According to New York City health officials, one out of every 15 New Yorker battled bed bugs in the last year. They have announced a plan to fight the spreading infestation, which has been discovered in theaters, clothing stores, office buildings, housing projects, and even upscale hotels.
Bed bugs are small (5-7mm), oval, non-flying insects that feed by sucking blood from humans or animals. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color and can live in any area of the home, but are most common in areas where people sleep, including mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. While they are often thought of as only living in areas of poor sanitation, they do live and thrive even in clean environments.
Health officials have reported that bedbugs have rapidly multiplied throughout New York and many other US cities in recent years. Across the country, the National Pest Management Association notes a 57% increase in calls over the past five years for bedbug infestation.
Bed bugs, once thought to be eliminated because of widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the 1940’s and 50’s, are thought to be on the rise because of the decreasing use of pesticides and due to immigration and travel from the developing world. Crowded living quarters can also facilitate the spread of bugs.
People who have bedbugs often never see them. The most obvious signs are bites which appear as small red skin bumps, blood on bed sheets and their waste, which looks like black pepper. They are known for being extremely difficult to eradicate, and can go a year without feeding.
One major roadblock to stopping the spread of bedbugs is lack of knowledge about prevention and misinformation about treatment. Acting on a report by a government advisory board, New York City is re-appropriating $500,000 of health department money to begin the first phase of a “bedbug battle plan.” Some of the money will go toward creating an online portal where New Yorkers can find information about avoiding bedbugs as well as how to treat their homes.
Some tips for dealing with bedbugs:
• When you travel, look for signs of bedbugs in your hotel room. Check the bedding, headboard, upholstered furniture and drawers where clothing will be stored.
• In the home, check cracks and crevices with a bright flashlight. A hot air dry can also flush them out of their hiding places.
• In addition to checking bedding, check clothing, suitcases, and pocketbooks as well, as bed bugs can use them as a way to travel from one place to another.
• Bedding, linens, curtains, rugs, and clothes from infested homes must be washed in hot water.
• Mattresses, furniture and floors must be vacuumed. Dispose of the vacuum bag (or the debris from a bagless vacuum) in a sealed plastic bag.
• Hire a certified exterminator to apply pesticides is also recommended.