The big news this week is that New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has now produced a new guide Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely (PDF in English, Spanish, and Chinese).
While not perfect, it is miles better than previous literature available from the city, and is presented much more prominently, on the home page of the NYC DOHMH website.
It emphasizes many things which should be emphasized: that good, knowledgeable, professional help is usually needed to get rid of bed bugs, that some people do not react to bed bug bites, and that bed bugs can infest many parts of the home, as shown in the photo on the cover of the pamphlet:
The pamphlet also has a lot of good suggestions on avoiding bed bugs, on supporting treatment (e.g. caulking and sealing crevices), and on avoiding foggers and bombs which make problems worse.
I was not thrilled with the emphasis on using a hair dryer on low to kill bed bugs — the pamphlet notes:
The heat from blow-dryers will kill bed bugs after 30 seconds of continuous contact.
This is not my area of expertise. However, it seems improbable that bed bugs would hang out in a spot for 30 seconds if a hair dryer is fixed upon them; it also sounds quite exhausting from the human point of view. (Using one to scare bed bugs out of a crevice, and the pamphlet also suggests, seems more useful, especially if you see signs which suggest a harborage in a particular region).
Steamers are more of a specialty item, but they do not need to be pointed at one spot for 30 seconds straight (Stephen Doggett’s Bed Bug Code of Practice 2nd Edn. suggests moving 30 cm in 15 seconds), making them infinitely more useful in killing bed bugs.
I found the pictures less helpful than photos might be, and not entirely accurate: the spider beetle and carpet beetle pictures are quite different from those we frequently see submitted by readers (suggesting other varieties or life stages are more common); the first instar bed bug nymph is pictured in the same color as the older bed bug life stages, when in fact even a fed first instar looks very different from its older brothers and sisters, and the unfed first instar is another thing entirely.
Finally, the HPD pamphlet suggests
Bed bug infestations usually require the services of well-trained, licensed pest management professionals, also called exterminators. Tenants whose landlords do not promptly respond to bed bug complaints can call 311 and file a complaint with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and may also hire their own professionals.
One problem with this: we have heard that NYC HPD inspectors will not respond to every complaint with an inspection, and that if they do come, they will record a violation only if they find live bed bugs walking around once they visit.
A few pages before, the pamphlet described how to do a careful inspection, and told readers,
If live bugs do come out, crush them with a paper towel and throw them away outside your building.
(I am not sure of the reasoning behind the idea that even crushed bed bugs should be disposed of outside the building.)
From what I gather, you should not try and clean up or kill your bed bugs before having HPD inspect your home, because if you do so, the inspector may then not see any evidence, and if so, will not force your landlord to treat for bed bugs which will still, very likely, be present.
This puts residents in an icky situation: waiting until the HPD inspector (or PCO, for that matter) sees and registers the existence of the problem, before beginning to solve it. It’s not something most of us can stomach.
However, for tenants on a moderate budget who can’t afford to just hire their own pest management professional, it may be their only way of getting help.
We hope the city will be able to address that kind of conundrum in future — perhaps by (a) not telling tenants to do their own inspections and kill their own bed bugs once discovered, and (b) sending HPD inspectors very swiftly to all tenants complaining of bed bugs.
For now, we’re really glad the city has improved its educational efforts around bed bugs. And we hope they will bring a bed bug educational campaign to the subway platforms, bus shelters, newspaper advertisements, and public service announcements sometime soon.
We hope the NYC Bed Bug Advisory Board will soon be making its report to the city. I fear that in this economic climate, it may be hard for the city to make the changes it needs to make, but I’m still optimistic.