bedbug.jpgThe Village Voice has an hilarious article about the bed bug frenzy gripping the easily excitable denizens of the country’s largest city.

In a city where people already depend on Ambien for a good night’s sleep, the thought of bedbugs has wreaked havoc on circadian rhythms from homeless shelters to $2 million loft apartments. The thought of them is making people itch—not the bedbugs themselves, whose numbers don’t even quite live up to the media hype. What has yet to be quantified—but what has become an urban infestation of its own—is the paranoia that the bedbug craze has produced. It turns out, perhaps no surprise in a city as neurotically obsessed as New York, that something as small as a bedbug can grow colossal in the minds of millions.
A bedbug—more formally referred to as a Cimex lectularius—at its biggest is smaller than a watermelon seed and is the thickness of a credit card. Though their bites don’t bring disease and we, outsize mammals that we are, could squash them using our thumbs, bedbugs have transformed the lives of thousands, if not millions, and not at all for the better—as would easily admit the victims, who spend much of their time spreading noxious chemicals on all their belongings and sporadically checking in with the Bedbugger blog to see if a new cure has been posted. Even the youngest of our species, accustomed to getting a good deal by furnishing their homes with free street-side wares, have given the practice a second thought.
Getting rid of bedbugs is quite a fight, but the fear that comes along with an infestation has grown even harder to exterminate. No spray exists to eradicate paranoia; no home-visit fee has yet been tailored to quell anxieties. The Yahoo Bedbug Support Group had 27 postings for the month of February; for October—only eight months later—the number went up by 55 times, to 1,494 postings. Out of Eisenberg’s 100 calls a day, at least 15 percent are wrongly self-diagnosed rashes or lint balls. Carmen Boon, the spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, reports that of 4,638 calls about bedbugs in fiscal year 2006, about a quarter—only 1,195—of those, upon inspection, were actual infestations. That’s up from two complaints in 2002. That’s an increase of 231,800 percent (not to mention a 25,000 percent increase in bedbug articles in newspapers and magazines). Fiscal year 2007’s count has already gotten off to a good start, Boon says. There were 2,133 complaints within the first three months, which resulted in 546 violations.

And my favorite quote from a women who experienced a bed bug infestation, which has clearly gone to her head.

“At least when you have cancer you’re dealing with doctors who are educated,” she said, “and not predatory, lowlife, uneducated exterminators.”

If anything will bring DDT back to the shelves, this is it. Some of the people written about in this article are obtaining it illegally and using it. I guess for some New Yorkers, who would doubtless rally to cries of “it’s killing the pelicans” if informed that the chemical were being used to reduce malaria in third world countries, it’s okay if their own bedding is being threatened by bed bugs.


  1. As a former exterminator, I can safely say that I was more educated than most of my ‘clients’…and more educated on nutrition than my doctor. (Whom I absolutely adore, don’t get me wrong.)
    Most of the people with bedbug problems I encountered were generally lower on the socio-economic scale, interestingly enough. Or perhaps that’s not too surprising…
    Hi Lyndsey–
    Your comments on the socio-economic status of people with bed bug problems mirrors precisely what the Village Voice piece said.

  2. Actually, with all due respect, you’re both wrong.
    The people in the article did not fit the “lower end of the socio-economic scale.” Of the three, one was solidly in a higher income bracket, as it stated she”d just moved out of a home sold for $1.7 million. The second was solidly middle class and white collar, living in a doorman building near Columbus Circle. The third was a young former ballerina (no indication was given as to her income, but most people with professional ballet training are not considered uneducated or from the lower socio-economic classes.)
    The reason there’s so much hype about bed bugs in the media is because there ARE bed bugs and they are spreading very fast. Bed bugs were once thought to be associated with poor people and homeless shelters, but they’re now spreading to all kinds of people, and in NYC, this is rich and poor, uneducated and MDs.
    Hi nobugs–
    I stand corrected.  I would have sworn that the article stated that the bed bug infestation was primarily a problem of the lower socio-economic classes, but when I went back and reread it twice, I couldn’t find such a statement.
    Thanks for setting me straight.

  3. Thanks for the correction! It’s true that traditionally this was a common stereotype, and like many stereotypes there’s some truth in it. It is harder to fight bed bugs when you don’t have lots of money for pricy repeat pest control treatments and XXL ziplocs, and tons of repeat laundry. It’s also harder to make the choice to throw away your stuff, or not to take in other people’s used items. I think a lot of people who have more money are wary of speaking to the press so there’s less coverage of the rich victims!
    All the Best!

  4. Here’s a blurb on natural treatments for bed bugs. It says you can use canola oil and pyrethins, which are natural flower extracts and are considered safe for use around people and pets.
    Hi Mark–
    Thanks for the tip.  I hope to God I never have to use it.

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