The official New York City data on how many people have bed bugs consists of two sets of numbers: calls to 311 (which are available to the public, sort of), and constituent complaint calls to city council members, which are currently shrouded in mystery.
According to NYC HPD data obtained by New York vs. Bed Bugs, there were 8,840 complaints and 2,757 violations in fiscal year 2008, as of June 19, 2008. (That means 8,840 people called 311, and of those whose homes were inspected, 2,757 cases were cited as bed bug violations.)
Still, those numbers, as alarming as they may be, are relatively low.
Homeowners never call 311 to report bed bugs. And most tenants don’t call 311 about bed bugs, unless their landlord is such a deadbeat that fuggeddabout calling a bed bug specialist, s/he won’t even call the building’s once-a-month roach-spray guy and have him do a little spray and pray.
And few people call their city council members about bed bugs, though I seriously think we all should, now that we know they’re actually keeping track of the calls.
I have often cited the incidence of New York City residents visiting the Bedbugger forums and complaining of bed bugs — compared with the extremely small number who tell us they called 311 to file a bed bug complaint — as anecdotal evidence of how much bigger the bed bug problem is in this city than the city’s limited data shows it to be.
And the anecdotal evidence keeps coming from elsewhere too.
Yesterday, Aly Walansky, of the SheKnows A Little Aly-tude blog, blogged about a string of bed bug infestations among her New York City friends and acquaintances:
. . . today I got an email from one of my closest friends…she is actually a friend I almost moved in with last year, and she recently moved to studio in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Apparently, last night she discovered that her neighbors had bed bugs…and today, she discovered she did, as well.
Sadly, this isn’t even her first time dealing with them. Last year, she had a ferocious experience coping with said vermin at a boyfriend’s home. Matters were made worse when she escaped home to her parents, and discovered some had followed her there.
At the time though, we had chalked it up to the freaky Queens infestation crisis.
My friend persevered, spent a fortune on decor for her new home…and now is dealing with it again. She’s understandably hysterical.
But Aly’s story does not end there.
Not an hour later, I was telling my BFF what the morning’s events had uncovered, and she shared horrible news. (No, she does not have them.) However, one of her good friends does too! Then, I get to the office I am at today, and overhear another person chatting…you guessed it.
So Aly’s friend has had them twice, the friend’s neighbors have them, the friend’s boyfriend and parents had them the last time the friend was infested. Aly’s friend-of-another-friend also currently has them, as does someone at Aly’s workplace.
You might wonder if Aly has a fairly large social circle, but really, if New York has over 8 million residents, and only 2,757 people were known by HPD to have had bed bugs in FY2008 — why that’s about 0.003% of the population! The odds of a single individual knowing such a disproportionate number of bed bug sufferers are quite astronomical.
That is, if the HPD data comes anywhere near approaching the actual incidence of bed bug infestations in New York City.
I think it’s safe to say most people also don’t yet report their infested addresses on the Bed Bug Registry.
So, perusing the 311 stats yet again, I got to thinking: how many different people from New York City came to Bedbugger.com last month?
Without going into too much detail,* I’d estimate, based on Google Analytics data, that at least 9553 different New York City residents visited this site in the month spanning June 14th to July 14th. These are what Google calls “Absolute Unique Visitors,” not folks coming back again and again (as many readers in the throes of a bed bug infestation do).
I think it’s safe to say that many of these are just bed bug-curious. (May they remain only curious.)
Some may be having a bed bug scare. (May it remain just a scare.)
But I think it’s highly likely that a good chunk of the 9,553 are either in the throes of a full-on bed bug encounter, or have reason to think they have been exposed to bed bugs, or have seen an unidentified insect and/or felt unexplained itching or have apparent bite marks, and suspect these are bed bug bites.
I can’t make any claims as to what percentage of Bedbugger readers fall into the “bed bug-curious,” “having a scare,” “suspected or known bed bug exposure” or “full-on bed bug infestation” categories.
However, for what it’s worth, I do note that more NYC residents paid a visit to Bedbugger in the last 31 days than called 311 to report bed bugs in the entire fiscal year 2008 so far (as of June 19th).
They’re not here for the witty repartee, fashion advice, or gossip. Something is making them spend their precious leisure time reading about a blood-sucking insect.
*Detail, for those who enjoy it: Google Analytics separates NYC into the four normal boroughs and then every “city” in Queens, making this hard to tot up, so I am counting only cities in Queens with more than 9 visitors. In other words, this is a very conservative estimate. I also don’t get data on unique site visits based on geography, so I’ve used the percentage of unique site visits for the site as a whole and adjusted the NYC visitors based on that.