New Yorkers can't flee city's bed bugs – even in the Hamptons

It used to be the exploding population of rats in New York City that gave everyone the creeps, but today it's a different urban infestation that is gripping the imaginations – not to say sucking the blood – of its residents. The city does sleep occasionally, which is when the bed bugs come out to play – lots and lots of them.

Not so long ago, bed bugs barely registered on the radars of the pest control specialists in Manhattan. Across America, in fact, the squishy critters had all but disappeared thanks to the pesticide DDT. But since that chemical cocktail was banned the bugs have been making a spectacular comeback.

It is raining bed bugs in New York – they can fall kamikaze–style from ceilings on to sleeping victims. This week, part of an emergency room was briefly shut down in Brooklyn after one bug was discovered by nurses. The week before, the preppy clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch was forced to temporarily shutter two of its Manhattan outlets to combat infestations.

Exploded suddenly then is the myth that bed bugs reside only in seedy hotels and crummier postcodes. No, they are "equal opportunity" bugs, according to New York magazine which reported this week that the infestation had reached The Hamptons. The filmmaker Joel Roodman and his wife, Jill Taft, were "shocked and horrified" to discover their $18,000 (£12,000) holiday rental in East Hampton, was "crawling". Ms Taft (a former model) sought treatment in hospital such was the extent of the bites on her face.

Exterminators report being called more and more frequently to commercial spaces. "We've had them in banks, grocery stores, movie theatres, judges' chambers, schools, dentists' offices – everywhere," said Jeff Eisenberg of PestAway, an exterminating company in the city. And we haven't mentioned hotels.

"We will never stay in this hotel again," screeched a posting yesterday on bedbugregistry.com, a web site that tracks bug discoveries across the US with an "incident" map and addresses of afflicted tourist hostelries. The author had purportedly found a bulging bug in the otherwise pristine white sheets of their bed in a W Hotel on Manhattan's East Side. On complaining to the front desk, they were allegedly told "Welcome to New York!"

In other words, if you come to Gotham, expect bugs as well as Broadway. A Top 10 list of cities most afflicted was published yesterday by – of course – the makers of an anti–bug spray, Insight Pharmaceuticals. New York in fact came in second, one below Columbus, Ohio. In third place was Toronto.

Bed bugs generally don't carry disease and they are not going to kill anyone. But everything else about them is simply not savoury. They like to creep on to you at night, whereupon two tubes pierce your skin, one to suck blood, the other to inject a numbing solution so you won't stir. Often, it's that solution that causes a reaction in the victim.

Once in, they are devilishly difficult to get out. Depending on the severity of an infestation, residents can be forced to leave their homes for weeks to allow for a clearout of the unwelcome guests. Mattresses, sofas, curtains, clothes, pillows and rugs are often thrown out. Whole walls may need to be torn down.

Even if you do get rid of every last bug, you had better be sure your neighbours don't have them. Or that you don't bring them back in. Business travellers are being told never to put suitcases on beds in hotel rooms – bugs love to jump in and hitch a ride back to their homes. In Denver, staff of the central library discovered bugs were moving around the city by burrowing into the spines of borrowed and returned books.

Ascertaining the extent of the epidemic is proving problematic in New York. They do know the numbers are dramatically up, however. The city's non–emergency hotline reports a 19 per cent surge from 2009. The numbers of complaints from renters rose to 10,985 last year compared to just 537 in 2004. Everyone agrees, however, that the problem is far more widespread than the statistics suggest.

This is because many homeowners won't even hire exterminators unless they promise to use unmarked vans and work incognito. An infestation is not just embarrassing it can also instantly deflate the value of a property, indeed of a whole building. "People don't tell their employers that they have bedbugs in their house," said Mr Eisenberg. "It's like a don't ask, don't tell policy."

How the bed bugs bite

Thought to have been eradicated from the US in the 1950s, the fearsome bed bug ( Cimex lectularius) reared its unwelcome head again in the 1980s, and has since gained in strength. In 2004, there were 82 verified infestations in New York; last year, there were 10,985.

They start as miniscule eggs, grow to become translucent white 'nymphs' between 1 and 1.6mm long, and end up as brown, 5mm-long adults. They feed on blood every five days or so, but if they can't find any, they are astonishingly hardy and able to survive for up to a year without feeding. When they are able to eat, they tend to do so in the hour before dawn – and get their fix of blood by piercing the skin of their victim with two tubes, pumping their own numbing saliva in with one and blood out with the other.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor