News & Criticism

Don't Let the Bedbug Story Bite


Interesting analysis of a tiny–very tiny–media panic over the looming, but likely nonexistent, "return of the bedbug" from the Washington Post. Excerpt:

Even if no one is padding the totals, relying on reports from freaked-out callers is ill-advised. For one thing, there are so many people out there who think they're being devoured by bugs—and aren't—that psychologists have a name for it: delusional parasitosis.

"We had a lady come in here with a garbage bag she said was filled with bugs that were biting her," says Matt Nixon of American Pest Management in Takoma Park. "She handed it to my dad and she said, 'If you open that and you get bit, it's your problem.' And there was nothing in there except lint, hair and dry skin. We deal with people like that every week."

But there are so many bedbug false alarms that there's reason to assume many perfectly sane people are ringing them. In New York, the city housing authority has fielded and checked out more than 2,500 bedbug complaints in the past three years; fewer than 500 turned out to be actual infestations. Even allowing for some overlap—two calls about the same bugs, for instance—that's as many as two or three callers who don't have bedbugs for each caller who does.

NEXT: Washington "Times" Ditches Old-Timey Scare Quotes

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  1. I blame the awful “A Scanner Darkly” movie for this.

  2. a few block the door
    and now the questions:
    do i kill them?
    become their friend?
    do i eat them?
    raw or well done?
    do i trick them?
    i don’t think they’re that dumb
    do i join them?
    looks like that’s the one

  3. Oh, Say can you see
    Any bedbugs on me
    If you do, take a few
    ‘Cause I got them from you

    These damn bugs that we dread
    that are found in our bed
    O’er our pillows we watch
    At the twilight’s last gleaming

    And their bodies turn red
    As they swell as they’re fed
    Giving proof through the night
    That they’ll soon suck us dead

    Oh, Say do those blood sucking bastards still bite.
    For we’re not vermin free as we sleep thru the night.

  4. Gotchur bedbug right here.

  5. In the dark closet made of wooden planks, there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bedbugs, which had been allowed to multiply. The guards removed the prisoner’s jacket or field shirt, and immediately the hungry bedbugs assaulted him, crawling onto him from the walls or falling off the ceiling. At first he waged war with them strenuously, crushing them on his body and on the walls, suffocated by their stink. But after several hours he weakened and let them drink his blood without a murmur.

  6. Who would have thought this post would generate so many poetic comments?

  7. I don’t know how widespread it is, but I had bedbugs in my apartment, at least according to the professionals whom we called in when we saw mysterious bugs on our walls. Before then, I couldn’t tell a bedbug from an earwig (entomology isn’t my strong suit). I just saw a lot of bugs on my wall one evening.

    So, in my anecdotal experience, there are 100% more bedbugs in 2007-2008 than the preceding years since the Carter administration, when I was born.

  8. Bedbugs are nothing when compared to the sheer terror of the “brown recluse/brown widow/Hobo spider” that countless people experience upon seeing a TOTALLY HARMLESS, common house/garden spider crawling on their kitchen floor.

    As my dad used to say, “don’t squash him, he doesn’t eat much, and what he does eat are the bugs that might try to eat you.”

  9. Taktix?, thanks, now I’ve got that song stuck in my head… I bet nobody’s ever said that about “Bugs” before. 🙂

    I let it happen again
    They’re always takin’ over
    I see them surround me, I see…
    See them deciding my fate
    Oh, that which was once…was once up to me…
    Now it’s too late

  10. So, in my anecdotal experience, there are 100% more bedbugs in 2007-2008 than the preceding years since the Carter administration, when I was born.

    And it’s all because of Global Warming.

  11. rob, your dad had it right. I actually catch and release spiders I discover in my house.

  12. I don’t know if bed-bugs are ‘returning’. More likely we ‘Merkins are just getting more slovenly and/or traveling more. I do know from personal experience that they are not a pleasant thing to suddenly wake up to. As far as Global Warming, they do like warmer climes, but are not exactly limited to it; this is true for most insects. What does matter is the spread of Chagas disease, bedbugs and their cousin, kissing bugs, tend to spread it…as long as slovenly travelers help spread it.

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