases its assessment of the severity of the problem on those calls.

Discuss.

If you have trouble with the article link at top, try this one.

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1 hopelessnomo December 30, 2007 at 4:02 pm

I read the comments to the article, same depressing crap as ever.

Even if this article deploys the more neutral “global travel,” the damage is already done by all those scientists and PCOs who have blamed immigrants for years and years.

Sigh. But, to try to forget that… 6,889 infestation complaints is a 48.5% increase from the 4,638 complaints registered in 2006; there were 1,839 in 2005.

I wonder how many New Yorkers who had bedbugs in 2005 still have bedbugs in 2007. Eradication is an unknowable number. In some buildings, the infestations must cycle around.

Some of the literature suggests that bedbugs can create slums. I guess in NYC in 2007 it’s not as simple as that. Eradication is not necessarily easier the more money you throw at it, as we’ve seen again and again.

2 bugbasher December 30, 2007 at 7:20 pm

One can only wonder where they are supposed to be getting their info from? Like I’ve mentioned before,the word needs to get out as to their superb hitchiking ability.If they knew ( admitted) this fact ,there would be many more precations taken by everyone,reducing the spread of these monsters.If infestations are caught earlier they are much quicker resolved,controlled ,eradicated.Maybe when their found in the White House…I personally can’t beleive they’re turning a blind eye to the children.I personally feel that BB’s cause more damage to children than is known.How are they supposed to concentrate on school work if they are allergic to the bites or have a bad reaction like some do? We aboslutely need someone tracking infestations especially in schools!NBOM is so right about 311 calls.Those numbers are only a drop in the bucket,since most don’t call.
I also would like to see a better arsenal of chemicals available (I don’t care if it is DDT),maybe the key is to rotate the stronger ones every 5-10 years,thereby not allowing a resistance to become acquired.I’ll tell you this if I had a child in the school system I’d be picketing for sure!

3 persona-non-bugga December 30, 2007 at 7:33 pm

I wonder what steps need to happen in order for NYC to establish that Bedbug Task Force. Is it an administrative matter that must be handled by the mayor’s office or one of the city departments (housing?). Or is it up to the city council to set this up? How can the public help Council Member Brewer get that task force formed?

The resistance to banning reconditioned mattresses is depressing. What’s the price difference between the cheapest authentically-new mattress and the average reconditioned mattress? Gotta be a smaller amount than the thousands of dollars and weeks/months/years of misery that bedbugs cost.

Are retailers even upfront about the fact that the mattress they’re selling you is “reconditioned?” I don’t think so. They present them as new – not used – and price them accordingly. My hunch is the savings from allowing reconditoned mattresses on the market are phantom figures.

4 currentinsomniac December 30, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Not going to ban the sale of re-conditioned mattresses because it “would adversely impact lower-income New Yorkers”? Doesn’t having bed bugs adversely affect them more? It helps one such tenant financially if the landlord is responsible to take care of the bed bug problem in an apartment, but in most places this isn’t the case. And even in cases where they are responsible, most seem to provide a sub-standard job at it.

It would be nice to have health departments take a more active role in relation to bed bugs. It is still under debate whether or not head lice are actually disease vectors or simply a nuisance. But nevertheless, our children’s heads are examined in the schools and there is public information provided about them. Why not with bed bugs? True, they are “unknown” disease vectors. But the fact that they spread to others, reproduce rapidly, produce unsightly itchy welts, inflict emotional and psychological distress, and cause anemia in children/elderly in chronic infestations not enough? There needs to be a more active approach. We need better, and effective, chemicals to help erradicate persistent populations. Better laws than just “habitability” clauses in regards to housing…as tenants, we have a right to have a disclosure on the history of a property (like with regular real estate). Above all, there needs to be a spread of accurate information. I was given erroneous information about bed bugs in a call to my own local health department. No one can fight against something they have no knowledge about.

5 mangycur December 30, 2007 at 9:47 pm

should we all write the daily news and let them in on their inaccuracies?

