New study: What U.S. city is No. 1 for bed bug infestations?
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
New York, for the second year in a row, according to a study
just released by pest-control giant Terminix. Not really a
surprise, since NYC is a populous metropolis with well-publicized
infestations everywhere from apartment buildings to businesses such
as department stores, magazine offices, even Lincoln Center.
Terminix reports an increase in bed bug infestations in most
states during the past year, in part because consumers are more
aware and on the lookout for the tiny pests, Terminix entymologist
Paul Curtis told me.
The company's list of most bed bug-plagued cities, based on
customer complaints validated by Terminix and infestations
discovered during pest calls:
1. New York
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Los Angeles
10. San Francisco
11. Columbus, Ohio
12. Dayton, Ohio
14. Louisville, Ky.
This is the second year Terminix has put out a list. Baltimore,
Dallas and San Francisco appear on it for the first time this year,
replacing Indianapolis, Cleveland and Minneapolis.
Bed bugs have always been around, especially since strong
chemicals such as DDT were banned, says bug expert Curtis. But
today, "People are more aware and communicating" about the issue,"
though "there's still a stigma attached to having bed bugs," he
says. Businesses such as hotels are loath to let customers know
about infestations, because that would deter potential clientele.
So it can be very difficult to gather accurate information on the
extent of bed bug infestation.
I asked Curtis whether it's true that you can get bitten in
seats on planes, trains and buses or in theaters. "There's no
question," he said. "This is an insect looking for a dark place
with a human host, looking to get a blood meal" And bed bugs are
"consummate hitchhikers," moving around easily on people and in
bags, he says. Plus, they inject an anesthetic when they bite, so
you may not feel it. Some people don't get bite marks, he says. In
other cases, a bite may not show up for a few days, making it hard
to tell where you got it.
What to do? Be really careful bringing traveling bags and
clothes into your home, he says. "When I get home I put my clothes
in a plastic bag. They go into the washer and then the dryer on
high (heat kills bed bugs). I vacuum my luggage."
In hotels, Curtis always strips covers off the mattress and
inspects it and the area behind the headboard and under box springs
for dark spots (bed bug fecal matter), blood (from a feeding), the
bugs themselves (which can range from head-of-a-pin size to
appleseed-like), or for rows of tiny eggs.
He does not use hotel drawers and keeps his luggage on a rack as
far away from the bed as he can. Bed bugs like to "harbor close to
their food sources," he says. So watch out for beds and upholstered
seating. If you want to get extreme, you can place suitcases in big
plastic bags that zip closed and you can leave luggage in the
bathroom, which is less likely to harbor bed bugs. "But there is no
silver bullet" for eradicating them, he says. Heat, cold and
multiple treatments are often tried, especially since bugs can lie
dormant for a long time.
Terminix has a bed bug learning center online,
with answers to many questions about the critters. Other pest
control companies, such as Orkin, have posted tips
for bed bug detection and treatment.
The good news is that bed bug bites generally don't cause harm
and that "30%-40% of people never have a reaction to them," Curtis
says. Many never realize they were bitten.
Prevention is the key to avoiding extensive and expensive
treatments of homes and businesses (which can mean throwing out
mattresses and replacing carpets). You also can look at bedbugregistry.com, which contains about 20,000
user-submitted reports, to see if any infestations have been
reported at hotels where you're planning to stay. I checked out a
couple of fleabags where I have stayed (and one where I refused to
check in because the room looked sketchy), and both had client
reports of bed bug bites. In those cases, I was surprised to see
how unsympathetc and unhelpful users say management was in
responding to the issue.
Readers, any other tips for avoiding
bed bugs? Have any of you dealt with an infestation on the road or
at home and, if so, how?