by Kristina Bostley
Though bedbugs have not been prevalent in the United States since World War II, the phrase “good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” has gained renewed relevance in recent times, with cases of infestation having increased significantly. These bloodsucking little parasites have resurfaced on our bedding and furniture, an issue that is thought to be due to extensive international travel and the prohibition of powerful pesticides such as DDT. In 2013 pest control giant Terminix compiled a list of the most bedbug-infested cities in the country. Here we take a look at the top ten.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Terminix reported a 46 percent rise in customer calls related to bedbug infestations between 2012 and 2013. The bite of a bedbug results in an itchy, red welt, but for one local the effects were far worse. In 2010 a boy in Baltimore got an acute leg infection from an allergic reaction to a bite that wasn’t treated. A couple of months later, deputy health commissioner Dr. Madeline Shea and other officials held meetings to reassure residents and provide information about how to get rid of the bugs. Despite this, two years later an infestation was found in a treatment room in Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital, which left the institution scrambling to rid itself of the pests before other patients were exposed to them.
In recent years, Houston has seen a resurgence of bedbugs and, with it, several lawsuits. Houston resident Leah Angle – who leased furniture from a local Rent-a-Center and brought home more than she bargained for – was the individual behind one such prosecution in 2012. Angle and her loved ones discovered itchy marks on their skin and subsequently found the furniture to be crawling with bedbugs; as a result, she sued. That same year marked the height of bedbug reports for Houston, which saw its first cases in recent years in 2007, according to BedBugs.net. In October 2013 there were reports of the pests at Texas Tech, as experienced firsthand by student Sidney Riley and his roommate. The university responded right away, taking action and issuing apologies to the students.
Chicago has also seen its share of lawsuits – four alone at the Presidential Towers apartment complex in 2007, alleging that the building management was aware of a bedbug problem but failed to remedy it. In November 2013 an infestation was reported at a Chicago middle school in several spots, among them locker rooms, the library, and classrooms. In June of the same year, the city passed a bedbug ordinance, which includes a list of instructions for both landlords and tenants. The new law makes it mandatory to dispose of all infested materials in plastic bags and to label them accordingly. Enforcement of this by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Buildings begins on December 23, 2013, with consequences of breaches equal to fines of up to $1,000 a day for every offense.
The small, oval parasites have caused no small amount of trouble in recent years – so much so that 15 states have passed bedbug-related laws, not least the Lone Star State. Dallas – the second Texan city to make the list – earned the seventh spot on Terminix’s 2013 rankings. Mike Merchant, who works as an entomologist at Texas A&M’s Agrilife Research & Extension Center in North Dallas, reminds the public that bedbug infestations can happen to anyone, regardless of their attention to cleanliness. In fact, a member of his own family discovered hundreds of the creatures in and on their bed. Merchant explains that bedbugs can often hitch a ride on luggage in hotel rooms, so the message is for guests to inspect their rooms – especially the mattresses – when on trips and to avoid using the drawers provided for clothing.
6. Los Angeles
Just because bedbugs don’t have functional wings, it doesn’t mean they can’t fly. These parasitic insects can distribute themselves when people and luggage are in close proximity, so airplanes are yet another perfect place for transferal of the pests. British Airways passenger Zane Selkirk fell foul of the bugs on a flight from Los Angeles to London, but after the airline was unresponsive to the problem, she decided to launch a website, complete with images of the bites she suffered, to draw attention to her experience. After Selkirk’s pictures went viral, BA was prompted to carry out an investigation, which led to two planes being fumigated. That same year, in 2011, LA ranked amongst the top five most bedbug-infested cities in America.
According to data compiled by Bedbug.com in 2009, the pests have been quickly increasing their range throughout Greater Columbus, Ohio. In addition, no part of the metropolitan area is free of them. According to Terminix, in 2013 the city climbed to the fifth spot from its position at number seven a year before. And in 2012 a woman staying at the Columbus Inn and Suites hotel reported being bitten numerous times by the bugs during her stay. The Central Ohio Bed Bug Task Force set up a website to inform residents on how to prevent a bedbug infestation and what to do in the event of finding bedbugs. The site has a checklist of dos and don’ts for residents who see bedbugs in their home, including getting in touch with the landlord, minimizing clutter, and washing bedding and clothing in hot water before placing it in a dryer on a high heat to kill the bugs.
4. New York City
The city that never sleeps apparently has similarly tireless bedbugs. In New York City, the housing department saw an almost 6,000 percent rise in bedbug reports between 2004 and 2010. In 2009 alone, there were over 13,000 reports of bedbugs to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The city has a high volume of tourists and travelers who bring luggage with them. Bedbugs can hop onto bags, cases and clothes to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple, and the metropolis’ crowded subway is supposedly home to bedbugs on its benches, too. In short, in NYC bedbugs can easily travel and spread. Under the current law, landlords are accountable for the extermination of bedbugs in their buildings – as per the decision in a 2004 court case, in which a judge supported a tenant’s refusal to pay rent on their bedbug-infested property.
The reddish-brown insects seem to get their claws in everywhere, including Bernice McDowell Elementary School in Detroit. In March 2013 students were instructed to leave their schoolbags where they lived as a precaution aimed at minimizing the risk of spreading the bugs. That same month, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s office in the Detroit suburb of Southfield was found to be home to bedbugs. The problem was dealt with over a weekend, so personnel were able to continue working normally after the unpleasant discovery. Then, a month earlier, a library in southwestern Michigan was forced to shut its books and close its doors when bedbugs were discovered in the bindings of books. Luckily, staff had been instructed to check for the critters, so the issue was addressed immediately and actions were taken in order not to spread the infestation any further.
The City of Brotherly Love definitely does not love its latest bedbug inhabitants, with the little creatures having descended upon it at a startling rate. In 2012 Terminix ranked Philadelphia as the most bedbug-beset city in the country; it had climbed four places from its ranking in 2011. In 2013 the city dropped to second place, but it still sees more than its fair share of bedbug incidents. The problem keeps pest control experts quite busy, as exterminator Bob Manley can attest: he has claimed to simultaneously juggle between ten and 15 jobs at a time. What’s more, the city’s sanitation department has mandated that mattresses being discarded must be sealed in plastic mattress disposal bags. The department had received various complaints from sanitation staff and city residents who blamed the pest dilemma on infested bedding that was being thrown away.
The Health Department in Cincinnati reported a reduction in bedbugs from 2009 to 2010. Despite this, however, the bedbug problem was “just off the scale,” according to a 2010 article in PCT Magazine. The city has steadily climbed its way up the list of the worst bug-infested cities, ranking number two in 2012 before topping the unsavory chart in 2013. And contrary to what some people might think, many readily available consumer products aimed at combating bedbug infestations can actually aggravate the issue rather than alleviate it. “All the bedbugs that we’re looking at from our state have developed resistance to pyrethroid [a pesticide]… and they have mutations,” said Dr. Susan Jones of Ohio State University. The recommended approach is to hire licensed exterminators to ensure that the pests are completely eradicated.