6 loubugs December 30, 2007 at 9:54 pm

The online version lists 1/4 to 3/4 inch, but the print version is 1/4 to 3/8 inch long.

I posted this on the Daily News site:
Unfortunately, the writer failed to include some important bed bug natural history information I gave him. Reference to size as 1/4-3/4inch is wrong: never 3/4inch long, but 3/8inch (as is listed in printed and not online DN version). Color being red/brown refers to adult only (as pictured). Immatures (5 nymphal instars beginning at 1mm or 1/32 inch) are pale white to straw colored and will be red if just taken a blood meal: a bit more brown and slimmer as digestion takes place. BTW will start out flat and thin like a sheet of paper to plump and more elongated when full of blood. Check out flicker.com and youtube.com for bed bug pictures/movies I uploaded — search for bed bug colony. Also bedbugger.com is an excellent place to go for info. There’s no reason to drop the blame on illegal aliens, anyone can carry them – tourists (yourselves when travelling!), legal aliens, etc. As long as one isn’t watching out when travelling, moving from one place to another (trucks, rental vans …. [it was truncated]…

7 nobugsonme December 30, 2007 at 11:20 pm

persona,

My understanding is that Gale Brewer first took an interest in bed bugs because her constituents were calling her to complain about getting bed bugs. Maybe things would be moving along faster if more people called their reps (Brewer or otherwise). It really can make a difference.

I think New Yorkers should consider calling and emailing their city councilperson to tell them what a nuisance, problem, expense (etc.) bed bugs have been. Tell your city council person that they need to take action to stop bed bugs now (and be specific about how).

You can identify your representative here, and click to email them, or find their phone number:
http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml

If you are not in New York, contact your local politician. Feel free to post a similar website here for others in your city.

8 nobugsonme December 31, 2007 at 1:02 pm

In case anyone has not looked lately, the Daily News comments are shameful. The article may have some inaccuracies, but still contains good information. It’s hard to believe the respondents even read it.

9 Winston O. Buggy December 31, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Blah blah blah you get better information at bedbugger than from this
rehashed (fluff) article. Information and exposure is always good and I’m
sure the Gale & Jeff show enjoyed and will prosper with their names
mentioned. And of course the factual data from Lou gets missquoted.
Hey Happy New Year !!!!

10 nobugsonme December 31, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Thanks Winston.

11 lieutenantdan January 2, 2008 at 3:17 pm

I was happy to see a double page spread in The Daily News on bed bugs. This is big!
Even though the article may have some incorrect information the design of the spread had a serious feel to it, It is a good thing that bed bugs has the coverage. This will be hard for the politicians not to notice.

12 GregSarmasCleanAirSystems January 3, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Unfortunately, the media here in Chicago have not grabbed ahold of the bed bug problem in our city. For whatever reason, it’s just not getting the attention that it does in other major centers of population like New York, and San Francisco. They’ve been here a long time and it doesn’t look like they’ll be going away anytime soon with the lack of awarness most people have with this issue. Does anyone else agree? Disagree? Why?

13 nobugsonme January 4, 2008 at 12:51 am

Greg,
It does seem like Chicago has not covered bed bugs very well.
We have seen articles about bed bugs in Presidential Towers (and the impending class action suit), and then articles about low income and senior housing in Rockford and East Moline, and the woman who used Ozone in St. Charles. (You can use the search box above, or click here to see articles tagged “Illinois.”

However, I don’t think any city is covering their bed bug problem thoroughly. And when it comes to taking action, NYC is really no better off than Chicago.

Personally, I think the media is not overly concerned because “bed bugs aren’t currently known to spread disease,” and because the economic impact (outlined recently by Business Week) isn’t yet being taken seriously.

14 Diligent77 December 17, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I’m not sure how severe the problems are in New York, San Fran, Chicago, etc. as compared to Atlanta, but down here, let me tell you, it can be something else. I just recently dealt with it myself…still have an itch on the top of my thigh from a stupid bed bug.

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