Lice, not bed bugs, found on Chicago CTA Red Line train

by nobugsonme on September 29, 2016 · 3 comments

in bed bugs

Were they lice?  Or bed bugs?

The pests a Chicago CTA  rider encountered on the train and brought home this week were lice, not bed bugs, yet the media seems reluctant to confirm the ID before running their reports.

An ABC 7 Chicago headline last night announced “Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train”:

A train car was pulled from service after a passenger claimed they spotted bedbugs on the train. He then posted his experience on the social media site Reddit. The photos went viral.

You can view the Reddit story here.

ABC 7 also notes,

The passenger wrote online that he saw the bugs Monday morning on a southbound Red Line train as it traveled near the Belmont stop. He said he saw dozens of tiny insects – possibly bed bugs or lice – crawling on the row of seats where he was sitting.

Some ended up in the passenger’s clothes and home.

You can watch the full video here:

What’s frustrating about this story is that while the Reddit user may have been initially unsure about the type of pest found (and in fact, the Reddit user reported the urgent care doctor misidentified these as  bed bugs), there’s no reason the news media can’t confirm the ID before running such a story.

The pictures of the pest posted by the Reddit user clearly show lice, not bed bugs. Here’s a screenshot of the ABC 7 story showing one of the lice:

Screenshot of lice from ABC 7 Chicago "Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train"

Screenshot of louse from ABC 7 “Bedbugs Reported on CTA Red Line Train”

Why not confirm whether it’s bed bugs before you report it?

It’s not just ABC that ran with the incorrect bed bug ID. The Chicago Tribune, and Time Out Chicago are just a few of many examples. Chicagoist is sticking with the headline “Bugs Found on CTA Train Could Be Lice, Bed Bugs,” even after they consulted with entomologist (and friend to Bedbugger) Lou Sorkin, who confirmed they are body lice (as others also did in the Reddit thread).

There’s no “could be bed bugs” here at all.  So why so many hesitant headlines?

Now, let me be clear, it’s not okay for there to be lice on public transportation either. However, there is no reason for the news media to misreport such a story.

An image like this would be identified in minutes on our active user forums, even by non-experts like myself. ABC has access to a city’s worth as well as an internet full of entomologists (like Lou) who are capable of providing an expert ID for them.

Checking with experts is best if you’re in the news media and you don’t know what bed bugs look like. Remember the famous series of bed bug reports illustrated with a shield bug in 2010? I guess we haven’t come very far since then.

The media are misreporting this story left and right.  We can only conclude that, “bed bugs on a train!” is more sensational and sells more papers/gets more clicks than “lice on a train”.

Why does this matter?

It’s a shame to see misinformation circulated in the media, because the more people can identify what’s bugging them, the better off we will all be.  After years of looking at photos on the Bedbugger forums, I feel much more able to identify bugs, mites and spiders I encounter.  I may still seek an expert opinion, but I have some basic knowledge.

If you stay in hotels, do any kind of traveling, have kids, or work in a school, or ever leave your home at all, being able to identify bed bugs and lice are important life skills.  Being able do identify these pests means you can you help avoid exposure and bringing them home.  It also means you won’t lose sleep worrying about something you saw which isn’t actually a bed bug or a louse.

What do you think? Does the media have a responsibility to help educate people and stop spreading misinformation? Share your thoughts below.

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1 NotSoSnug October 1, 2016 at 10:46 pm

Hi Nobugs! Yes I believe the media has a responsibility to reliably inform, one it has largely abdicated recently.

As you’ve observed, the goal seems not to inform anymore but provoke emotions. I suspect this goes beyond simply using emotions to sell a media product. I think it’s a deliberate and coordinated editorial policy throughout the media enterprises to remove skepticism and curiosity from the minds of both reporters and readers in order to manipulate folks toward a staged agenda.

Thankfully, Bedbugger.com seeks to pull off the covers of ignorance, expose the cryptic crevices and light the darkened corners.

2 Doris February 17, 2017 at 2:35 am

I am elderly & had lived for 3yrs in HUD apartment & then found bedbugs. After having to hire Prep People to do so much prep work for the treatment (cost me $500 or $65 an hr. for 2 of them) & spending almost a month at a motel during the treatment & no place to sleep, as they threw away my bed, along with all the bedding, broke so many things (ceramic), destroyed the apartment & looked like a burglar had torn into it. My clothes were heated in hot dryers (even good dresses & winter coats, etc.), half of them were ruined. Threw away anything paper, cloth, wicker, destroyed all shoe boxes, threw away cloth winter boots, & shoes, slippers, etc., etc. I had to spend $74 a night at a motel; pay a moving van to move to another apartment complex; buy clothing; pay deposit & rent on this new apartment; had almost a complete mental/physical breakdown & went to the dr./hospital, as well as on medication etc. The HUD apartment where I had been living will not reimburse me for anything ! I am 84yrs old & on a very low fixed income of Social Security only & finding it hard to live in this apartment as it is twice the amount of rent + electric. I can hardly afford to eat (meals on wheels is helping me). I have not been out of this apt for 4months as I can’t afford to drive my 20yr old car. WHO SHOULD PAY FOR ALL THAT I HAVE LOST? They threw out my recliner & it was only 3yrs old, so was my bed, etc. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks so much.

3 nobugsonme February 21, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Hi Doris,
I am so sorry you had to deal with all of that.
I am not a lawyer and I don’t know if you could take the landlord or PCO to small claims court. You might try to get advice at a legal aid clinic about this. This FAQ may help: I need legal advice but can’t afford a lawyer, what do I do?
If you wish to discuss this further, please come to our active user Forums.

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