The press release for the New York HPD bed bug seminars is here. It includes dates and times, addresses, and a phone number for more information. Seminars will be in English and Spanish. Please do call the number listed below to reserve a spot.

The first seminar is scheduled to take place on Monday, January 28 from 6PM to 8PM at the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, 1st floor conference room, Columbia University Medical Center, 1150 St. Nicholas Avenue (at 168th Street) in Manhattan.

The second seminar is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, February 5 from 8PM to 9PM at Ricardo’s Catering Hall, 21-01 24th Avenue in Astoria, Queens.

The final seminar is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 12 from 6PM to 8PM at the Hope Gardens Senior Center, 195 Linden Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Anyone interested in attending any of these seminars is encouraged to call (212) 863-8830 to reserve a space. Translation services will be provided for Spanish-speaking members of the public.

New York Times blogger Jennifer 8. Lee also reported on the seminars. She also gave a helpful insight into what happens after you call 311:

Bedbug complaints are listed as an “emergency,” which means they go to the top of the priority list. The department sends out inspectors at night, when bedbugs tend to be more active. Typically, bedbugs are listed as a Class B violation, which gives the owner 30 days to correct the problem. The least severe violations, Class A, have to be fixed within 90 days. Class C violations, for emergency conditions like no electricity or hot water, must be corrected within 24 hours and completely dwarf the bedbug complaints.

Although we knew something about what happens when bedbuggers call 311, we had not previously heard that inspections were made at night. (I’m not sure how big a help this is, since I assume inspectors aren’t coming to call at 2 am, but still, it can’t hurt.) Lee also provided an interesting quotation from a City Councilperson who had had bed bugs:

Robert Jackson, a city councilman who represents parts of northern Manhattan, said at a news conference that his family had been plagued by bedbugs when he was young.

“They used to bite us all,” he said.”We used to wake up trying to kill them at night.”

Incidentally, Jackson was born and raised in Manhattan, according to the City Council’s biography, linked from his name above. I suspect someone in the New York City Council will soon have a contemporary story of bed bugs. I hope that when they do, they will speak out.

Lee continued,

Awareness has made people paranoid of bedbugs, which is why calls to 311 have skyrocketed, though only a part of those have ended up with violation notices.

“I think a lot of people are convinced they have bedbugs when they don’t,” Mr. Aragon said.

That is another reason they are holding the seminars, he said, so that people with skin rashes know when not to call 311.

This is certainly important– people should not panic, and should rule out other causes of itching. Knowing what different stages of bed bugs look like is key.

However, I have to admit that– having heard some 311 stories myself, and knowing how difficult it can be to find bed bug samples– I would suspect at least some of the 5000 people who called 311 last year and who were told they did not have bed bugs, did have them. Although some of the 7000 calls were doubtless panic reactions, I would not be surprised if more than 2000 were actual bed bug cases. I would like to know what constitutes evidence of bed bugs for the inspectors, and how they are trained to detect infestations. We’re told some PCOs do not visually inspect for bed bugs, finding this too difficult, time-consuming, or pointless.

Hopefully anyone who did have bed bugs, but whose HPD inspection turned up nothing, eventually found evidence and called again. However, we know that when people call for help and don’t get it, they often try other means the next time–like paying for their own treatment, or self-treating. (If neighbors are infested, both methods can fail miserably.)

The Times Ledger community newspapers also reported this week on the planned seminars.

The meetings, one of which will take place on Feb. 5 in Astoria, are a response to the rise in complaints that city residents have filed against the insects, according to City Council Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

“It’s a problem that until recently even I wasn’t aware of. You expect something like this in a third world country but not in the capital of the world,” he said.

They cited incorrect statistics on the number of complaints citywide:

In 2005, there were only 62 bedbug complaints, which soared to 366 last year, according to the city. Astoria had the third highest number of complaints, Vallone said. Although bedbugs do not transmit any diseases, they are still pose a health crisis for city residents according to the councilman.

