New York Mayor Wants ‘Bedbug Czar’
But the extent to which public awareness and concern has contributed to what NPMA calls a "global pandemic" is not entirely clear.
In New York City, for example, hundreds of bedbug-related stories have appeared in the media over the past few years.
A panel appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently reported a 63% increase in residential bedbug complaints in 2008, following a 35% increase in 2007.
This and several high-profile infestations this month at upscale New York department stores reportedly prompted Bloomberg to call for a city "bedbug czar" this week.
Bedbug expert Louis Sorkin, who is an entomologist with the American Museum of National History in New York, says the media attention probably has played some part in the bed bug rise.
“People are certainly more aware and they are more worried,” he says. “In this environment, it may be that people think they have bedbugs when they really have some other bug.”
Bedbug Populations Rising
But Sorkin says that bedbug infestations are clearly on the rise, in part because the bugs have developed a resistance to many commonly used chemical pesticides and, in part, because people are traveling more.
Bedbugs are hitchhikers that can hide in clothing and suitcases. The species that is most often associated with infestations prefers to feed on human blood, but will also feed on house pets and mice.
The bugs are difficult to eradicate because they can live for up to a year without feeding, Sorkin says. And even when they do start biting, some people don’t notice because they are not allergic.
People who are allergic may experience redness and itching at the site of the bite. But bedbugs are not known to transmit disease the way ticks, mosquitoes, and other insect parasites do.
Best Defense: Know the Enemy
Sorkin says people don’t really know what to look for to reduce their chances of bringing home bedbugs when they travel because there hasn’t been a lot of public education.
When a bedbug has fed, it is about a quarter-inch long, reddish brown, and round like a tick. But young bedbugs and hungry ones are much harder to spot because they are much smaller and flat and can be white or straw colored, he says.