2008-02-13 / Features

Bed Bug Forum Draws Crowd To Astoria Civic Meeting

City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and Former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., listen as a representative from the city HPD speaks on bed bugs. City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and Former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., listen as a representative from the city HPD speaks on bed bugs. City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr., joined by representatives from the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD), led an Astoria Civic Association meeting February 5 that focused on informing the public about the growing problem of bed bugs. A panel of HPD officials gave a presentation informing landlords and residents about the best way to recognize, treat and prevent a bed bug infestation.

"Let me state for the record, I am officially against bed bugs," Vallone joked. "But, seriously, these nasty insects are invading our homes and our bedrooms, making it nearly impossible for people to sleep."

Bed bugs are tiny insects that feed on human blood, usually at night. About the size of an apple seed, the adults are big enough to be seen, but are small enough to hide in furniture, floors and walls. Adult bed bugs have flat, rusty-red-colored oval bodies. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and become brighter red. They can live for several months without food or water. In most cases, people carry bed bugs into their homes unknowingly, in infested luggage, furniture, bedding, or clothing. Bed bugs may also travel between apartments through small crevices and cracks in walls and floors.

Bed bugs have reemerged around the world after disappearing for many decades, infesting several neighborhoods around New York City. Bed bugs do not discriminate based on race, economic class or geography, and, surprisingly, Astoria is among the neighborhoods with the highest number of complaints.

In response to these repeated complaints, HPD is holding a series of information sessions around the city to inform people about preventing bed bug outbreaks. Such tips include washing clothing and bedding immediately after a trip, inspecting furniture and never bringing discarded mattresses or bedsprings into your home. Vallone sponsored a bill with Councilmember Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), also in attendance Tuesday, which would create a "Bed Bugs Task Force" and would make it illegal to pick up or sell used mattresses.

"We found out tonight that it is not easy to prevent bed bugs from entering your home, and it is even more difficult to get rid of them," Vallone said.

One of the biggest sources of concern for the more than 400 people who attended was who should pay for the oftentimes very expensive cost of eliminating bed bugs. The panel explained that since fault is difficult to establish, there is no single answer to that question, and the courts are now full of cases involving bed bugs.

Anyone who may have a bed bug infestation may notice small welts on his or her body, small bloodstains left from bed bugs or dark spots from their droppings on a mattress. Most bed bug bites are initially painless, but later turn into large, itchy skin welts. Unlike flea bites, these welts do not have a red spot in the center.

Although they are not dangerous or disease spreading, bed bugs can be extremely uncomfortable. Anyone with bed bugs should contact the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at 718-482-4994 or visit www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dshm/pesticid/appma n.htm.

"Knowledge is the best weapon to solve any problem, and I'm happy to play a part in informing my community about this disgusting pest," Vallone said.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends that homeowners hire pest control professionals licensed by the DEC to get rid of bed bugs.

The pest control company should:

• Inspect your home to confirm the presence of bed bugs.

• Find and eliminate their hiding places.

• Treat your home with special cleaning and/or pesticides if necessary.

• Make return visits to make sure bed bugs are gone.

Be sure to hire a licensed exterminator. Ask to see a copy of the license or check directly with DEC by calling (718) 482-4994 or visiting www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dshm/pesticid/appma n.htm

The best way to get rid of bed bugs is to clean, disinfect and eliminate their hiding places. Since bed bugs can live for several months without food and water, pest control professionals may use a pesticide. Talk with the professional about safe use of pesticides and make sure he or she:

• Uses the least toxic pesticide.

• Follows instructions and warnings on product labels.

• Advises about staying out of treated rooms and when it is safe to reenter.

• Treats mattresses and sofas by applying small amounts of pesticides on seams only. Pesticides should never be sprayed on top of mattresses or sofas.

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