“Other cities don’t consider bed bugs a crisis but when people aren’t sleeping they can develop physical and mental problems,” he said.

Perhaps the paper meant to cite statistics for Astoria? The city reported much higher numbers of complaints in 2007 city-wide. The press release about the seminars says,

In Fiscal Year 2007 alone, the City’s 311 hotline received nearly 7,000 bedbug related complaints and HPD housing inspectors issued over 2,000 violations to building owners all across the City. By comparison, Fiscal Year 2004 saw only 1,800 complaints and less than 400 violations issued.

We should remember these are only the people who called 311 to complain about bed bugs, which it appears most tenants and no coop or condo owners do. The numbers also leave out the NYC housing authority residents who had bed bugs last year. Douglas Feiden’s December report in The Daily News reported that there were

… 1,708 verified bedbug cases in 277 public housing projects this year [2007], the city Housing Authority says.

The city and the media leave us to do the math: New York City knows of approximately 3700 tenants who had bed bugs last year. They have no data on non-NYCHA tenants who reported bed bugs to their landlords directly, nor those who called pest control operators themselves, nor on co-op, condo or other homeowners.

From where I sit, hearing the stories of New York bedbuggers daily–and knowing only a small percentage call 311 about their bed bug problem–this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Vallone is also wrong that other cities don’t consider bed bugs a crisis. Lexington, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ohio, and San Francisco, California, are all US cities that are taking bed bugs seriously. Though responses have been limited so far, some of these cities have expended more money and energy per capita on bed bugs than New York has, by far.

And outside the US, Vancouver is also taking bed bugs seriously with a number of responses. Toronto is currently figuring out what to do.

Also this week, the New York Press blogged about the bed bug “education campaign”, and used one of Bedbugger mangy_cur’s excellent bed bug photos. Congratulations, mangy_cur!

They also linked to a thread in our forums, which we do appreciate (thanks, Emily Meredith of nypress.com!) though it’s always a little embarrassing when people arrive first via a forums thread, like a new guest coming to visit for the first time off the fire escape and through the kitchen window. But we welcome them nonetheless.

Update 1/21: CBS on the bed bug seminars; includes interview with Lou Sorkin who stresses that people need to look for the tiny, translucent nymphs which will be more common than rust-colored adults.

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1 hopelessnomo January 20, 2008 at 12:05 am

All I can say is that I hope these seminars, necessary as they are, overdue really, are just the beginning of the city’s response. They can do a lot more.

2 nobugsonme January 20, 2008 at 12:40 am

Well put, hopelessnomo!

3 nobugsonme January 22, 2008 at 2:35 am

Update 1/21: added link to CBS news footage on the bed bug seminars; includes interview with Lou Sorkin who stresses that people need to look for the tiny, translucent nymphs which will be more common than rust-colored adults.

4 Winston O. Buggy January 23, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Well I did it after spending 16 minutes on the phone they took my name,
address and phone number and now I’m officially registered to attend
the amazing traveling bed bug show on February 5. From what I understand
bed bugs are trying to infiltrate and gather information.

5 hopelessnomo January 23, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I’m thinking of going to one of these! I want to see what they tell people. But I’m afraid of angry people. Gotta be some angry people over bedbugs in the city, right? And some of them will think of coming to one of these parties.

The Daily News had a funny headline: Don’t tell bedbugs about the Bronx

Right.

6 nobugsonme January 24, 2008 at 2:28 am

Thanks ‘nomo. I won’t start in on my (hopelessly beating-the-dead-horse) point about 311 being a useless gauge of the actual extent of the bed bug problem.

But based on personal experience and that of those I know, I suspect Brooklynites and Queensters (did I just invent that term?) move around a lot more than Bronxites and Staten Islanders. Especially young people, hipsters, and people in their 20s-30s who are always apartment-hopping.

Also, again leaving the horse alone, I note that NYCHA buildings are not included in the 311 stats. I wonder if anyone’s run the number on those. Do NYCHA buildings in the Bronx have as high a percentage of bed bugs as NYCHA buildings in other boroughs?

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