Word to the NYCDOE: if bed bugs enter schools, they can harbor in them and be taken home

by nobugsonme on February 19, 2013 · 15 comments

in bed bug identification, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, hitchhikers, infestations, New York City, nyc, nycdoe, Portsmouth, schools, students, Virginia, virginia beach

PS 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens has had bed bugs in fifteen classrooms since September 2012, but the New York City Department of Education claims it isn’t infested. As I will explain in a moment, it all hinges on how the DOE defines the term “infested.”

(Click here to view video if it doesn’t load.)

In a story on bed bugs at PS 69, DNAInfo.com cites Department of Education official Marge Feinberg with her usual suggestion that bed bugs haven’t infested the school, but are simply repeatedly brought in, over and over, individually:

Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said though the specimens have been found at the school, there has been no infestation.

“Every time we find a single bed bug, we are required to report it,” Feinberg said in an email. “Schools are not hospitable environments for bed bugs and are brought in from the outside, usually in a bag or on clothing.”

The rooms were cleaned and parents were notified, Feinberg said.

“Not hospitable environments?” Why not? People sit for periods of 30 minutes and longer. There are cracks and crevices, cluttered desks, and lockers or cloakrooms in which to hide. Seems like a pretty good place to hang out and feed, once you find yourself there.

It turns out, per the Bed Bug Information Kit for Schools (download in Word here) the NYCDOE uses the following definition of “infested”:

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, an infestation is identified by bed bug reproduction in a given area. During the inspection, the DOE Pest Management Professional will look for bed bugs in various life stages (egg, nymph, adult). A school is infested only if there are signs of bedbug reproduction. A confirmed bed bug does not mean that the school is infested. (Bed Bug Information Kit, Page 3)

When you define “infestation” as “we saw visible signs of reproduction,” then — depending on the nature and length of inspections carried out — you can count a lot fewer “infestations.”

David Merritt Johns, writing in Slate in 2011, noted that:

During the 2010-11 year, there were 3,590 confirmed reports of bedbugs in the [NYC public] school system’s 1,200 buildings, which are used by a little over a million students daily. How many of these cases resulted in the establishment of a full-blown colony on school grounds? Only once did an infestation bloom—seven bedbugs were discovered making whoopee in the closet of a Queens high school last December. Gotham’s vaunted serum-suckers thus gained a foothold in only 0.03 percent of their known school forays. Even this low figure may be an overestimate. No doubt other trespassers went undetected…

Correction: only once were signs of reproduction detected.

Consider that it’s hard to find bed bugs without a careful, laborious inspection. In cases where a bed bug discovery prompts treatment, harborages may not always be aggressively sought out and found.

Note also that while bed bug experts typically tell the public not to clean before an inspection, lest signs of bed bugs are disturbed before harborages can be identified, the DOE’s Bed Bug Information Kit (page 5) directs schools to prepare for inspection by vacuuming carpets and floors and cleaning closets, and allows for the discarding of bagged items. In other words, since signs may potentially be cleaned away or tossed out before inspectors arrive, there may be some signs of bed bug infestation inspectors never get to see.

The absence of detected signs of bed bug reproduction have allowed Feinberg to stress this idea — that bed bugs are brought in on students’ clothing or belongings and don’t infest schools– for six years. Here’s a similar example from February 2007, and another from July 2007.

Feinberg has repeatedly focused on bed bugs being brought in, but seems to omit reference to the possibility that they might hitchhike out as well.

Of course, students (and, we should stress, also: teachers, staff, delivery people, visitors) bring bed bugs in, but bed bugs don’t just die because they’re brought in to school. They can harbor there, breed, feed on people, and go home with them another day. And good luck to you if you think that you’ve spotted every single bed bug and egg which may be present.

Despite Feinberg’s comments cited in the DNAInfo.com article about parents being notified, one PS 69 parent who had had bed bugs, told DNAInfo the school had not sent out any notices about the bed bugs found at school:

… [Shirley] Encarnacion, who said she now sends her kids to school with plastic bags to carry their personal belongings, said she didn’t receive any notification until after hearing reports from other parents and calling the administration herself.

