There was hawkish rhetoric on the steps of City Hall this afternoon directed at an unlikely foe: bed bugs.
The quarter-inch-long insects may be small, but they’re also crafty. Human beings tend not to like them, perhaps because they can lie dormant in pillows, couches, picture frames and even electrical sockets for four to six months without a so-called “blood meal.”
These six-legged parasites have ruined the lives of many New Yorkers, but city lawmakers, perhaps itching for a fight, are now waging war.
“We want to say to bed bugs from the New York City Council: Drop dead. Your days are over,” said Council speaker Christine Quinn. “We’re sick and tired. And we’re bringing some money to the table to outspend you and drive you out of the five boroughs.”
The City Council has earmarked $500,000 for the bug offensive. The money will fund a Bed Bug Web Portal where city residents can learn how to identify, prevent and eradicate the enemy. There's been a recent surge in infestations around the city, with 54 percent more cases reported in 2009 than in 2008.
City officials hope the new resources will curb the number of reported cases, but entomologists say the insidious nature of bed bugs will make them difficult to annihilate. “Do you have a Metrocard in your pocket?” asked Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, chair of the New York City Bed Bug advisory board. “Well, a bed bug can slip into a crack that a Metrocard can slip into. The tiniest little crevice. And they are flat until they feed.”
Eating makes them inflate like a balloon—with human blood. But even after a meal, they’re difficult to spot. Bed bugs usually only come out of their crevices between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
“It’s their secretive, nocturnal behavior that allows them to get into places and avoid detection,” said Richard Cooper, vice president of Bed Bug Central, an authority on the subject.
Entomologists don't know why there's been an increase in bed bug cases in New York City. But they agree that detecting bed bugs early is the key. The bugs are the insect analog to rabbits—a female lays 2 to 5 eggs a day. Not even cockroaches can match that rate.
So what should a person do if they suspect they might have bed bugs? You could put your clothes, sheets, and other belongings into a dryer.
“A dryer is going to kill eggs and adults,” said Gil Bloom, an entomologist with Standard Pest Management.
But if you’re waking up with bites, it’s time to start tearing apart your bed.
“I would look immediately at the mattress, the seams of the mattress and the corners of the mattress, and the headboard,” said Gangloff-Kaufmann.
Another remedy is to use what’s called a “climb-up insect interceptor.” It looks like a plastic dog bowl, and the inside is covered with a thin layer of talc. You put it under the feet of a bed or dresser, and if a bed bug falls in, he can’t get out.
But these deterrents will only get you so far in the war on bed bugs. Entomologists say that even if the city’s new measures are used by millions of residents, the crafty bed bug will still find a crevice to live in and a nice meal to feast on in the night.