Chicago vs. Bed Bugs

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

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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.


4 Responses to “Chicago vs. Cincinnati”

  1. nobugs said

    Thanks, Jessica. We sure are in this together.

    A long, long time ago, before NYC had a bed bug fact sheet on its Dept. of Health website, or Toronto had a Bed Bug Project, or Cincinnati (even) had a bed bug task force, other small places noticed and reacted to small numbers of bed bug infestations as if they were cause for serious concern.

    Lexington-Fayette County in Kentucky called for an education campaign back in October 2006.

    What is interesting, is that Lexington took action because it was concerned that bed bug infestation reports had tripled in three years. What magic number put them over the edge? As of October, 2006, they’d had 19 complaints of bed bugs that year, compared with seven the year before. Nineteen. They formed a “bed bug task force” that fall. They may not have taken action on par with Cincinnati, but they also had a smaller number of complaints.

    Now, I am sure Lexington had more than 19 actual bed bug infestations during that period. I bet the Lexington Dept. of Public Health can imagine so too. Why can’t Chicago or New York officials use their imaginations in the same way?

    Why do some Departments of Public Health become alarmed by a rise from 7 to 19 in a year, and others (such as my city of NYC) don’t seem very troubled when the number of confirmed cases in one small sector of society (ie tenants in private rentals who called 311 and had the inspector come in) rises by more or less the same percentage, and yet the totals are in the thousands?

  2. Jessica said

    Oh my gosh! Nobugs, I was floored when I read your 2006 post about Lexington, Kentucky. I don’t remember you posting that at all, and now that I’m reading it, I can’t help but be disgusted. Here are your calculations:

    Lexington 2000 (human) population: 260512; NYC 2000 (human) population: 8008278.

    There are almost 31 times as many people in NYC as in Lexington.

    There were 244 times as many reports of bed bug infestations in the last year in NYC compared to Lexington.

    New York’s reported infestations are up five times in one year.

    Lexington’s are up three times in one year.

    And yet the New York City government, after 4,638 reported cases, is not doing anything; our short-sighted city officials recently claimed poor people should have the right to save money by purchasing used mattresses, a known cause of the spread of bed bugs.

    And the government in Lexington, after 19 reported cases, is spearheading a leafleting campaign, to educate the populace.

    Wow. I just don’t get it.

    I can’t help but think about ownership, accountability, and responsibility. I have a feeling that in our cities, the buck is getting passed back and forth and back again, because no single department or agency wants to own the burden of trying to control bed bug infestations.

    I guess our city departments and agencies don’t realize how much money they’re costing themselves in the long run. Because someday, some department or agency IS going to have to own this burden. And as they days and months and years go by, that burden increases immeasurably.

    Thanks so much for sharing your posts with us, Nobugs. You’ve been documenting the spread of bed bugs in our country– and in many other countries– for as long as I can remember. I appreciate your help, and I welcome any information you choose to share.

  3. nobugs said

    Thanks, Jessica.

    One thing I think we can say is that Chicago is talking about bed bugs less than many cities. As you document so well via photos and the Bed Bug Registry, it is a problem there. I encourage you also to spend some time in drugstores and hardware stores. If I go into a midtown NYC or East Village chain drugstore, I see a wall of Pronto or similar, on sale. In the hardware store it’s some mystery pyrethrin spray labelled for bed bugs. At the counter — for people who are making last minute purchases, impulse buys. “Oh yeah,” they think, “Not just the plastic bags and vacuum bag. I’ll have the bed bug spray, too!”

    The math there in my post from 10/15/2006 is a bit fuzzy. The NYTimes reported 4638 complaints as opposed to confirmed violations (which perhaps was not clear from this post, when it was all new to me — Bedbugger was only 13 days old when it was posted). Still, the actual violations would have been much higher per capita compared with Lexington’s. And the complaints were up (according to the NYTimes) 5x compared with 2004. (Lexington panicked when their complaints rose 3x.) The point remains.

  4. Jessica said

    The point does indeed remain, Nobugs.

    And you’re right, Chicago IS talking about bed bugs less than many cities. I found another relatively recent article about bed bugs in another Chicago neighborhood when I was researching last night, though, and I’m going to write a post about it within the next couple of days.

    More and more people are starting to talk about it these days. I think it’s only a matter of time.

    And I think that the stigma has a lot to do with the silence. I can’t believe that so many people still associate bed bugs with “poor neighborhoods”. I’ve started to talk more with my friends and coworkers about Chicago vs. Bed Bugs over the last couple of days, and you wouldn’t believe the responses I’ve been getting! Well, yes you would…

    You know what I’ve started to do in response to their responses? I have people stand there while I pull up The Bed Bug Registry and search for their addresses. Now, in no case has that exact address been registered, but in all cases, at least one infested address has been reported within a couple of kilometers of the one I searched.

    You know what kind of reactions I see when this happens? Well, I’ve seen many, but the universal reaction is a combination of repulsion and fear. And then come the questions– the “but I won’t get them, right?” questions.

    It’s tough to respond to those questions, you know. I guess what it comes down to is that everyone could get bed bugs, but the chance of a person getting bed bugs right now is much smaller than it will be six months from now unless the City of Chicago does something– even something as basic as an educational campaign– to stop the spread.

    Thanks again, Nobugs. I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

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