An epidemic of bed bugs in the news

by nobugsonme on August 23, 2010 · 4 comments

in bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, landlords and tenants, spread of bed bugs

The bed bug media frenzy continues.

It’s important to remember that six months ago, there were also lots of bed bugs in public places and workplaces — people just were not hearing much about them.

The New York Times produced an interesting story Saturday on people’s reactions to bed bugs, including the stigma of being a bed bug sufferer.

First, a practical matter: tenants who are thinking of suing landlords should consider this bed bug lawsuit Catch-22:

[Brooklyn tenant Jeremy Sparig] fought his landlord in court, representing himself, and recently settled the case for a rare 100 percent rent cut for eight months of the nine that his apartment was infested, as long as he promised to move out. Not surprisingly, he is having trouble finding a new home, doubly stigmatized by having had bedbugs, which he acknowledges to prospective landlords, and by having been in court with his previous one. Now, he said, they ‘don’t even let me come over’ to see an apartment.

Is Mr. Sparig having trouble renting a new home because landlords think he will bring bed bugs with him to the new place, or because they’re afraid he’ll end up suing them?

Next, I am always intrigued by stories of people like housing lawyer Steven Smollens, who the Times says bars clients with bed bugs from meeting him in his office, but notes he is happy to meet them at the Starbucks across the street.

I understand the desire to avoid infesting one’s office (and I realize many of his clients with bed bugs are probably unaware they should be taking precautions to avoid spreading them).

However, it doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense for Smollens to bring the same clients to a location he frequents. Is he not worried about the Starbucks becoming infested, and passing the bed bugs back to him, and many other people?

If virtual meetings are possible, this might be one way to side-step the problem of exposure.

The Times also interviewed a New York City therapist about his professional work with bed bug sufferers (or former sufferers):

Perhaps no one is more tuned into bedbug paranoia than Steven Brodsky, a Midtown psychotherapist. He treats people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and, in that capacity, has attracted a number of bedbug victims.

Patients tell him they feel like they are ‘sacrificing themselves because they’re literally being eaten as they sleep,’ he said.

You don’t have to have OCD to feel like that!

People who haven’t had bed bugs seem quick to label post-bed bug vigilance as “paranoia.” (How can we forget this 2006 article from the Village Voice?)

It’s important to realize that people who’ve had bed bugs are fearful of the very real possibility of their bed bug problem either coming back via the same route they came in in the first place, or via other means. It’s a very reasonable and understandable concern, and “paranoia” doesn’t seem like the correct term for this.

Former bedbuggers, in my experience, seem to go through several stages once their bed bugs are gone. Many people seem to start out hypervigilant and progress towards a place where they’re perhaps more cautious than they were before bed bugs, but where they are nevertheless fully experiencing the world, taking precautions where necessary (like putting luggage through a Packtite after a trip, rather than avoiding hotels entirely).

That said, I am referring to people who are not suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but have simply suffered from their bed bug bouts, and are wary of having the same problem again.

It’s good to see the Times exploring these emotional and psychological areas of the bed bug experience, when most of the news lately has been about bed bugs spreading beyond the home (Elle’s offices and an Empire State Building employee changing area being the latest casualties). USA Today also had a story on bed bugs spreading in offices, and NPR also contributed on Saturday to the current epidemic of bed bugs in the media:

1 Ci Lecto August 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm

The Times article did a great job (IMHO), accurately and without hysteria, of illustrating how devastating to urban life this pest can become. We need more of these.

2 Blue_ox August 23, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I didn’t think he did such a great job, as he emphasized that the first order of business in an infestation is the appearance of bites. The problem is that there are all these people who aren’t reactors. The emphasis should be on regular inspection and what the visible signs are.

3 Lou Sorkin August 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I have to agree with your comments. I’ve seen physicians on camera to talk about the bed bugs and it’s clear they really have never seen an infestation. Have been asked to comment on control and state that none of the insecticides work. Also asked what bites look like and state that they’re 3 in a row and, yes, if the patient is non reactive, they must not be infested at all! The visible signs are glanced over to ask people on the streets what they think about the story that is unfolding.

4 Mark August 28, 2010 at 11:21 am

There is an excellent article on bedbugs in NY, naming and shaming a building on 8th Avenue…front page of the Epoch Times on Wed., 25 Aug. It is discussed at

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