Chicago vs. Bed Bugs

Advocating policy to control the spread of bed bugs in the City of Chicago

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Chicago vs. Bed Bugs on Hold, For Now

Posted by Jessica on February 3, 2009

Hey all!  I wanted to let everyone know that I have to take a break from Chicago vs. Bed Bugs for a few weeks, so I’m putting our mission on hold for now.  I hurt my back a couple months ago, and it’s not getting better, so I’ll be undergoing a procedure to fix it soon.

You won’t see any new posts, and I won’t be able to approve your comments (your comments will be held for moderation during this time) or respond to your emails for awhile.  But I will be back, and so will Chicago vs. Bed Bugs, as soon as I’m well enough to sit at my laptop again.

In the meantime, please use the resources available to you on our Policy and Resources pages, and browse through our Discuss page to view conversations we’ve had about bed bugs, policy, treatment, local laws, and much more.  If you come up with ideas or suggestions, or you have questions that aren’t already addressed here on the website, feel free to send them to me in an email, and I’ll respond after I’ve recovered.

As always, I encourage everyone to visit the website of our sister organization in New York City, New York vs. Bed Bugs.  Renee Corea, the organization’s co-founder, keeps the website updated with all sorts of information about policy and procedures to control the spread of bed bugs.

And, as always, I encourage everyone to visit, especially if you have questions about bed bugs in general or want to participate in discussion about bed bugs with others.

See you soon, I hope!


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Cincinnati’s Strategic Plan: The Basic Framework

Posted by Jessica on February 1, 2009

If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably aware that our organization– Chicago vs. Bed Bugs– advocates policy to control the spread of bed bug infestations in the City of Chicago.  But you probably have no idea what the heck that means, right?  It’s okay.  Not many people do.

Our organization advocates a plan– a strategic, coordinated effort– to acknowledge, address, and eventually stop the spread of bed bugs in Chicago.  The type of plan we advocate will involve multiple city departments and agencies.  It will be developed, monitored, and enforced by a team of representatives: health department officials, streets and sanitation officials, members of city council and other legislators, expert pest management professionals, local entomologists (bug scientists), and representatives of community organizations.  The type of plan we advocate will involve public education campaigns, landlord and tenant training workshops, amendments to local laws, tracking and surveillance, standardized treatment protocol, mandatory training for pest management companies, and lots more.

Sounds like we’re advocating the impossible, doesn’t it?

Well, Cincinnati, among other cities, is doing it.  And if Cincinnati can do it, Chicago can do it, too.  Right?

In Cincinnati, it all started with a series of town hall meetings, initiated by Ohio State Representative Dale Mallory back in 2007.  Those meetings prompted Representative Mallory to convene an emergency meeting with city, county, and state officials to discuss ways in which the bed bug problem in Cincinnati and Hamilton County could be solved.  The product of that emergency meeting is the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Joint Bed Bug Task Force; the product of the Task Force is The Cincinnati-Hamilton County Joint Bed Bug Task Force Strategic Plan.

The following information was copied directly from the 52-page document that is the Strategic Plan.  It’s been summarized and paraphrased, in some cases, to highlight critical elements and accomplishments– policies and procedures and strategies and plans– that we advocate here in our city.

Joint Bed Bug Task Force Structure

  • Cincinnati Health Department and Hamilton County Public Health
  • The Ohio State University Extension Entomology
  • Stakeholders – people/organizations that are present at the meetings (future inclusion)
  • Interested parties – people/organizations that receive automatic notification and minutes of the meetings (future inclusion)

Joint Bed Bug Task Force Members:

  • Dr. Camille Jones, Assistant Health Commissioner for the Cincinnati Health Department
  • Timothy Ingram, Hamilton County Health Commissioner
  • Dr. Susan Jones, Ohio State University Extension Entomologist
  • Antonio Young, Supervising Sanitarian for the Technical Environmental Service of the City of Cincinnati Health Department
  • Chris Eddy, Hamilton County Director of Environmental Health
  • Thomas Hooper, Sanitarian in the Technical Environmental Service of the City of Cincinnati Health Department
  • Robert Smith, RS
  • Bernadette Watson, Public Information Officer
  • Dr. Mohammad Alam, Director of the Environmental Health Sciences section of the Cincinnati Health Department

What Cincinnati/Hamilton County has accomplished thus far:
*Listed by individual working group

Cost and Resource Needs Working Group:

  • Established list of resources needed for (detailed list provided; refer to pages 13-15 of Strategic Plan):
  • Further development of complaint lines
  • Development of best practices protocols to regulate businesses and practices that may contribute to spreading infestations
  • Further development of surveillance systems
  • Development of standardized education materials
  • Development of policies for disposal of infested furniture
  • Development and monitoring of inspection protocols and procedures
  • Development of creative strategies to encourage responsiveness on the part of owners and occupants of multi-unit buildings that are infested
  • Established list of cost estimates and assumptions, based on the escalation of complaints for three different scenarios:

*The Working Group notes that based on the escalation of complaints seen in New York City, it is reasonable to plan for at least a doubling of complaints.

