If you live in New York, don't miss next week's panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York. Entitled Plague! Bed Bugs: Myths and Realities, it will feature some wonderful people - Renee Corea (author of the fantastic New York vs. Bedbugs weblog), Lou Sorkin, of the American Museum of Natural History, City Council Member Gale Brewer, David Cain of Bed Bugs Ltd and more.
I had the pleasure to meet with Renee Corea and Lou Sorkin on my last visit to New York, and I would gladly listen to anything they have to say about the bedbug crisis affecting New York. Council Member Brewer has also been one of the most active voices in the city when it comes to the bedbug fight.
Reservations are required - you can call 917-492-3395 or e-mail the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $6 for museum members; $8 for seniors and students, and $12 non-members, but the Museum has been kind enough to offer a discount price of $6 if you mention the Bed Bug Registry when you make your reservation.
I really wish I could attend this talk, and hope that any of you in NYC will take this opportunity in my place. If you want to hear informed and expert voices about bedbugs in New York City, this is the best group of people you could hope to assemble.
As readers in Europe know, the rapid recent spread of bedbugs isn't limited to just North America.
Today we're launching our first sister site, Bedbug Registry UK, to collect and share reports across the United Kingdom.
The site is not searchable yet, but will be soon. In the meantime, I encourage our UK visitors to submit their bedbug reports. As always, the more people use the site, the more useful it will become as a resource for everyone.
Hotel managers will sometimes dispute a report on this site by emailing me an exterminator's statement that a given room has been checked and found not to harbor bed bugs. In their view, a report of this kind is ironclad evidence that the room inspected is bug-free, so they are dismayed and sometimes angry to find that I don't give the statements much weight.
As I see it, there are two serious problems with treating exterminators' reports as evidence of anything:
First, it's quite possible for a skilled exterminator to examine an infested room without finding bed bugs. The insects are notoriously difficult to find when present in small numbers. Even in a room where there is no doubt of their presence, it can be impossible for an expert technician to find them without disassembling furniture. The problem is compounded in hotel rooms, which often have fixtures like headboards that are permanently fastened to the wall.
Second, not all exterminators know how to check for bed bugs. For many pest control companies, bed bugs are still an unfamiliar foe, and the level of expertise between individual inspectors varies enormously. People posting to this site have reported "inspections" in public housing that consisted of a technician going door to door in the daytime and briefly shining a flashlight under a mattress, a procedure almost designed to eliminate the chances of finding a bed bug.
They've also reported licensed exterminators applying inappropriate treatments (like room foggers) or simply not knowing how to go about looking for the insect.
A perfect example of why I don't treat exterminator reports as dispositive came just a few days ago in an email exchange I had with the Regency Hotel in Omaha. A guest had reported seeing bed bugs during her stay at the hotel, and the manager of the hotel wrote me to vigorously dispute the claim. As evidence, she included the following scan of an exterminator's report:
On the face of it, the report looks quite authoritative. The pest control company in the letterhead has been in business for many years, and works routinely with this hotel. One of their technicians came by, inspected the room, and found it to be free of bed bugs.
But if you look more closely, you'll see the entire inspection lasted 1 minute 57 seconds. Anyone who's fought bedbugs knows this is an impossibly short time to detect anything short of an overwhelming infestation. (When I pointed this out to the Regency manager, she responded that the time recorded on the report did not reflect the actual time spent looking at the room.)
From the hotel's point of view, any report on an exterminator's letterhead should serve as conclusive evidence that there was no bedbug problem. But from my point of view, it's just another piece of evidence to weigh in evaluating a claim.
We may reach a point where there is a gold standard for bed bug inspection, and I can treat a certified report as credible evidence that a hotel room is free of the pests. But we are a very long way from that being the case, and this kind of 'proof' will remain unconvincing.
Still, since hotels give them so much weight, I am working right now on a way to upload scanned PCO reports directly to the site, and let readers make up their own minds.
It has been a crazy few weeks for a lot of us in bed bug land, with multiple daily media inquiries from pretty much every corner.
Coverage of this site in particular has shifted from the initial 'bedbugs are back' stories from years past (nearly all of them unfortunately entitled "Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite!") to a focus on what the insects mean for the hotel industry and the various businesses that profit from them, to a recent obsession with whether it's fair to let people report their bed bug encounters on the Internet without seeking the permission of some authority figure.
What I have not seen reported is any warning of what things are going to look like in six months or a year, when bed bugs begin to proliferate in public spaces and start appearing in dorms, airports, restaurants, taxis, public transit, libraries, hospitals, and the whole depressing litany of locations that offer perfect habitat and have only escaped infestation because no intrepid bed bug has found them yet.
It is not hard to see this coming - the insects are spreading at an accelerating rate, there is nothing to stop them, and we're already seeing initial reports from all the public spaces where they were historically a nuisance before being nearly eradicated in the last century. But no one in the press has seemed to draw the obvious conclusion about where the resurgence is headed. Instead, soon we'll hear talk of a bedbug "backlash" after all the recent hysterical press coverage, and a consensus that the bed bug problem has been overhyped, until the media cycle begins again.
