Dubai newspaper reports that NYC is suffering from bed bug epidemic

by nobugsonme on November 26, 2006 · 16 comments

in bed bugs

Most international press about bed bugs reports on local infestations. But this article in Dubai’s Khaleej Times reports on NYC’s bed bug problems (and includes quotations from Lou Sorkin of the AMNH).

A few interesting points:

1/ The article implies that NYC’s bedbug epidemic started in Queens and Brooklyn and spread to Manhattan. While this is certainly plausible, and the NY Times recently published graphics showing Astoria and Greenpoint / Williamsburg among the neighborhoods with early infestations, I don’t think there’s been any proof that they spread in this manner, or that the point of entry, if that’s the right phrase, was Queens or Brooklyn.

2/ The article also talks mostly about residential problems, highlighting the personal stories of a French teacher and a book publicist, both women. The article only mentioned in passing that the bedbugs are also infesting hotels; this is strange, since you’d think that readers of an English-medium newspaper in Dubai might be most concerned about encountering the bed bugs on visits to the city.

3/ Neill Coleman, a NYC housing dept. spokesman, is quoted as downplaying the significance of the epidemic, citing the number of heat and hot water complaints (implying a comparison to the number of 311 calls to report bed bugs).

The number of bedbug complaints has mushroomed, according to city authorities. Between June 2005 and June 2006, the city received 4,638 complaints, compared to 1,839 the previous year.

To stem the tide, local authorities are considering a possible ban on the sale of used mattresses.

“It’s a concern. Bedbugs are certainly a challenge because they are quite difficult to get rid of, and they seem to capture people’s attention, that’s for sure,” said Neill Coleman, spokesman for the city’s department of housing preservation and development.

But he said it was important not to overstate the problem. “To put it in context, in 2006 there were almost 250,000 complaints about heat and hot water,” Coleman said.

I sound like a broken record here, but almost no one calls 311 about a household pest; most call their landlords. Calling 311 amounts to a housing complaint and most of us don’t want to file a report on our landlords, thus antagonizing them, when we can simply ask them to call an exterminator. On the other hand, if your heat or hot water are off, your landlord is clearly negligent. These are problems they are probably aware of, and which you need some city pressure to solve, fast. Bed bugs, on the other hand, in most cases come to a landlord’s attention only when reported to them by tenants.

I fear that we are soon going to find that this bug has spread beyond the point of being controlled, and part of the reason for this will be that the city is in total denial about the scope of the problem. We need a city-wide bed bug registry that is not tied to housing complaints; one where people can record the existence of the problem without filing a complaint against a landlord. After all, bed bugs are not usually caused by landlord’s negligence. We should be able to register the existence of the problem even in cases where the landlord is trying to treat it swiftly and as efficiently as they can.

Banning the sale of used mattresses, furthermore, is a good idea.  But the city needs to go much further.  Neither of the women in the article appear to have their bedbug problem from a used mattress (one got it from a secondhand table; should we regulate the antiques industry, perhaps?)   And while we can’t generalize from two instances,  talking to lots of bed bug sufferers tells me most did not.  The bug easily travels on any manner of fabric and wood items, in books and papers, in suitcases, and from neighbors along pipes and through cracks in the floor.  Banning used mattresses is not going to solve the problem.

I was very interested to see an international perspective on this local problem. I am also intrigued that Dubai doesn’t have bed bugs yet (at least this is implied by the article, if not directly stated). It might be nice to have bed bugs in the desert. Wouldn’t you simply have to turn off the a/c for a week to get rid of them?

1 Sean November 27, 2006 at 11:19 am


I would certainly be wary of information coming out of Dubai regarding bed bugs, especially from the Khaleej Times …

In a June article Shenasi of the Khaleej Times writes;

“Bed bugs are major transmitters of diseases including HIV and hepatitis so all precautions should be taken to use good quality of spray.”

This is a prime example of a reporter writing about something without fact checking. A simple call to the World Health Organization or the Centre for Disease Control would have debunct the above statement.

Entomologist / Pest Professional

2 Sean November 27, 2006 at 11:23 am

The above comment should have read “In an April article …”, not June.

My apologies.

Entomologist / Pest Professional

3 nobugsonme November 27, 2006 at 5:41 pm

Hi Sean,

Wow– this is interesting. They really did not fact check that oher article, found here:

However, the article you mention appears to be written by Khaleej Times writers.

The article about NYC was instead compiled by Agence France Press, an international newswire (the tiny AFP at the start is the tip off). So that could account for the absence of such terribly erroneous information here.

The Brooklyn-Queens myth is hardly on the level of the HIV one. I shudder to think what will happen if that ever comes true.

4 Sean November 28, 2006 at 1:50 am

I agree.

It looks as though that have taken a news feed about NYC and ran with it.

The point is that you can not always trust what you read.

The simple fact that 70%+ of all bed bug related articles spell bed bugs as bedbugs is quite disturbing. Again, some simple fact checking would be nice.