“I sent an email to the administration letting them now my concerns and letting them know I find it alarming there hasn’t been any notices,” she said. “I guess people are embarrassed by it.”

Again, the problem comes down to the definition of “infestation”. The NYCDOE Bed Bug Information Kit, again, describes the policy on notifying parents:

If the Pest Management Professional observes an infestation in the school, the Pest Management Unit will notify the school principal and schedule treatment, as well as additional inspections of rooms adjacent to the room with the infestation. Parents/guardians of students in the entire building must be notified if there is an infestation. (Effective July 1, 2011, this will also be New York State Law.) The Pest Management Unit will provide the principal with notification materials to send to parents and staff. (Page 3)

[Emphasis added.]

So the DOE policy is that unless the PMP observes signs of bed bug reproduction — by which, presumably, they mean eggs or bed bugs caught in the process of actually “doin’ the nasty” — parents do not need to be notified. And that’s the law.

To go back to the 2010-2011 statistics, that’s 3590 times individual bed bugs were found in schools that year, and one instance (representing 7 of the 3590 actual bed bugs) in which parents, by law, had to be notified of their presence at school.

We first referenced a story from the Queens Gazette about bed bugs in Queens schools including PS 69 six years ago, when these policies were first being formulated.

The NYC DOE bed bug policy is that extremely busy teachers must catch or photograph a bed bug and send it to the DOE for identification before anything is done (which we’ve heard from teachers is not a good situation).

What if hotels took a similar approach? Would consumers be happy if nothing was done until a bed bug was spotted by the guest in the light of day? Remember that schoolchildren and their parents are also consumers — and the parents, at least, are taxpayers.

Does the DOE have bed bug monitoring systems in place in classrooms? These can be inexpensive and could contribute to control measures as well as identifying problems quickly and more reliably than waiting for bed bugs to be spotted one by one by teachers and students.

While I think NYC DOE needs to do more proactively and reactively to deal with bed bugs, I would not recommend the tactics taken in some other cities, where students with bed bugs at home have been banned from school, or schools have been shut down for days based on one bed bug sighting.

And consider the case of Portsmouth Virginia, where last week, (according to WAVY news,) I.C. Norcom High School teachers came to class in “protective clothing” (whatever that means — Tyvek suits?) In any case, it is bound to be ineffective. And students were asked to tote their belongings around school in plastic bags, which in at least one case, a reporter noted, resulted in a torn bag by the end of the day. More on Portsmouth’s story in the video below and on WAVY.com.

Getting back to New York City — it’s pretty obvious to me that the NYCDOE needs to accept that bed bugs can harbor in schools, and can be taken home by those who didn’t bring them in, that some kind of ongoing detection and monitoring system should be in place, and that parents should be warned when bed bugs are detected in the classroom (and they should be directed to educational resources) — even if signs of reproduction are not detected.

Do you agree? What else can be done to deal with this in a more proactive manner, without going overboard?

Given that bed bugs will be brought in, what can be done to detect them and eliminate them, and to prevent their spread?

I know you have some ideas and comments. Please share them!
Hit the comments below!

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1 Lou Sorkin February 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

Yes, read over the document and it’s amazing but true. The question is who did they ask for advice?

“2. In order to facilitate timely and accurate identification, please be sure to follow these important guidelines:
• Never send live specimens.
• Never send broken or crushed specimens.
• Never send insects loose in an envelope.
• Never send specimens without a completed submission form (see below).”

—I can’t understand why broken or crushed specimens should not be sent in for identification. If they have an expert who is supposed to be able to identify a bed bug, it shouldn’t matter if it’s in parts or not.