  • At the same level of complaints as 2007 in Cincinnati and Hamilton County
  • At twice the number of complaints seen in 2007
  • At four times the number of complaints seen in 2007
  • Established a regional total estimate for the cost of the entire Strategic Plan, based on the escalation of complaints at twice the 2007 number and at four times the 2007 number.

Hotline/Database Working Group:

  • Evaluated existing hotline and complaint system and database: City of Cincinnati CSR system.
  • Developed a plan for implementation of a joint city/county bed bug hotline through existing CSR system, using existing software and database applications to recognize, route, process and geographically map bed bug hotline calls.
  • Requested resources to be allocated to accomplish reprogramming of existing CSR system within a specific time frame.
  • Developed a list of issues related to developing bed bug hotline to address and resolve.
  • Determined that Hamilton County Public Health and the Cincinnati Health Department would continue to respond to direct calls and input those calls into the existing CSR system until reprogramming is accomplished and issues are addressed and resolved.

Education Working Group

  • Evaluated current education efforts:
  • Enlisted Dr. Susan Jones, an entomologist with the Ohio State University Extension, to review educational materials produced by both health departments to develop standardized and state-of-the-art educational content to provide to citizens.
  • Planned to develop new educational resources in the following areas:
  • General information
  • Treatments people can apply themselves, and cautions
  • What is an Integrated Pest Management System? (multiple topics covered here; refer to page 18 of Strategic Plan)
  • What to expect if your home is being treated for bed bugs
  • How to adequately prepare your apartment or home prior to pesticide treatment for bed bugs
  • How to evaluate a pest control operator
  • How to find out the complaint history of a pest control operator
  • How to choose a mattress and bed spring encasement
  • How the public can check to see if they are hiring a licensed pest control operator (PCO), and how to check the pesticide complaint records at ODA for PCOs, and how to file a complaint
  • Infested furniture (involves bed bug hotline, refer to page 19)
  • Media/Public Service announcements
  • Scripts for calls to CSR
  • Guidelines for special situations (child who comes to school with bed bugs; clients with bed bugs who enter public buildings or public transportation)
  • Education outreach in schools, community councils, hotels
  • Education about secondary health issues
  • Translations of materials into other languages
  • Low literacy materials
  • Prevention
  • Dissemination of information through multiple venues

Inspection Issues Working Group

  • Developed a summary of inspection issues from the perspective of Task Force entomologists
  • Developed recommendations based on assessment of existing laws governing multi-unit buildings:
  • Health Department and other inspectors participate in field assessments rather than full inspections
  • Field assessment confirms a complaint on the basis of performance of a standardized protocol for field assessment
  • If any sign of bed bug infestation (bed bug seen or fecal stains), a warning letter will be given to the owner/manager saying that action to abate the nuisance must be taken within 5 days
  • At the same time, extensive education materials will be given to both the owner/manager and the occupant, including guidelines for site preparation and information about Integrated Pest Management Programs
  • If the site is a multi-unit building of 4 or more units, at 5 days of follow-up the owner/manager will be required to show evidence that a licensed pest control operator has been hired to do the abatement
  • If no action has been taken to abate the nuisance, the owner/manager will be written a Notice of Violation, and will be subject to further enforcement of action according to city or county codes
  • Due to the complexities and challenges of achieving complete eradication in multi-unit buildings, the Inspection/Issues Working Group and the Joint Bed Bug Task Force as a whole recommends that evidence of continued efforts to eradicate will be accepted in lieu of absolute confirmation of eradication
  • With continued infestation, the pest control operator may be required to document that they are using state-of-the-art practice in their attempt to eradicate the bed bugs
  • Developed a draft flowchart to show how health department field assessments would lead to a letter of warning, then notice of violation, and orders for abatement
  • Committed to development of a standardized protocol for health department complaint follow-up
  • Committed to development of a standardized criteria for “closing out” a bed bug complaint

Transient Accommodations Working Group:

  • Cincinnati Board of Health adopted a Transient Accommodations Regulation (BOH Regulation #00011) that will help Cincinnati Health Department Environmental Health staff evaluate the bed bug infestation situation in the city

And there you have it: policy to control the spread of bed bug infestations in action.  It can be done, my friends.  It’s just a matter of how.

*You can view related articles written by our adviser at New York vs. Bed Bugs here, and by our adviser at here.

