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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Those ubiquitous subway mattress-encasement ads notwithstanding, bed bugs have largely disappeared from the public eye. Gone are the constant media freakouts over bugs in stores, movie theaters and hospitals. And in casual conversation, people, at least those who have not battled the things, are starting to talk as if it's yesterday's problem. There was even a recent news report to that effect on one of the major networks.
I find it hard to believe that the bed bug population is decreasing, given the logic of bed-bug behavior and the continuing lack of awareness that persists about this traveling, hitchhiking pest. Have bed bugs actually stopped spreading? Unlikely. Have they become so commonplace that they are not considered worth commenting on? Perhaps. Or are people so battered by the down economy that they are trying to deal with the pests themselves and suffering in silence?
Anecdotal evidence and statistics suggest that bed bugs are anything but over.
“I don’t know what they are talking about,” said Tim Wong, director of M&M Pest Control Inc., a leading NYC bed-bug eradication company, referring to reports of the tapering off of the bed-bug epidemic. “We continue to be busy and are seeing more reports from offices and other workplaces.”
The media craze that erupted last summer brought the critters to national attention, as if they had just happened upon the scene. This year we received dire warnings about a full-blown Summer of the Bedbug that did not materialize.
As far back as 2010, a commenter on a news article about bed bugs foresaw the decrease in attention, saying in effect, “The media hype will die down and people will say that bed bugs aren’t such a big deal anymore.”
That does not mean bed bugs have stopped breeding, however. Recently released statistics point to the grim truth: Bed bugs are increasing, and not just in homes. They are also doing so in workplaces and offices.
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA), in a member poll conducted with the University of Kentucky, corroborates Wong’s observation. In its 2011 Bugs Without Borders Survey, released in August, the NPMA says that 99 percent of the pest-control specialists it polled had dealt with bed-bug infestations during the previous year, and more than 8 of 10 reported an increasing number of calls.
“This represents a sharp increase in prevalence as only a mere 11 percent of respondents reported receiving bed-bug calls more than 10 years ago,” the NPMA said.
Moreover, the reports are indeed increasing at workplaces, the association said: “One of the most significant findings is that bed-bug encounters have become much more common in public places than the previous year, in some instances increasing by 10, 20 or nearly 30 percent.”
Of course, NPMA members stand to make money from bed-bug hysteria. But if one simply does the math and follows the pest's inevitable progression, then it is hard to come to any other conclusion. Besides, the NPMA is only repeating what its members report.
“The increase in bed-bug encounters is likely due to a combination of factors, but one thing is clear—this pest shows no signs of retreating,” NPMA spokesperson Missy Henriksen said in the statement.
“Of most concern," she continued, "are the places where pest professionals are encountering bed bugs, such as schools, hospitals and hotels/motels. In many cases, the numbers of professionals who have reported treating certain types of businesses and commercial facilities has seen double-digit growth.”
What to do with this information? I cannot stress it enough: monthly inspections of your sleeping area and environs. Inspect your hotel rooms. Check the outside of your luggage after traveling in a plane, train or bus on the off chance that a critter has crawled onto your bag from someone else’s, just as you would do a tick check on yourself after spending time outside during the summer.
Get to know your neighbors. The friendlier you are with them, the more likely they'll be to open up about a problem, or to strategize with you before a problem arises.
Do not stop going to the movies, however. Live your life. Keep your cool. Bed bugs are a pest of exposure, as the experts often repeat, and as long as you check carefully after potential exposure, you will go a long way toward keeping yourself free of bed bug chaos.