A teenage George Washington quickly abandoned an infested bed in the Shenandoahs more than 250 years ago. Today, area residents of all ages are jumping in their jammies. This region is already among the top ten areas hit by the recent bed bug infestation, and it’s predicted by an exterminator president to approach the notoriously overrun New York City in a year or two. Denizens disturbed by the news, a.k.a. “Attack of the Blood Sucking Bugs,” should take something FROM the creatures for a change.
A Little Perspective: Tell a formerly infested acquaintance that you might have bed bugs. She’ll gasp in horror and drop urgent work and needy kids for you, her new top priority. Bed bug crises were likely atop her and many others’ list of the year’s “Ten Worst” as they lost time, health and sleep in taxing bug battles.
In the past, those pests were more common. But they were less commented upon. Poverty, war and acute hunger relegated bed bugs to a smaller part of the daily struggle for those in World War II concentration camps, Toronto homeless shelters and Freetown refugee camps in Sierra Leone.
Even now bed bugs strike everyone, but they have a penchant for the poor despite their infrequent travel. So, for many of us, appreciation is in order.
Commitment to Fight for Freedom: As horrifying as the experience is, the bugs disappear from many Washingtonians’ homes in just weeks with proper treatment. For many, the hundreds to thousands of dollars – explicitly excluded in home insurance policies – is costly but affordable.
Not so for others. One third of DC children live in poverty (defined by a family of four earning
less than $22,000 a year). Sixteen percent of kids live in families earning half that, leaving no money to spare, according to Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow. The DC government and private landlords are usually responsible for vermin issues, but often unresponsive. Many of those families devoutly scour and clean – an approach woefully ineffective in wiping out rodents, rats, and roaches from multi-unit housing.
Ridding bed bugs may pose an even tougher challenge. Given the cost and complexity of eliminating them from apartment buildings, two kinds of property managers could emerge, says American Pest President Matt Nixon: “People who knock bed bugs back enough to rent the unit and those people who want to completely eliminate the problem.”
Legislation pending in New York, like requiring landlord disclosure and mandating home insurance options, seems to solve only part of the problem. So stay informed and active on the issue.
Save Your Stigma – The intense secrecy surrounding bed bugs may be true to the city’s huge defense presence.
Tenants don’t disclose to landlords fearing reprisal, and infested individuals are silent with schools, offices and friends for fear of the stigma. Landlords sign confidentiality agreements with exterminators and may not confide in their tenants and shoppers, fearing lost revenue and liability.
But such secrecy might speed the spread and deepen the shame.
Destigmatization comes from awareness, education and time. The DC government has launched a public service announcement and held training. More effective than such campaigns is often the coming out and commitment of a celebrity, like Magic Johnson with AIDS.
The infestation affects places more than people, so maybe the insect icon will be a building. Victoria’s Secret temporarily shuttered a Manhattan store, and high-end Bergdorf Goodman is being patrolled by bed bug-sniffing beagles. Until then (and after), be open and accepting.
Plan to Declutter: Bed bugs – and all vermin – love the dirtier living conditions and hiding places that come with clutter. While cleaning up won’t prevent or reduce an infestation, it could slow the spread and facilitate treatment.
Americans accumulate piles of paper and mounds of mish-mash. Adorable tchotchkes and a “really great deal” make them weak in the knees.
Abroad, a more minimalist aesthetic often prevails despite less space. And in Europe, biking and walking to stores often eliminates overloading as an option.
Shopping and splurging makes sense, of course, but be smart about it. Professional organizers
would advise such strategies as ditching one clothing item for each purchased, and cleaning different home areas periodically.
Avoid the graphic pictures of teeming bed bugs. But think about the how we can protect our sanity and our community to create constructive change from the critter crisis.