Posted in Bed Bugs, bedbugs, City of Chicago, Codes and Practices, Existing Strategic Plans, Experts, Legal, Multi-Unit Dwellings, National Politics, Policy, Progress In Other Cities | Leave a Comment »

Bed Bug Q & A With Smithereen Pest Management

Posted by Jessica on January 26, 2009

Readers, we recently had the opportunity to talk about our favorite subject (I’m using the word ‘favorite’ very loosely here, for the record) with the professionals at Smithereen Pest Management, a Chicago-based company that specializes in treating bed bug infestations.  We asked them a ton of questions and we got a ton of really good answers in return.  These people know their stuff!

So listen up, Chicagoans.  Here’s what your local experts have to say about bed bug infestations:

On Bed Bugs in General

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: If you could tell the general public one thing about bed bugs, what would it be?

Smithereen: Bed bugs don’t see social status, they see a blood meal. Anybody and everybody is at risk to have bed bugs.

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Would you like to comment on the stigma associated with bed bugs?

Smithereen: This pest is not associated with cleanliness or social status; it occurs where people occur, all people.  Although there is a stigma associated with bed bugs, we must overcome this perception and realize that anybody and everybody can get bed bugs.

On the Spread of Bed Bugs in the City of Chicago (and elsewhere)

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Can you estimate the increase in calls to Smithereen from Chicagoans in need of service for bed bugs?  Can you give us a comparison between the number of these calls in 2007 and in 2008?

Smithereen: Bed bug jobs increased 3 fold between 2007 and 2008.  This number has been on a steep rise for the past few years.

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Author and biologist Bill Schutt recently told MSNBC “Within the next two or three years, bed bugs are going to elbow termites and roaches out of the way to become the No. 1 pest in the United States.”  Do you believe that this statement is valid?

Smithereen: We agree that bed bugs will be one of the biggest pests of our generation because of the complexity and difficulty of elimination.

On Treatment Procedures

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: How long does an inspection for a bed bug infestation by Smithereen technicians typically take? Is this something customers should consider when hiring a pest management company to treat a bed bug infestation?

Smithereen: From 30 minutes to 90 minutes. It depends on how much “stuff” the occupants have. The inspection is integral and is very thorough since a light infestation of bed bugs can be easy to miss. The eggs and nymphs are difficult to see and bed bugs are secretive and hide in difficult to see areas. A pest management company should provide the customer with information and a list of cooperative steps to be taken before the company starts treatment.

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: What happens if Smithereen’s technicians don’t find evidence of a bed bug infestation upon completion of an initial inspection?  I’ve heard landlords and property managers talk about companies that treat “infestations that don’t exist”.  I think this is a common concern among people who are financially responsible for eliminating bed bug infestations– that they’ll pay a lot of money for a problem that might not exist.

Smithereen: If we don’t find any evidence of bed bugs we will not do a treatment. This is a Smithereen policy and is part of our IPM strategy.

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: We believe that integrated pest management (IPM) plans are the best approach to controlling bed bug infestations.  What tools, besides pesticide application, does Smithereen use to treat bed bug infestations?

Smithereen: IPM is integral to any pest issue, bed bugs included.  We rely on variety traditional methods as well as vacuuming, steam cleaning, thorough dust application, as well as customer cooperation.  We use this battery of tactics to aide in the successful elimination of bed bugs from a unit and we are constantly looking for better methods and protocols.  Since bed bugs are increasingly difficult to control, having as many weapons against them is the course of action that all customers should keep in mind when deciding on a pest management company.  Combating bed bugs takes cooperation, patience, and time.

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Do bed bug infestations typically require more than one treatment?  Does Smithereen automatically return for a follow-up treatment after the initial treatment?

Smithereen: In almost all cases, it will take more than one treatment.  Bed bugs are adapted to be elusive and so it is almost impossible to get them all in the first round. Smithereen automatically does a follow-up inspection with treatment if activity seen. The problem is with the eggs, these can be attached to manner of surfaces and hatch out five days after the original treatment.  If no further activity is recorded Smithereen will not schedule any further treatment.

On “Cloverleafing”

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Smithereen’s Service Agreement For the Treatment of Bed Bugs mentions “cloverleafing”.  What is cloverleafing and why is it important for controlling bed bug infestations in multi-unit dwellings?

Smithereen: Cloverleafing is a process by which we inspect all units that come into contact with the infested unit: above, below, side to side, and kitty corner.  This is invaluable since bed bugs have the ability to move between apartments, we want to be sure we catch all potential infestations early.

On Customer Cooperation

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Smithereen’s Service Agreement for the Treatment of Bed Bugs mentions customer obligations, and includes four pages of instructions for customers to follow in order to prepare for bed bug treatment.  Why is customer participation so important for controlling bed bug infestations?

