We’ve been following the bed bug situation in Cincinnati for a while.

Yesterday, Joe Wessels of the Cincinnati Post reported that city officials were forming a commission to fight the problem:

The Bedbug Remediation Commission, a five-member panel of local health, social service and elected leaders, is in the process of forming and will try to find ways to better educate the public about how to combat and prevent bedbug infestations.

“It’s just crazy that we have that in our city in the 21st century,” said City Council Member Chris Monzel, who is working with West End state Rep. Dale Mallory to establish the panel. “We need to do whatever we (the city) can to eliminate this.”

That’s exactly what we think too–something must be done. Surely something can be done? And yet local, state, and federal governments have been so slow to take action.

What made Cincy’s politicians take note? According to Wessels,

Workers for the Council of Aging have refused to make home visits to some seniors’ residences because they are infested. The workers complained they were being bitten and unwittingly carrying the parasites back to their own homes.

Residents of a Race Street building plagued with bedbugs have taken to sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the structure to keep from being bitten while they rest. The pests are so thick in the building that Tuesday they were seen during the day, extremely rare for the nocturnal creatures.

“Bedbugs do not typically live outside,” said Erich Hardebeck, vice president of Covington-based Permakil Pest Control, who was called in by rehabbers of a neighboring building to see if the bugs had spread to it.

Cincinnati’s bed bug problem sounds bad, but the things that are happening there are happening everywhere that bed bugs are taking over.

What exactly are the city’s statistics on bed bugs?

Cincinnati Health Department officials said they had received 179 bedbug calls through July 20, including 28 from West Price Hill, 21 from East Price Hill, 21 from Westwood and 10 from South Fairmount. Calls have picked up recently from Over-the-Rhine and the West End.

There is plenty of evidence that NYC’s problem is every bit as bad, per capita, and possibly much, much worse. NYC says only around 1190 actual cases were identified by the housing department based on complaints to 311 in the period from Summer 2005-Summer 2006. It’s striking that no one has cited any statistics for the period from Summer 2006-2007; one can only imagine they are much worse. At the same time, as I’ve written many times before, Mara Altman, in her odious Village Voice story last December, cited the head of one local PCO who claimed to get 85 actual bed bug calls per day (at the end of 2006). Clearly, 311’s statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, as Cincinnati’s probably are too.

Cincinnati’s government officials are smart: they see things are bad, they see them getting progressively worse, and they’re going to get some folks together and work on it.

New York City’s City Council also has a “Bed Bug Task Force.” However, except for a hearing about the issue of reselling used mattresses, we have not seen any public discussion on this issue yet. Except for a fact sheet on the health department’s website, which tells people to clean and that they may need a PCO, NYC has not admitted that bed bugs are a problem, let alone a serious one. They certainly won’t admit it’s a public health problem.

Let’s compare with their counterparts in the Cincinnati-Hamilton County area:

“We believe strongly that the insect should not be allowed to crawl over children while they are sleeping,” said Chris Eddy, Hamilton County’s environmental health director. “We took the position two years ago that (bedbugs) are a public health crisis. We believe that we need to be able to use the nuisance complaint code to get rid of these.”

Bed bugs are a public health crisis?
Darn right they are. But sadly, few other public health departments are making a statement like this. And they should be–talking about bed bugs, and taking action on bed bugs.

How did this happen in Cincinnati? Last month, there was a Town Hall Meeting. The Enquirer reports in another article that, in a very effective move, one woman apparently turned up carrying a bag of dead bed bugs from her apartment:

City Councilman Chris Monzel and State Rep. Dale Mallory, D-West End, are working on the issue after hearing at council’s Health Committee on Tuesday what Monzel called “heartbreaking” stories.

One woman, he said, brought a plastic bag of dead bugs to a town hall meeting last month about the problem.

After talking to an exterminator, representatives from area apartment associations and the Council on Aging of Southwest Ohio, Monzel said he decided to try to improve enforcement of city regulations or beef up ordinances to stress that the bugs have become a public health problem.

I am absolutely in love with Cincinnati City Council right now. They actually heard heartbreaking stories three weeks ago and they are doing something? Break out the vikane and the UHauls, kids, and let’s move over there: Cincinnati is a good town.

Hey, I love New York too, but it’s been a year since Caitlin Heller, Bugsinthehood, and several others spoke at a NYC City Council Hearing related to the bed bug issue (which was, sadly, officially only about the resale of mattresses issue). You bet your patootie they had some heartbreaking stories. Where’s my Bed Bug Remediation Commission? Where’s my admission that our city has a serious problem?

Could it be that NYC fears that to admit their problem publicly would mean a loss in tourism revenue? Is this really the only reason we aren’t seeing any action around here?

What is being done in Cincinnati? The Post makes it clear that public education is part of the plan. The Enquirer says the plans also include a hotline residents can call so that infested furniture is picked up quickly. The Bed Bug Remediation Commission also plans to “plan to work with second-hand stores to make sure they’re not reselling infested mattresses and furniture.” Above all else, improving enforcement of existing regulations, and “beefing up” ordinances where necessary, is exactly what is needed to help curb this problem. Bravo, Cincinnati!

Bed bugs are not going to go away overnight, but for goodness’ sake, do something.

1 hopelessnomo September 7, 2007 at 10:19 pm

I love them first for spelling it bedbug, which is how I like to spell it. Now they’re going to get umpteen letters from people correcting them!

So much to think about here. First, it’s happening. We’ve been waiting and waiting forever, enduring so many clueless people in positions of influence. Now I’m going from complete pessimism to crazy optimism: I have no doubt this is going to spread and for once, in a good way.

I guess it says a lot about how cynical I have been that I am so impressed with the humanity of these city and public health officials. I still can’t get over Chris Eddy! I thought it would never happen, a public health official!

What makes Cincinnati so smart and forward-looking is what I want to know. See the Boston Globe pretend to show Cincinnati some grudging respect. Half the size of Boston. An unfortunate nickname. Dissed by Mark Twain… yeah, yeah. Who cares! They have a Bedbug Remediation Commission!

Lucky Cincinnatians.

2 nobugsonme September 8, 2007 at 12:55 am

Gee Nomo, you don’t expect much from public health officials do you? So far, the government response to bed bugs in general has made us cynical, and rightly so.

I kind of like that spelling too: bedbugs. But we’re told they’re “true bugs” and this is why they have bug as a separate word in their title. Ahem. Or something like that.

Anyhoo, I went to Cincinnati once and had some of their “four way” (“five-way”?) chili. That was different. Nice people.

I know, I know: I am supposed to save that kind of stuff for when bed bugs are gone and this is a blog about the author’s quotidian experiences, stories of serendipity, political musings and other oddments. But I am having a hard time thinking there won’t be a need for bed bug news and commentary any time soon.

I therefore think we should trot out the oddments on a regular basis.

Oh and since I am off-topic anyway, and since change is occurring which warrants a jump-start on making the bed bug movie (yes?), and because we could all use a little fun, I want to revise the casting game begun in this comment thread and continued in the comments here.

I would like to go a little traditional and suggest Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under (when he was more vibrant, of course) as the NYC entomologist.

Do we have a public health official in our soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture yet??

3 hopelessnomo September 8, 2007 at 2:49 am

Good, Jenkins has that phlegmatic air that would suit!

I recently saw Zodiac, catching up, and I would say Anthony Edwards as the public health official from an enlightened midwest city? He could come to New York to show ’em how it’s done, much in the way we send cops to other places.

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