“SCHOOL PREPARATION PRIOR TO INSPECTION AND/OR TREATMENT
If the DOE Pest Management Unit has identified a bed bug from your school, please prepare for inspection and remediation by taking the following steps: “

—The instructions should really be leave everything as it is and let the professionals inspect rather than having the carpets vacuumed, the floors and cracks and crevices vacuumed prior to inspection. The dust and debris from the vacuum should not be collected in a plastic liner and placed on the exterior of the building but be collected and retained to be examined by the pest management expert.

“• All items attached to walls should be removed, placed in sealed plastic liners, and left in the room for further inspection.”

—Yes, here materials are being left for professionals to review.
“The vacuum cleaner should be inspected and confirmed to be free of bed bugs.”
—Why? The evidence would be there and should be available for the pest management professionals to review.

2 nobugsonme February 19, 2013 at 11:03 am

Thanks, Lou. You bring up very good points, as usual.

I remember back in the day, the news that Giannaris had managed to pass a bill requiring parental notification was greeted positively around here. However, it’s a reminder that the details are essential.

3 TAOT February 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm

There may have to be bedbug education for children and their parents. The definition of infestation seems more legal than entomological (is that a word?).

Big issue for parents and teachers: With books, shoes, etc. and the cost of a packtite, how will parents prevent bugs being brought home in bookbags and clothes (which can be dried in a dryer but not every one has one at home)? Books and shoes can’t be treated in a dryer.

4 Winston O Buggy February 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

This is a complex issue which is further muddied by political correctness, union issues, the fear that people with bed bugs at home will not send their children to school because of bed bugs and other issues. When you need to manage large agencies you have to establish protocols and establish parameters. Yes the determination of infestation is a human definition, just as activity for inspections. Are fecal stains, shed exoskeletons and non viable eggs an indication of “active bed bug infestation” the answer is NO because till these items are removed they can remain long after activity has ceased. Similarly with bed bugs in schools. Since bed bugs have not yet developed transporter technology they need to be introduced into a school by students, teachers or staff and they are. Fortunately as research has indicated bed bugs do not usually thrive in this type of environment, hence the reproduction factor which has become the determining factor for infestation. Certainly while one bed bug may be too many in concept an infestation it does not make as most would agree. The staff of DOE pest control services while dedicated is woefully understaffed due to fiscal realities. Superintendent and other staff in most cases will have nothing to do with bed bug remediation including non chemical measures such as steaming in spite of the fact that they are geographically in a situation to do so and it does not involve the application of pesticides. As far as the sample submission as you can imagine without protocols a lot of stuff would flow in without knowing where it came from. To some extent it is going to be up to parents and the post elementary students themselves to take steps to be BB safe. Knowledge is power and education is the key. Why not include a bed bug module in health or biology curriculum at various grades.

5 Lou Sorkin February 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Here are some answers and additional questions.
“Are fecal stains, shed exoskeletons and non viable eggs an indication of “active bed bug infestation” the answer is NO because till these items are removed they can remain long after activity has ceased. Similarly with bed bugs in schools.”
— Actually these are reference to active insects since dead ones wouldn’t produce fecal stains, shed exoskeletons and eggs (now either hatched or non-viable). Answer is YES. The first inspection would divulge if active or inactive. And if these are being located in the classroom, it means that bed bug activity has been ongoing. The bed bugs will thrive and feed on students and teachers if not caught early, if nothing is done to first inspect to be able to say that there is or isn’t a problem. Bugs will live in certain places in a classroom and staff, students and teachers alike can bring home.

“As far as the sample submission as you can imagine without protocols a lot of stuff would flow in without knowing where it came from.”
— Never said no protocols, but you might not have pristine insect samples to identify and there’s nothing wrong with smashed bed bugs to identify. If the BoE people can’t then they should farm out to those who can.

“Fortunately as research has indicated bed bugs do not usually thrive in this type of environment, hence the reproduction factor which has become the determining factor for infestation.”
— If not caught early and they have been feeding, they will mature and reproduce, and even if not adults, will continue to feed. If adults introduced, already mated females will be able to deposit eggs. There won’t be a reproductive act (traumatic insemination) but mature, mated females don’t have to be impregnated in the classroom. If particular age classes of bed bugs (that is, female with nymphs or female that will produce eggs) are introduced, then the bugs may certainly feed on unsuspecting teachers, students, and staff until the “unknown rash” is identified as being from bed bug feeding.