Smithereen: Customer participation and cooperation are vital in the elimination of bed bugs.  Bed bugs are found not only in the bed but can be in a variety of places within a living space.  Since we cannot treat every possession, we ask our customers to wash, dry, and bag many of their personal belongings before we arrive.

On the Cost of Controlling Bed Bug Infestations

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: Can you tell us why bed bug infestations are so expensive to control?  Why does a thorough, comprehensive treatment plan for bed bug infestations cost so much more than treatment for other pests, like roaches or ants?

Smithereen: The price comes with the time and thoroughness required for the process, as well as the expertise necessary.  This is not an easy problem to solve and most likely will take multiple visits.  It is also important to remember that this is not a sanitation or structural related pest, this is a parasite that occurs where humans occur.

On Saving Money in the Long Run

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: We’ve asserted (many times) that landlords and/or property managers could save themselves a lot of money by contracting with a pest management company that specializes in treating bed bug infestations as soon as a bed bug infestation is reported to them.  Do you agree?

Smithereen: The key to stopping the problem from grabbing hold of any building is to correctly respond to the first outbreak.  Quick competent action will stop the insect from spreading.  It would be wise to hire a company that is experienced in dealing with bed bugs infestations.

On Public Education and Policy

Chicago vs. Bed Bugs: A new bed bug bill was recently introduced by New York’s City Council.  The bill, if passed, would require the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish a training program for pest control technicians who treat bed bug infestations.  Do you think the City of Chicago as a whole would benefit from a similar program?

Smithereen: What we think is most beneficial is to have companies that perform bed bug jobs to be the best trained and experienced for the job. We believe any industry training should come predominantly from within the pest control industry, since they have the most practical experience in dealing with the problem. Health Department officials can play a vital part in training the general public how to recognize signs of bed bug infestation and how to correctly respond once the problem has been diagnosed.

And there you have it, folks.  Good information from a pest management company that’s known for getting the job done, and getting it done right.

We thank the experts at Smithereen Pest Management, especially Sara Kantarovich, for their graciousness, their willingness to help us disseminate good information to the public, and for answering every last one of our many, many, many questions.  We really appreciate it!

Posted in Activism Task, Bed Bugs, bedbugs, Chicago North, Chicago South, City of Chicago, Codes and Practices, Experts, Landlords, Multi-Unit Dwellings, Pest Management Professionals, Resurgence, Tenants | 13 Comments »

Something Everyone Should Know About Bed Bugs

Posted by Jessica on January 25, 2009

All bed bugs do not look alike.  In fact, young bed bugs are clear– they’re almost transparent– and they don’t look like the bed bugs you’re likely to find in pictures on the internet. They don’t turn reddish or dark brown until after they’ve fed on your blood.  Most people don’t know this, but everyone really should, because it’s easy to miss a tiny little translucent bug in the corner of your mattress if you don’t know you should be looking for it.  Here are some amazing photos of a first instar nymph (a bed bug in its first stage of life) before, during, and at the end of a feeding session on a real live human hand, courtesy of AMNH- Sorkin & Mercurio on this Flickr Photostream:

I know, I know, it’s gross, but it’s a reality for many, many people. And knowing this could save you lots of time, money, and misery in the future.  So, take a mental picture, and the next time you take your sheets off your bed, give your mattress a good inspection, okay?  Trust me, you want to catch it early, even if it creeps you out!

Posted in Bed Bugs, bedbugs, Photos | 2 Comments »

City of Chicago: Here’s How to Save $51,000.00

Posted by Jessica on January 19, 2009

Ready?  ADDRESS THE SPREAD OF BED BUG INFESTATIONS NOW.  That, City of Chicago, is how to save $51,000.00 in the future.

Or, you could wait, and end up shelling out exactly that amount and probably much, much more in the months and years to come.

Don’t believe me?  I don’t blame you.  You might, however, be inclined to believe this story in today’s Contra Costa Times:

Berkeley to bite back against bedbugs

The city of Berkeley plans to spend $51,000 to control an infestation of bedbugs at the Men’s Overnight Shelter downtown that has sent numerous homeless clients to the hospital for treatment.

The City Council on Tuesday allocated the money for its Center Street building that it leases to the shelter. The city funds about one-third of the shelter’s $600,000 budget, Green said.

Hmmm. I wonder if the City of Chicago allocates any money to fund its shelters? If so, it could be in for major trouble, because, as the inhabitants of the Men’s Overnight Shelter discovered, bed bugs are nothing to joke about:

“We are now routinely sending people to the hospital, because for some of them it’s really bad.”  Even members of the shelter’s staff have been bitten, Green said.

Jimmy Longwell, 42, said he spent three days at Highland Hospital in Oakland after he had an allergic reaction to the bites.

