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:
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.