Bedbugs are small and elusive parasites that feed primarily on human blood. In order to educate and combat the spread of these insects the city is hiring more staff and creating an online web portal.
“While bedbugs may not carry disease, they are a serious issue for any family that has them,” Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said in a statement. “Bedbugs can affect your physical and mental well-being and significantly hamper your quality of life.”
Since the city’s Bed Bug Advisory Board found that a lack of education was impeding landlords, business owners and residents from preventing and managing the insects, the City Council decided to do something about it. They have allocated $500,000 to pay for added staff and the new portal.
Fitz Reid, the president of Local 768, a union of health services workers, hopes the city will use the funding from the City Council to give jobs to its members.
“The city just laid off 70 percent of its pest control aids, an experienced staff that could deal with infestations like bedbugs and rats,” Reid said in a statement. “If there is a bedbug task force, and the money is there, then we have the people. Rehire our members and they can get right to work. They would rather be collecting bedbugs than unemployment.”
But Thai Kim, a spokeswoman for the City Council, said the money will not be used to hire staff at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but would instead pay for consulting, externally provided training, portal development and other information technology improvements.
“Our goal is a simple one: to get the bedbug epidemic under control, and provide effective help when they strike,” Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) said in a statement. “For city employees whose workplaces are infested, shoppers who fear buying infected merchandise, parents whose children bring bedbugs home from school, apartment dwellers who live in infested buildings, and all other New Yorkers — the city is committed to helping you.”
The city already has successful rat, environmental health tracking and affordable housing portals. The bedbug portal would serve as an outreach tool. Among the features the BBAB is recommending are downloadable fact sheets and educational resources, instructional videos and slide shows and step-by step instructions on how to control bedbugs.
The bedbug’s name is derived from its tendency to infest houses and especially beds. They can also hide and live in cracks and crevices in dark undisturbed locations close to their hosts. The household pests can be identified even before a person gets bitten as they shed their skin and leave behind eggs and fecal spots.
In 2009 Brooklyn had the most bedbug complaints, according to the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development, with 2,029, followed by Manhattan with 2,553, the Bronx with 2,230, Queens with 2,039 and Staten Island with 131.
There were 426 confirmed bedbug cases resulting in treatment at 243 public schools in 2009, twice as many as the previous year.
Although bed bugs are not know to spread diseases, negative health effects include dermatitis and secondary dermal infections as well as anemia in severe cases.
Depending on an individual’s sensitivity, a bedbug bite may look similar to a mosquito bite, with the person developing a raised red bump or flat welt. Sometimes the bite is accompanied by intense itching, which is caused by an allergic reaction to an anesthetic in the bedbug’s saliva.
Bedbug infestation in the home can also take its toll on a person’s mental health, sometimes resulting in stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue. These are further exacerbated by the time and expense required to get rid of the insects.
“There is a certain shame associated with having bedbugs,” said Dr. Alfonso Chan, the medical director for the Addabbo Family Health Center clinics in Queens. “People think it means that they have poor personal hygiene, but you can have good hygiene and still get bedbugs.”
The insects only feed on the blood of humans or animals, and are not caused by clutter or dirt. Chan estimates that one in 15 people in New York City will battle the pesky insects. If you get bitten, he recommends applying hydrocortisone cream to stop the itching.
In order to control or prevent infestation, the city’s Bed Bug Advisory Board recommends periodic inspections, pest-proofing, and coordinated treatment; the removal of bed bug infested mattresses and furniture; and the education of tenants and property owners.
There are numerous methods for getting rid of bedbugs, from exposing them to extreme heat or cold to spraying them with insecticides. Steam cleaning also kills bedbugs as does diatomaceous earth. This soil contains fossils from single-celled algae and jagged-edged particles that make it quite effective against bed bugs as well as fleas and ticks. Just cover the affected area, let it sit for a few days, then vacuum it up and throw away the vacuum bag.
On Monday, Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill that would have required all used bedding to be sanitized before being transported, stored or sold with new bedding. The bill, which would have cost the state an additional $600,000 and required the hiring of eight employees, also stipulated that annual inspections of bedding retailers be conducted replacing the current random process.
“The governor’s decision to sweep this problem under the carpet, or under the bed in this instance, is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” State Sen. Jose Peralta (Jackson Heights), sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee, said in a statement. “While I understand that the state is facing very difficult economic times, the price of ignoring the bedbug epidemic far outweighs the price of combating this problem … instead of killing bedbugs, Governor Paterson has told New Yorkers to keep scratching.”