Wayne Jones, 49, said he also had the misfortune of spending time in the Men’s Overnight Shelter.  “I got eaten up pretty good for about 31/2 weeks,” Jones said. “I had to go to the emergency room twice and to my own doctor once. I got out of there as soon as I could.”

Lots of people are allergic to bed bug bites. And lots of people require medical attention to treat bed bug bites.  In fact, the World Health Organization says

The saliva of bedbugs contains biologically and enzymatically active proteins that may cause a progressive immunogenic and allergenic reaction to repeated biting.

Numerous routine bedbug bites can contribute to anaemia and may even make a person more susceptible to common diseases.

The bottom line, folks, is that someone– most likely the Department of Public Health– is going to have to take responsibility for addressing and controlling bed bug infestations in the City of Chicago. And sooner is better than later. Bed bug infestations are much less expensive to control when they’re treated early.

I think these final quotes from the Contra Costa Times sum it up quite nicely:

Micallef, who has worked in the city’s housing and homeless agencies for years, said bedbugs are now everywhere.

Green said his agency asked for money from the city because he spent $2,000 twice on treatments that didn’t work.   “No one has money for this kind of stuff in their budget,” he said.   “It’s tough.”

True.  No one does have money for this kind of stuff in their budget.  It doesn’t really matter, though, does it?  The $51,000.00 gets shelled out anyway, despite what the budget says.

So, City of Chicago, here’s how to save at least $51,000.00: ADDRESS THE SPREAD OF BED BUG INFESTATIONS NOW.

Posted in Bed Bugs, bedbugs, City of Chicago, National News | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The New York Times on Bed Bugs

Posted by Jessica on January 14, 2009

You know bed bugs are a big deal when they show up in a New York Times editorial.  Today, they did.

In Getting the Bed Bugs Out, the Times editors, as we like to say here at Chicago vs. Bed Bugs, absolutely nailed it. And they nailed it hard:

Complaints about bed bugs in New York City are rising steadily. As any health official can attest, the only good thing about these nighttime pests is that they don’t seem to cause disease. That doesn’t count panic attacks and the outsize frustration for residents who try to get help from a maze of local and state bureaucracies.

Nice.  Sounds pretty familiar to me.  And this sounds REALLY familiar to me:

In Boston, officials began giving out fluorescent orange stickers — with a picture of the dreaded bed bug — to warn against taking home overstuffed trash. Other cities have established bed bug task forces to help fight invasions in homes, hotels and hospitals. Unfortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has done much on other quality-of-life issues, has not made bed bugs a big deal.

Ahem.  Well, I’m not bold enough to publicly name the people in our city who have, unfortunately, not made bed bugs a big deal.  I have, however, been saying (repeatedly, I know) that other cities are taking action to protect their residents, their businesses, and their economies.  And I’ve been wondering (repeatedly, I know) why the heck our city isn’t following suit.

Here’s the best part:

We hope Ms. [Gale] Brewer, other Council members and state lawmakers — and the mayor — will press for better training and more rigorous certification of exterminators, more public education about these pests, tougher standards for used furniture and a task force to figure out how to stay ahead of an army that seems to be growing every year.

Me too!  And I certainly hope that our Chicago City Council members and our Illinois lawmakers will press for all of these things, too.  Soon.

Chicagoans, this link takes you to a page that shows a map of all the wards and aldermen in the City of Chicago.  If you click on your ward, you will find all kinds of information about your alderman, including specific contact information.

This link takes you to the Mayor’s Office contact info page.

This one takes you to an Illinois State Board of Elections page, on which you can type in your street address and find the contact information of your state representatives, your state senators, the attorney general, and more.

It’s up to you to make yourselves heard.  If you are dealing with or have experienced a bed bug infestation, I encourage you to tell the people who have the power to take action: Tell them how much it cost you to get rid of bed bugs.  Tell them, landlords, how much it’s costing you to rid your buildings of bed bugs.  Tell them, all of you, if bed bugs have adversely affected your quality of life or your health, and tell them how.

Like I said, you know bed bugs are a big deal when they show up in a New York Times editorial.  Chicagoans, the time is now.  You are, quite obviously, not alone.

Posted in Activism Opportunity, Bed Bugs, bedbugs, City of Chicago, Existing Strategic Plans, Local Politics, National News, Policy | Leave a Comment »

AAOA on Landlords, Liability, and Bed Bugs

Posted by Jessica on January 13, 2009

The American Apartment Owners Association posted some interesting words of caution to landlords on its blog today, and I thought I’d share some of them with you, Chicagoans.  I think it’s important for all of us to understand just how messy things can get between landlords and tenants when they’re forced to deal with bed bug infestations.

