Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland calls bed bugs a ‘major public health issue’

by nobugsonme on March 6, 2011 · 1 comment

in bed bugs, public health

The BBC News reports that

Health experts have warned a rise in bedbug infestations in Scotland is becoming a ‘major public health issue’. The claim by the Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland (REHIS) comes as US experts said the world was on the verge of a ‘global pandemic’.

According to the same article, the concerns about the spread of bed bugs in Scotland are based solely on anecdotal evidence so far:

REHIS said it only had anecdotal reports of a rise, and called for improvements in how data is collected and shared in the UK so that trends can be properly monitored.

It has organised a conference in Glasgow, where experts are debating how to deal with the problem.

I appreciate this recognition of the seriousness of the spread of bed bugs in Scotland.  Bed bugs are a public health issue.

However, this article makes it clear that Scots probably need an education campaign about bed bugs, because it cites a pest management firm which

… said people should look out for an “almond smell” and red spots on bedclothes as signs of infestation.

Well, okay.  But few people I have come across have noted “smelling” their bed bug infestations.  Even many pros tell us they don’t smell them.  We have a FAQ on this topic.

Incidentally, among those who have noted a smell (which may be more likely in severe infestations), I have heard it compared to “ripe raspberries,” and “coriander (cilantro),” but almonds are a new one to me.  Smell’s a pretty subjective sense.

The article also claims that

The insects are flat, rusty brown in color and about 5 mm long.

They are, give or take, except when they’re 1 mm long and translucent. Or when they’ve just fed for the first time and are about the same size but bright red.  Or when they are at various other intermediate sizes during any of the other four nymphal stages preceding adulthood.  Or when, as adults, they’re not so flat but puffed up from a meal.

I wish we could send Lou Sorkin to that Glasgow bed bug conference.  There’s no one who better understands the gap between what people are usually told about bed bugs, and what they most need to know to identify and deal with them.

The article ends with a cliché that is also based on anecdotal evidence.  Of the bed bug problem in the US, the article notes,

New York was the worst affected city with office buildings, cinemas and shops – including the flagship Nike store in Manhattan and the BBC’s studios at the United Nations – being forced to deal with infestations.

It’s true New York has a serious bed bug problem, and that the media has reported many high-profile cases, particularly in the last year.

However, just because the media reports more high-profile bed bug infestations in New York does not mean that this city is more affected than other cities in the US or abroad. There’s no really accurate data here on how many are affected here, and the same is true of other cities.

A number of the high profile New York bed bug cases seem to have been detected by pro-active canine screenings.  I am not sure how common such screenings are elsewhere.

Some other reports seem to have been based on finding one lone bed bug — which is arguably much more likely in a city where everyone is on their toes looking for bed bugs, perhaps aided in their recognition by the presence of massive bed bugs on advertisements in the streets and subways.

Those complaints aside, I am glad to see the importance of this problem — and its public health significance in particular — recognized in Scotland.   The news that REHIS is organizing a bed bug conference and calling for better data collection and sharing is very welcome.

Hopefully it will lead to more cases being promptly detected, and dealt with, and programs being put in place to help people better avoid and fight bed bugs.

1 Cimicifuga March 21, 2011 at 5:18 am

Some people say the smell is more like cinnamon. Perhaps different genera, species, subspecies, and varieties have different smells?

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