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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicHunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original  manuscripts
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... while following the referendum
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
New Articles
i100
News
people
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week