The title of AAOA’s post is “Are You Screening Your New Tenants for Bedbugs?  Landlord Liability Expanding As Bedbugs Continue to Thrive in Apartments,” and it starts off like this:

As these insidious biting creatures find their way from apartment house to apartment house riding in suitcases, furniture and clothing, new avenues of liability for landlords are emerging, including:

  • New tenants who bring bedbugs to the building
  • Old tenants who bring the problem to the new landlord
  • Employees and vendors who bring the nuisance to other apartments, and their own homes

These are some really important issues, and I’m glad to see that the AAOA is addressing them.  I’ve been contacted by countless Chicagoans over the last few months who are or have been involved in frustrating debates with their landlords or with their tenants about which of them is responsible for paying to exterminate bed bug infestations, and to what extent they are responsible.  It’s a tangled web, believe me.

The debates always seem to come down to one question: Who brought bed bugs into the apartment or building in the first place?

I keep hearing the same arguments, over and over again.  Landlords argue that tenants bring bed bugs into buildings, and therefore tenants should be responsible for eliminating bed bugs from buildings.  Tenants argue that they do not bring bed bugs in– or if they do, they don’t know it– and that landlords are responsible for maintaining their buildings, so landlords should be responsible for eliminating bed bugs.

I can see both sides of these arguments, I really can.  They’re both right, you know.  Bed bugs are human parasites; they travel with humans because they rely on our blood to survive.  So bed bugs are, in fact, introduced into buildings by humans.

It’s impossible, though, to figure out how bed bugs got into a building.  The truth is that many people live with bed bugs for months before they discover an infestation, because bed bugs are extremely difficult to detect.  By the time an infestation is discovered, it’s tough to try to determine where they came from: Could it have been a business trip taken last month?  Maybe a friend or relative brought them in?  Or did the bed bug infestation actually originate in a neighbor’s apartment, and travel in through an adjoining wall?

It’s impossible to try to find answers to these questions.  Think about it for a minute.  No one could prove any of the theories mentioned above– the business trip, the visiting relative, the neighbor– no matter how hard they tried.  Do you think you could find out if there were bed bugs in your hotel room during last month’s business trip?  Try calling the hotel and see what they say.  I bet they don’t say “Why yes, we do have a bed bug problem!”.  Or, try asking your relatives if they might have bed bugs.  I bet they don’t say “Why yes, and I brought them to you accidentally!”.  Imagine asking your neighbor if his or her apartment is infested.  I bet you wouldn’t hear “Yes, it is, and if yours is, too, we should work together to get rid of them!”.  You see, it’s impossible to try to figure it out, because even in the most obvious cases, the finger can– and likely will– be pointed in another direction.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who “brought them in” anyway, does it?  What matters is who’s going to get them out.

And herein lies the problem, because once bed bugs are in, they are incredibly expensive to get out.  We’re talking thousands of dollars, people, many, many thousands of dollars.  As AAOA’s blog says

Once introduced into a unit (via a mattress or other belongings), bedbugs spread as invisibly and effectively as germs throughout the other units and common areas. The cost of subsequent decontamination of your building is significant, not to mention the hassle of subsequent sweeps when remaining eggs hatch.

True.  And the cost– the thousands and thousands of dollars– is what starts the finger-pointing and the debating between landlords and tenants.  The cost is what keeps landlords from helping their tenants at the outset (and, in turn, protecting their buildings from further infestation) and it’s what keeps tenants from making landlords aware of bed bug infestations at the outset (and, in turn, protecting their neighbors from further infestation).

In some places, like San Francisco and Boston, bed bugs are treated just like any other pest– like roaches or ants or mice– so the “who brought them in?” question is irrelevant.

What does the City of Chicago say?  Well, here’s what I’ve found and posted before:

From the City of Chicago Department of Public Health Website’s Bed Bugs: Frequently Asked Questions:

What should tenants do?

If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your respective obligations and come to an agreement on a plan to manage the infestation. If there is an infestation, landlords should contract with a licensed pest control operator to manage the problem.

Request a written integrated pest management (IPM) plan from the pest control operator. The plan will include the methods and insecticides to be used, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager as well as by the tenants.

And from chapter 5-12 of the City of Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance:

The landlord shall maintain the premises in compliance with all applicable provisions of the municipal code and shall promptly make any and all repairs necessary to fulfill this obligation (5-12-070).
In addition to any remedies provided under federal law, a tenant shall have the remedies specified in this section under the circumstances herein set forth. For the purposes of this section, material noncompliance with Section 5-12-070 shall include, but is not limited to, any of the following circumstances (5-12-110):

  • failure to exterminate insects, rodents, or pests

It seems pretty clear-cut to me, but then again, my opinion doesn’t count for much.  And landlords, if you don’t like what the City of Chicago has to say about bed bugs (as I wouldn’t if I were you!), you could always join us here at Chicago vs. Bed Bugs.  We are trying to advocate policy to control the spread of bed bug infestations, so our sole purpose is to make our city agencies and legislators aware of the physical and financial hardships that bed bug infestations create for everyone.