“Certainly while one bed bug may be too many in concept an infestation it does not make as most would agree.”
— Single bed bugs or many that have just been introduced would be initial introductions, but as I mentioned earlier, what about females that begin laying eggs? No insemination, just egg production. If one bug was found and then inspections showed that there are indeed more in the classroom and there could certainly be fecal droppings, but no eggs, no shed skins, would it be counted as an infestation?

“Why not include a bed bug module in health or biology curriculum at various grades.”
— Already done that in certain classes in museum and also have taught teachers in various schools and in re-certification classes for teachers. I use slides of the bugs in all life stages (fed and unfed), infestations of objects with telltale artifacts, shed skins, eggs, and, of course, live bed bugs.

6 Winston O Buggy February 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Clarification, in regard to active infestation I was referring to home environments. With the point being that even if a problem was resolved some evidence will remain which by in and of itself should not be taken as evidence of current activity, sorry if I was not clear on that. In some cases old fecal stains need to be removed with a light sand paper and material removed. Second I know the museum does an excellent outreach in this regard but I was referring to curriculum for those not fortunate enough to get to the museum or get stuck in the dinosaur exhibits. Insects the wildlife that surrounds most urbanites need to be better understood both in terms of pests and even more so the non pests or threshold concepts which allow for true IPM.

7 nobugsonme February 22, 2013 at 12:26 am

Winston said,

“Since bed bugs have not yet developed transporter technology they need to be introduced into a school by students, teachers or staff and they are. ”

This is undoubtedly true but one of my points is the DOE seems ignorant of the fact that they can also leave with any of these folks.

Lou said,

“If not caught early and they have been feeding, they will mature and reproduce, and even if not adults, will continue to feed. If adults introduced, already mated females will be able to deposit eggs. There won’t be a reproductive act (traumatic insemination) but mature, mated females don’t have to be impregnated in the classroom. If particular age classes of bed bugs (that is, female with nymphs or female that will produce eggs) are introduced, then the bugs may certainly feed on unsuspecting teachers, students, and staff until the “unknown rash” is identified as being from bed bug feeding.”

This seems like an important point.

The DOE claims there were 3590 bed bug sightings in 2010-2011. And that only seven bed bugs of those 3590 were considered a single infestation (ie signs of reproduction spotted).

Statistically, should we not assume that a much larger number were mated females? Can it really be possible that 3583 bed bugs hitchhiked into DOE schools that year and they were all males or unmated females, and never a mature female along with a male?

8 nobugsonme February 22, 2013 at 12:29 am

And finally, the problem with calling for education is that, working with the 2010-11 data alone, if only one school had to report the presence of bed bugs (because ONLY those seven bed bugs in one instance were deemed an “infestation”), then how in the world do we begin to educate people?

The fact is, parents are finding out about these cases (such as the one at PS 69) even when they aren’t officially notified. It would be better to notify them when bed bugs are found (in the absence of signs of reproduction) and educate them and students.

9 Winston O Buggy February 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Education of students is a joined yet separate issue. I feel it is important to have an urban insect module in the school curriculum for various levels. These courses should teach basic insect education and appreciation as well as have a pest component. Bed bugs , lice and mosquitoes should be incorporated in the pest part. This not only educates the children but in many cases parents and it will cross language barriers as well. Various practical avoidance measures can be explained in school and then reexplained at home to parents or as part of homework thereby eliminating a lot of the mis and disinformation.
It will also teach future generations to see insects in perspective and not all as pests thereby reducing unnecessary applications for non pests or occasional invaders which can be dealt with by trapping vacuuming and other non pesticide methods as well as habitat modification. In closing obviously in some cases bed bugs introduced into schools may be subsequently introduced into other homes. In the same way after school activity must also be taken into consideration in this social transmission of bed bugs.

10 jsmith February 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Ok lets cut through all of the bs about bed bugs in schools and get to the source of the problem. Yes bed bugs are transported into the building by its occupants and there is a chance that they hitch on to someone else. Preventing this is impossible and if anyone thinks otherwise, just ask your local pest management professional. In order to control the situation the city should be able to inspect suspected homes as they do with rodents and roaches, give the homeowner a certain time period to resolve the issue and if its not done, then the DOH provides remediation and bills the homeowner/landlord.

The Department of Heath does it with their rodent abatement program, why can’t they expand it to bed bugs.

Let me give you an example of why this will only continue to get worse not only in schools but throughout municipal buildings.

For example if Joe has bed bugs in his home and corrective measures are not taken by his parents. Then the bed bug can hitch itself onto joe and transported into a school or any other building.

Lets say the building occupants see the bug and call an exterminator. The exterminator comes in, inspects, provides remediation and verifies the area is bed bug free. The very next day joe brings in another bed bug thats in his back pack or jacket. How can a school prevent that?

As parents we need to stop pointing fingers and expecting a solution from a school principal when in this case there isn’t one. We all need to do our dual diligence and take care of our own. When my children come home from school they change and i dry the cloths for about 30 minutes. I may be extreme but this is one of the ways i choose to keep my home bed bug free.

As for NBC, ABC and whomever reports stories, why not be original and start reporting about real solutions to the problem. Lets address the community and offer support because it can be very expensive to hire an exterminator.
Even if our mayor would donate all of his billions would we solve this problem without getting to the source.

How can one prevent a flu, you cannot.
Same concept,

Anoth

11 Lou February 23, 2013 at 12:44 pm

From Winston,
“Clarification, in regard to active infestation I was referring to home environments. With the point being that even if a problem was resolved some evidence will remain which by in and of itself should not be taken as evidence of current activity, sorry if I was not clear on that.”
— Either home or school, if the infestation is active, then it has to be dealt with. Evidence will remain or may actually be new evidence. Vacuuming floors, cracks, rugs, vacuums up evidence. Collection of the evidence but not inspecting it is tantamount to ignoring or hiding the evidence. If you examine a room that has been vacuumed, you may find nothing and state that there is no active infestation. Examination of the vacuum holdings discloses live bed bugs, but if this had been thrown away, then the evidence is in the garbage. All the cleaning and vacuuming should be ongoing anyway in order to keep classrooms and other rooms clean that are used by students, teachers, and other staff personnel.
“Second I know the museum does an excellent outreach in this regard but I was referring to curriculum for those not fortunate enough to get to the museum or get stuck in the dinosaur exhibits.”
— But that’s why I explained that I taught teachers, people who will be able to pass on information to the students.

12 CarpathianPeasant February 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Bottom line here seems to be what is or is not an “infestation.”

If a situation IS an infestation, authorities must take actions “x” for the public good. If it isn’t an infestation, authorities need to be aware of the matter and alert to the possibility of an infestation developing, but they only need to take actions “y” for reasons “z” such as finances.

Now, all three of those (“x,” “y” and “z”) need specific definition.

13 nobugsonme February 24, 2013 at 12:40 am

Hi Carpathian,
Unfortunately, the NYCDOE has defined “infestation” as “we saw signs of bed bug reproduction”. I am wondering if there could be a more helpful definition in the case of bed bugs in schools.

If there can were 3590 sightings in one year, but one school (including 7 of those sightings) qualified to be deemed infested, well– that sounds a bit dubious to me. After all, finding “signs of bed bug reproduction” may take some time and effort, especially since bed bugs in schools won’t be in the #1 spot PMPs look for them– the bed. Given what the NYCDOE pays its contracted PCO, they may not have time to find all possible evidence of bed bug reproduction.

14 Jsmith February 28, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Just heard that an entomologist named Kevin Hurley visited 69 this week. Would really like to know what he found.

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