Anyone that knows anything about insects would know that bed bugs belong to the order Hemiptera (the true bugs) and as such their common name is X bug. In this case bed bug.

Not so with the ladybug …

Entomologist /Pest Professional

5 nobugsonme November 28, 2006 at 3:51 am

Hi Sean,

That is really interesting! I often wonder which is correct.

I myself spell bed bugs both ways, for a reason: a reader tipped me off that if you google “bed bugs” you get over 8 million hits. “Bedbugs” nets around 210,000. Alternating spellings means both sets of folks will find us, even though it goes against my best instincts as a writer.

I note, however, that the New York Times, Toronto Star, Halifax Daily News all use “bedbugs”. And those are 3 of 3 North American papers I just checked.
Both spellings are in the online versions of the Columbia Encyclopedia and American Heritage Dictionaries, but both list them under “bedbug” with “bed bug” listed as a variation.

6 Sean November 28, 2006 at 1:14 pm

Any insect in the order Hemiptera is definitely spelled as two words.

The same holds true for flies. If they belong to the Order Diptera it is two words.

Hence a dragonfly is not a dragon fly.

7 nobugsonme November 28, 2006 at 3:39 pm

I hear you, Sean. But once it’s in the dictionary, however, the boat has sailed. Newspapers are going to look to it.

Funny, though, that online citations are so much more correct.

8 deb November 29, 2006 at 9:51 pm

Nobugs and Sean…The way I see it is that bedbugs or bed bugs are a problem even in Dubai !! They are everywhere……there has to be something that will kill them…taser beams surrounding a bed..low level electric shock..DDT….something ..anything…

9 Sean November 29, 2006 at 11:14 pm

Bed bugs can very effectively be eliminated. What you need is an experienced pest control company with experienced technicians.

We have the tools to do the job right and yet we still struggler to get people to use them properly 🙁

10 nobugsonme November 30, 2006 at 4:12 am

Well, sometimes the problem is landlords who will only pay to treat units where bedbugs are seen. So treating one or two units can mean they keep coming back. How do you deal with clients like this?

11 Sean November 30, 2006 at 5:44 pm

In Canada it is illegal to do preventative applications.

So we can only treat the units where the bed bugs are found.

12 nobugsonme November 30, 2006 at 8:31 pm


That’s the law in the US too .

Do you have to see a live bedbug, or will you use shed skins or feces as evidence?

I think it is hard to treat a multi-unit building partly because as many as 70% of people do not feel or see bedbugs or aren’t bitten. (This statistic was from the recent bedbugs conference in Virginia.) So say my neighbors in the building gave them to me, but they have no idea they have them. If I am treated, they aren’t, the problem returns.

Any ideas about how to prevent that?

13 Sean December 1, 2006 at 10:55 am

There are plenty of US states where it is legal to do preventative applications.

In Canada evidence needs to be of an active infestation. Shed skins may be left over from a previous population. Although that one is a grey area and I am sure no one from the authorities would bust someone for applying pesticides as a result of seeing cast skins.

That number (70%) is not entirely accurate the way that you have stated it. Up to 70% of people have no reaction the first time they are bit. However, after being fed upon multiple times most people will show a reaction. It is in fact rare for people to have no reaction at all after successive feedings.

14 nobugsonme December 1, 2006 at 2:16 pm

But Sean, aren’t some people not bitten at all? As I understood the number, it includes those.

We’ve read that one theory is that higher body temperatures make women more attractive targets. It is extremely common for a woman to be bitten extensively and a man who lives with her to notice nothing.

I know many people in this situation, right now. And I know many people who don’t react–or whose itching is so subtle and unaccompanied by any welts or bite marks–to the point where they assume it is something else (“dry skin”).

15 nobugsonme December 1, 2006 at 2:20 pm

My understanding is that it’s illegal in NY to do preventive treatment, and I am not sure where it is legal.
So here’s the problem–we know that multi-unit buildings need to be treated thoroughly in order to eliminate the problem. If you’re only treating units with evidence of active infestations, and some homes show little evidence, you may not be treating all the affected units, and the problem is going to keep coming back to the treated units. Any suggestions for how to avoid this situation?

16 Sean December 2, 2006 at 11:29 am

To answer your questions:

1) Some people do not get bit, or do not have reactions. It is a small number. Yes when there is a choice of two hosts often only one is bitten. Women do not have higher body temperatures (at least not significant enough). We do give off pheromones and we know that bed bugs can detect pheromones. Whether they can detect human pheromones is undetermined. Men and women produce different pheromones and perhaps that has something to do with it. There is also evidence that they can detect ammonia (component in sweat).

2) It is legal to treat areas of “impending pest pressures” in many states/provinces. So if a unit adjoined to an infested unit had no immediate evidence it could still be sprayed. The entire area would not need to be done, just the adjoining wall, outlets, sockets, etc.

Entomologist / Pest Professional

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