In the end, finger-pointing doesn’t solve the problem.  And in reality, landlords, it’s really in your best interest to hire a pest management company that specializes in treating bed bug infestations the very second you think that there might be bed bugs in your building.  You don’t want to put that responsibility in the hands of tenants who might not be able to afford proper treatment anyway, do you?

Posted in Bed Bugs, bedbugs, City of Chicago, Landlords, Legal, Liability, Multi-Unit Dwellings, National News, Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, Tenants | 3 Comments »

Logan Square’s Got Bed Bugs, Too

Posted by Jessica on January 10, 2009

Folks, it occurred to me recently that our organization must overcome two major obstacles, and quickly. First, in order to be taken seriously, we must establish the fact that bed bug infestations are in fact spreading in Chicago, and we must do this by presenting as much concrete evidence as we possibly can. And second, in order to make any progress, we must establish the fact that it is imperative for our city to get involved in controlling the spread of bed bug infestations right away. It seems to me that the people in positions of power in our city either don’t believe or aren’t aware that bed bug infestations are spreading, or they don’t believe or aren’t aware that it is the responsibility– and in the best interest– of our city to control the spread of bed bug infestations.

So you might notice some redundancy in my posts over the next few weeks. Rest assured that it is intentional redundancy. You’re going to see a lot of information about other cities, and about bed bugs and human health, and about infestations in our neighborhoods. Now you know why. Please bear with me. I’m on a mission!

That said, Chicagoans, according to Bed Bugs Bite Chicago: Infestations of nocturnal blood sucking insects on the rise, an article written by Columbia College Chicago student Kelly Rix in the December 1, 2008 edition of the Columbia Chronicle, Logan Square’s got bed bugs. Rix writes

Logan Square resident Joe Andert, 19, got bedbugs about two months ago and just recently had them exterminated. When the problem persisted, Andert said he and his girlfriend started investigating and heard about other people getting bedbugs in Chicago.

Chris Enright, the Chicago central services manager for Orkin Pest Control, said in the past couple of years he has seen a significant increase in the number of calls his branch receives about bedbug infestations…

Okay, so Logan Square’s got bed bugs, and as Logan Square resident John Andert recently discovered, all it takes is a little research to see that many, many other Chicagoans have bed bugs, too. And if Orkin Pest Control has seen a significant increase in the number of calls it’s received about bed bug infestations in Chicago, I think it’s probably safe to assume that other local pest management companies have also seen significant increases. Do you have any idea how many pest management companies serve the City of Chicago? Grab your yellow pages and flip to “pest”. I can’t even attempt the math here, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. Chicago, we’ve got a problem.

If the statement from the City of Chicago Department of Public Health in Rix’s article is any indication of its position on our bed bug problem, well, we’re in big trouble:

According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, although they feed on blood, bedbugs have not been shown to transmit any diseases and are not considered a serious public health threat.

Sounds to me like DPH is spinning, and spinning hard. It sounds to me like DPH is doing its best to downplay the problem. Well, by spinning and downplaying and ignoring the problem, the Chicago Department of Public Health is making itself– and our city– look really, really bad.

Here’s a list of other cities (and even a state or two) whose departments of health are taking responsibility–or whose legislators are working to involve departments of health in taking responsibility– for protecting homeowners, tenants, landlords, and businesses from the physical and financial hardships that accompany bed bug infestations:

City of Chicago, for a world-class city, we sure are looking second-rate.  And as for the City of Chicago Department of Public Health, well, bed bugs are a serious matter to almost every other department of health in almost every other major city in our country. Isn’t it time to stop spinning and start protecting our city? Chicago is, after all, bidding to host the 2016 Olympics. It wouldn’t do to have our hotels and our trains and our businesses overflowing with bed bugs by then, would it? That’s exactly what we’re headed for if our city doesn’t create and enforce policy to control the spread of bed bug infestations NOW.

Posted in Bed Bugs, bedbugs, Chicago North, Existing Strategic Plans, Local News, Policy, Progress In Other Cities | Leave a Comment »

Chicago vs. Cincinnati

Posted by Jessica on January 6, 2009

Believe it or not, Cincinnati’s clearly winning.

Nobugs over at Bedbugger absolutely nailed it today, folks. I saw this article from out of Cincinnati this morning and planned to write about it today, but Nobugs beat me to it, and I’m glad she did. I couldn’t have said it better myself, that’s for sure.

Here’s what the article said:

Dr. Camille Jones, assistant health commissioner for the Cincinnati Health Department, said the city’s bed bugs have gained fame not because its problem is worse than other cities, but because local officials have more aggressively tackled the problem.

