Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bedbugs on a Train

Are there extra passengers on this MTA train?
Life is not easy for New York City commuters.  Last week I noted that increasing numbers of squeegee men were washing car windows for "tips" when drivers stopped at red lights.

This week, the problem is on the subways.  Bedbugs on the subways.

Since the beginning of this month, bedbug reports have led the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to fumigate cars on the 5 and 7 lines.  Riders also have claimed to have seen bedbugs on the N and D trains, and the Daily News reported that an MTA cleaning employee found bedbugs in her home.

Bedbugs, like squeegee guys, are a concern always bubbling beneath the surface in the city.

A batch of bedbugs -- about 1/4 inch long -- magnified 

The Bedbug Apocalypse

Four years ago, the New York health department reported that confirmed incidents had increased from 82 in 2004 to 4,084 in 2010.

The number was an understatement -- renters and hotel guests filed complaints, while embarrassed homeowners and coop boards undertook corrections quietly, preferring to deal with infestations privately.  The reports came from buildings in the outer boroughs to high-end townhouses on the Upper East Side.

Real estate agents started writing bedbug inspection conditions into sale contracts.

Gradually, the problem eased, but city residents remain touchy and new bedbug reports trickle out from time to time.  Last year the bugs were found in rooms at the upscale W New York hotel and in dormitories at Princeton University.

Why Bedbugs on Trains Are Scary

Riding New York subways is nobody's idea of a peak experience, but it is an efficient way to get around the city.  Adding the threat of picking up bedbugs makes subways even less attractive.

Bedbugs are broad travelers, and the increase in global travel is credited with spreading them from one country to another.  In subway stations and on trains, the little critters are happy to hitchhike home on straphangers' socks and pants hems.  Once resettled, a bedbug lays one to 10 eggs daily.  After about 17 days, bedbug nymphs emerge from the eggs, invisible and hungry for blood meals.

Bedbug bites do not hurt and do not spread diseases, but they are red and itchy.  People sometimes confuse clusters of the bites with other rashes as the infestation of rooms and whole homes proceeds.

Getting rid of bedbugs is a real challenge.  They do not care for ant or roach bait.  They cannot be stamped out because their eggs cannot be seen.  Bed linens, curtains, shoes and clothing can be shed of the bugs by long periods in clothes driers set to hot.  Pest control experts employ insecticides or bring in industrial heaters to cook the bedbugs out of apartments.

A Little Perspective

In fact, New York is not a particularly bedbuggy city, but its density of apartment buildings and subway and bus travel may make it more susceptible to the spread of the bugs.

Orkin, the national pest control company with some experience in this area, publishes a list each year of cities with the greatest density of bedbugs. Here are the top five cities for 2013:

      1.  Chicago (for the second year in a row)
      2.  Los Angeles
      3.  Cleveland (and don't anyone tell LeBron James)
      4.  Detroit
      5.  Cincinnati

In fact, New York City came in 17th on the Orkin list, dropping 10 places from 2012.

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