Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs in New York City

A single bed bug on a blanket fiber
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Tiny bloodsucking bedbugs have become an epidemic in New York City over the last decade. The little pests have invaded even the cleanest and most expensive apartments in neighborhoods around Manhattan. Here's everything you need to know about bedbugs in NYC.

What Are Bedbugs?

A bedbug is a wingless, rust-colored insect about the size of an apple seed. Bedbugs are nocturnal parasites, which means they rest during the day and come out to dine on the blood of humans at night. Bedbugs are attracted by human body heat and the carbon dioxide that we breathe out and typically favor feasting on our shoulders and arms (ewww).

During feeding, the bedbug's proboscis pierces the skin of its victim, injecting bedbug saliva (double ewww); they typically feed for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. As the little critter fills with blood, its coloring changes from light brown to rust-red.

Do I Have Bedbugs?

If you're on the lookout, bedbugs typically hide in cracks and crevices. They especially love to live in bedding and on mattresses, where they have easy access to food (that means you). Other living areas favored by bedbugs include:

  • Between wooden floorboards
  • Wall cracks and crevices
  • In carpeting
  • In the seams and cracks of furniture, particularly bed frames
  • Under loose edges of wallpaper
  • Behind peeling paint

Aside from those telltale bites (see below), other signs that bedbugs may have moved in include:

  • Tiny bloodstains from crushed bugs on sheets or mattresses
  • Dark spots of bug excrement on bedding or walls
  • An offensive musty odor when infestations are severe

Do I Have Bedbug Bites (And How Can I Treat Them)?

Bedbugs are rarely seen in action by their human victims. The first signs of a bedbug infestation are usually bites. Bedbug bites are generally painless, though itchy and annoying. They tend to start as swollen weals, then fade to red marks and gradually disappear over a few days.

Experts suggest washing bedbug bites with antiseptic soap to avoid infection. The itching can be treated with calamine lotion or anesthetic creams.

How Do Bedbugs Spread?

Bedbugs often spread by hitching rides on people's clothing or bags. They jump from host to host when people brush up against each other in crowds (yet another reason to keep your distance on the subway).

They also spread through mattresses. Reconditioned mattresses, which are refurbished old mattresses, often spread bedbugs into stores and homes. In addition, bedbugs can spread when old and new mattresses are transported in the same truck.

Experts say bedbugs have been all but dormant for decades. The recent comeback is said to be primarily the result of increased global travel, along with the banning of potent pesticides like DDT.

How Can I Get Rid of Bedbugs?

Getting rid of bedbugs can be tricky, and in most cases, it's necessary to hire a professional. A qualified exterminator can use stronger insecticides to kill the bedbugs. Repeat visits may be necessary to ensure that all bedbugs are eliminated, considering that in proper conditions, adult bedbugs can survive without a meal for a year or longer. However, these annoying pests can be eliminated.

Here are some do-it-yourself methods you can try in addition to calling the exterminator:

  • Thoroughly wash, vacuum, or clean all surfaces and bedding
  • Wash or dry-clean bedding and affected clothing; use hot water and a dryer on the hottest setting whenever possible
  • Vacuum mattresses and seal them in plastic or bedbug-resistant casing
  • Steam-clean carpets

Updated by Elissa Garay

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