“We’re trying to get ahead of it, and we’re also the only city that has baseline data on about the prevalence of the problem,” Jones said.

And here’s what Nobugs had to say about it:

In other words, cities like New York and Chicago look like they have less of a bed bug problem than Cincinnati, because they have not even attempted to come up with statistics on the scope of the problem.

Yep, she nailed it. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me that Chicago, a self-proclaimed world-class city, apparently has no method of recording or tracking reports of bed bug infestations. Heck, if my experience with 311 was any indication, the City of Chicago has no procedure for handling calls about bed bug infestations at all.

But Cincinnati, Ohio does? How is that possible?

I can hear the argument now, and it goes something like this: “Well, obviously, the City of Chicago doesn’t have as much of a problem with bed bug infestations as Cincinnati does, so why would it implement procedures to record and track reports of bed bug infestations?”.

My response to this argument is along the same lines as Nobugs’:

If the City of Chicago isn’t keeping track of reports of bed bug infestations, how in the world does it know how many reports have been made? Or attempted? How is the City of Chicago measuring the scope of the problem?

I’d love to hear the answer to these questions, I really would. Because in the last nine weeks, I have discovered reports of bed bug infestations in Lakeview, Boystown, Ravenswood, Hyde Park, Rogers Park, and the West Loop. Imagine how many bed bug infestations I haven’t discovered!

If you think I’m nuts (and I would understand if you did, I really would), try visiting The Bed Bug Registry and plugging in some random Chicago street addresses. Try something in the Loop, for example, and see what you find. Make sure you scroll down the page to see the reports of infestations near the address you searched. I just entered the most famous Loop address I could think of (the one on South Wacker Drive) and found SEVEN addresses with reports of bed bug infestations within the surrounding 2.87 kilometers.

Remember, most people don’t know that The Bed Bug Registry even exists, so the reported addresses represent a very, very, very small percentage of infested Chicago residences. Imagine what the real numbers must look like!

So what will it take to convince the City of Chicago to start recording and tracking reports of bed bug infestations? Well, I don’t know for sure, but here’s what it took in Cincinnati:

Few complaints of bed bug infestations were received by the Cincinnati Health Department in 2006, but a large number of complaints were lodged in 2007… and from January 1 through May 15 2008, an additional 320 complaints were lodged. The majority of complaints to the Cincinnati Health Department came from occupants of multi-unit apartment complexes.

Community organizations report that they have been dealing with bed bug problems for at least 2-3 years. The Talbert House (a community-wide nonprofit network of social services) began dealing with bed bugs in April 2005. The cost to Talbert House of specialty pest control, general cleaning, furniture replacement, and carpet cleaning has totaled more than $55,900 to date. The Urban Appalachian Council also has been dealing with bed bug infestations in donated furniture over the past 3-5 years. It is clear that bed bugs are a growing problem in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

A series of Town Hall meetings in Cincinnati, were sponsored by Ohio State Representative Dale Mallory in August 2007, and October 2007, with representation from city, county, and state elected officials and public health professions. A joint meeting of city, county, and state officials was held on January 18, 2008. As a result of that meeting, the Joint Health Department Bed Bug Task Force was formed with representatives from the Cincinnati Health Department (C. Jones, A.Young, T. Hooper, R. Smith, and B. Watson), Hamilton County Public Health (T. Ingram, C. Eddy), and Dr. S. Jones, an expert entomologist with Ohio State University Extension Service, to discuss what is currently being done, and to develop coordinated approaches to addressing the bed bug problem.

Alright, Chicagoans, I think we might have something to work with here. I think it starts with the tenants and landlords out there who are dealing with bed bug infestations right now. I think it’s going to take phone calls to the City of Chicago Department of Public Health— lots of calls, hundreds of calls– from people just like you. And then I think it’s going to take a leader, someone with power, like Ohio Rep. Dale Mallory, to get involved, and to influence the City of Chicago DPH to get involved. And finally, we need to find a way to determine and calculate real dollars, real costs to businesses and organizations and public agencies, and we need to get those numbers into the hands of decision-makers.

It starts with you, folks. I can call 311 till my fingers fall off, and I will if I have to, but I am only one person. If you want your city to work for you the way it’s supposed to, it looks like you’re going to have to do a little work first.

And if you’d like to take it a step further and help us complete any of the tasks on our Activism page, or if you’ve got an idea we haven’t thought of yet, feel free to post a comment on our Discuss page or contact me directly at jessica_kevan at yahoo dot com.

We are all in this together, after all.

Posted in Activism Opportunity, Bed Bugs, bedbugs, Champions, Chicago North, Chicago South, Codes and Practices, Existing Strategic Plans, Experts, National News, National Politics, Policy, Progress In Other Cities | 4 Comments »