Meanwhile the number of infestations will continue to grow, and the prospect of controlling this insect at all will correspondingly recede. The public health response in American and Canadian cities continues to be minimal, and in some cases laughable, at a time when we are rapidly losing the ability to prevent the bed bug becoming as ubiquitous an urban pest as the cockroach.
If they ever build a bed bug hall of fame, there will definitely be a spot in the trophy case for 248 McKibben St in Brooklyn, the most-reported address in the New York area, with 33 reports. Its sister building at 255 McKibben has ten reports.
The bedbug problem in this building (and its neighbors) is so severe it's received repeated media coverage, in Gothamist, Gawker, and even a Wikipedia article (which does not mention the bed bug problem).
Curiously enough, a recent Daily News profile of this site interviewed a resident of the building, but did not mention the address.
Bedbugger.com covered this building back in 2007. But it still leads the pack!
I'm a little surprised no one has done a story on the bed bug problems at Walt Disney World. We have over 21 reports just for Walt Disney World itself, but if you do a hotel search on "Disney" you'll see the problem is widespread, and that there are many nearby listings from Orlando resorts and hotels.
I'd be very curious to hear how the Disney company is handling their bed bug problem.
As the bed bug problem gets worse, the temptation to cash in on people's anxieties through hucksterism increases.
Lately I've been seeing a lot of comment spam and instablogs promoting various bed bug remedies. Frequently these are "natural" sprays containing some kind of essential oil, and they often claim a high success rate when applied directly to bed bugs and their eggs.
The important thing there is the last bit - "when applied directly". Even if these claims are true, they are useless, since pretty much anything is effective at killing bed bugs if you can apply it directly. But as the insect's entire survival strategy is built around hiding from us, you're never going to get a chance to apply anything directly unless you already have a terrible infestation.
Right now, there is no product on the market that can kill bed bugs and their eggs where they hide. If there were, this website wouldn't exist. Remember that before you waste any money buying sprays or other treatments that suggest otherwise.
In South America, the bedbugs can fly and give you incurable heart disease by relieving themselves on your face.
These little horrors are called vinchucas, and are a bloodsucking subclass of assassin bug. They are not related to the common bedbug, but have evolved similar behavior and use the same feeding strategy (large, infrequent blood meals before molting).
The disease they transmit, Chagas disease, is a chronic parasitic infection that is imperfectly treatable even with expert medical care. Left untreated, it leads to chronic and degenerative heart disease. Chagas is a huge public health problem in Bolivia and throughout poorer areas of South America.
Unfortunately, the insect is beginning to show up in Southern California. The good people at UC Riverside are keeping an eye on it.
One of the toughest aspects of running the site is dealing with cases where a hotel has received a bedbug report from a guest and dealt with it promptly and effectively (by calling in experienced pest controllers, treating adjacent rooms, and helping the guest make sure their belongings are properly treated before returning home, for instance by drying them on high heat).
Hotels understandably hate to be listed on this website, and I hate to feel like we're punishing people who act promptly and responsibly to address bedbug complaints. At the same time, I believe it's very important to publicize the extent of the bedbug problem afflicting the US, and the fact that you can really come across them anywhere. So I encourage management and guests to write about the positive outcome, but I don't remove the posts from the site.
For what it's worth, in my travels I would much prefer to stay in a hotel that I knew had a sound bedbug policy and trained staff, and had dealt with complaints promptly, then take my chances in a place I know nothing about. We're approaching the point where there won't be such a thing as a hotel that's never had a bedbug encounter.
New York bedbug fighters Lou Sorkin and Renee Corea have both pointed out to me a mildly pernicious trend in news reports about bed bugs, where they are routinely compared in size and color to an apple pip.
While this is true of adult bed bugs, it is absolutely not true of young bedbugs, which are much smaller and nearly transparent.
I'm afraid the best thing to do is to bite the bullet and take a look at photos of bed bugs in all stages of life. Note especially the size of the tiny first instar having a meal on someone's finger. Even better, if you are near someone with a bedbug colony, see if you can arrange a short visit.
Lou Sorkin makes a habit of doing show and tell with actual bedbugs whenever he speaks on the topic, which I think is a terrific idea. You can save yourself a lot of stress trying to identify a mystery insect at night if you've previously taken a close look at bed bugs in their various life stages.
I've had several letters today pointing me to a CNN story about bedbugs in Times Square movie theater, and asking if the site will start listing theaters and other retail establishments with infestations.
I cringe at having to give this answer, but I think that bedbugs are very soon going to be the norm in movie theaters. I would hate to give anyone the impression that a theater is safe just because it doesn't show up on the registry. Theaters are an ideal habitat for the insects (dark, full of bodies) and all it takes is one hitchhiking insect to establish an infestation.
With the large number of people who come through such a space in a given day, bedbug infestation in public places like cinemas (and libraries, and commuter trains, and airports, and hospitals, and so on) is going to be a chronic fact of life for everyone in the not too distant future.
Some people who visit this site might know that I've been writing stuff online for several years, including about my bedbug experiences.
Still, so much is happening this summer in the world of bedbugs that I thought it might be a good time to start a blog specifically for the website.
In addition to bedbug news, I'll try to cover some of the issues that come up in running the site, highlight particularly bad cases from our archive, and of course answer any reader questions.