bed bugs: incidence studies needed in NYC and elsewhere

by nobugsonme on November 30, 2006 · 5 comments

in bed bug research, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, canada, new york, ontario, signs and symptoms of bed bugs, usa

I keep saying that my own gut feeling is that there may be as many as 20 times as many infestations in NYC as are reported to 311. (Approx 4600 reported in NYC to 311 in a one year period ending last summer; no doubt the numbers are growing monthly.) I realize my gut is entirely unscientific.

Interestingly, the CDC page on bed bugs cites a study from 2003 in Toronto in which calls to Toronto’s public health dept. to report bed bugs (46 total) and locations treated by pest control operators (PCOs) for bedbugs (847 total) were part of the data set.

For what it’s worth, I was interested to see that the number of actual infestations which were treated by PCOs was 18.4 times that of cases reported to the city.  (These statistics apparently ignore any infestations left untreated and any treated by non-professionals.)

Bed bugs have only continued to spread exponentially in Toronto since 2003, as this recent Toronto Star article reports. The study cited by the CDC is interesting for other reasons too. Check it out.

We really need a similar study to be done here, and statistics to be compiled based on PCOs’ visits to NYC apartments, institutions, single-family homes, and shelters. I think we’d find quite a discrepancy compared with data on 311 bed bug complaints.

Perhaps then Mayor Bloomberg would start to worry, and the City Council would move beyond “considering banning the resale of mattresses” to battle stations.

1 hopelessnomo December 18, 2007 at 9:34 pm


Here is something to chew on.

The Toronto study of 2003 surveyed 89% of the city’s PCOs and found there were 847 locations treated by those PCOs. 2003 is well into the resurgence, yes? Can’t be the whole picture by any means, right?

How about: there were 7771 locations in England and Wales treated in a one-year period.

What year? 1985-1986!

Who kept such careful records? The Institution of Environmental Health Officers.

1986-1987? 6179 premises.

Source: King, F; Dick, I; Evans, P . “Bed bugs in Britain.” Parasitology Today Vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 100-102. 1989.

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) still abound in some areas of the UK.

Two thoughts:

1) Resurgence shmsurgence.
2) If only we had such data! Not just historically, but now.

2 nobugsonme December 18, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Absolutely, hopelessnomo. You’re right that there were likely many more infestations than the 847 in Toronto in 2003. I should perhaps be clearer in stating that studies are never going to paint the whole picture. I still think they paint a better picture than relying on data from 311, but I know I am preaching to the converted.

Blimey, 7771 cases in the UK in 1985-86? That explains why I saw sealed mattresses in Britain in the late 1980s. (Sealed as in your aunt’s 1960’s sealed in plastic sofa–when you could never figure out why she did such a crazy thing? Well, now you know!)

3 hopelessnomo December 19, 2007 at 2:47 am

Ha, those hermetically sealed sofas would be useful now!

You know, this is what Clive Boase wrote in 2001:

On a broad level, this outbreak raises fundamental questions about pest outbreaks. We know very little about the underlying biological and mathematical mechanisms that within a few years, can push a previously uncommon urban pest into a widespread outbreak. Only by understanding those processes can we hope in the future to forecast outbreaks of urban pests and vectors, and to design evidence-based strategies that will effectively interrupt such outbreaks.

He then outlines three critical factors:

Firstly, there is an urgent need for a monitoring tool that would enable infestations to be identified rapidly, so that they can then be eliminated before they disperse and so extend the outbreak. […]

Secondly, there is a similar urgent need for information on the current susceptibility status of bedbugs, to enable the most effective products to be identified. […]

Lastly, responsibility for record keeping on urban pests needs in some way to be consolidated, so that quantitative information is readily available to justify the need for appropriate action. However, with national and international responsibility for public health pests becoming fragmented between a range of private and public sector organisations, the chances of this happening appear to be increasingly remote.

“Bed bugs – back from the brink,” Pesticide Outlook. (Link is a PDF.)

And we wait. There’s work being done but so far very little progress on #1, some progress (although it’s hard to call it progress when the results are so discouraging) on #2 and, as expected, nothing on #3 — I think; I actually did see mention of a trend model being devised, somewhere.

I simply love Boase’s writing. That article is great. (Lots to think about, and mentions a 19th century bedbug trap that’s interesting as a possible monitoring tool in these grim times, and also mentions the increase of infestations in other countries as well.) In fact, for the following alone, on the theories for the resurgence, I am forever grateful:

Although various hypotheses for this increase have been proposed, none has yet been substantiated.

Sounds very different from what we hear others say, right, all those who confidently recite all the “causes” starting with the one with the letter i?

Then, in his 2004 article in Biologist (also a PDF), he outlines a simple epidemiological progression that is one of the most compelling things I’ve read about our difficult problem:

A + B – C = D

A: number of infestations at the start of the year
B: number of new infestations
C: number of infestations eliminated
D: total number infestations at the end of the year

Sorry to go on but these two articles are so rich.

4 hopelessnomo December 19, 2007 at 4:19 am

Okay, found the reference: in the Summer 2007 Professional Pest Controller magazine (British Pest Control Association – PDF), there is a recap of the Pestex 2007 bed bug seminars, and there’s this:

Louisa Richards of The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine observed increasing numbers of enquiries about bed bugs in the USA, Canada and Australia and reported that, in London, there is a current increase at a rate of 25% per year. A model has been devised which can be used to predict future trends and monitor control. [emphasis added]


(Bonus: there’s also a table with the results of Richard Naylor’s laundering study which Fedup shared before but we’ve been unable to link to.)

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