Everyone knows that bedbugs are a terrible scourge, an epidemic that just keeps getting worse. Except maybe they're not.
Despite a surge in media reports, many bedbug sightings turn out to be false alarms. A chemical reaction to shampoo, mosquitoes, animal allergies, and all-around poor personal hygiene can all be mistaken for an infestation. Or it could be fleas, which are themselves quite a bother to deal with.
A new bill in San Francisco would impose stiff penalties on property owners who allow unhygenic conditions to persist on their property. The San Francisco Apartment Association is opposed, saying that it's too much work to keep properties bedbug free.
In New York, around 80% of bedbug reports fail to turn up any of the bugs.
Over the last few years, the Department of Public Health has kept tabs on property owners, hotels, and tenant groups. Not surprisingly, bedbug reports are on the rise. But those reports are unofficial and anecdotal. It's more likely that bedbugs are only a problem for very few people.
And despite the confidence with which some reporters describe bedbug epidemics, there simple aren't any reliable data on the insects' resurgence. All we know is that numbers have increased in the last decade, but it's unclear by how much.
Fueling the hysteria is a new national bedbug registry. It's a neat idea, but it's far from accurate. None of the reports are vetted, and it's hardly an exhaustive survey. Nevertheless, a frightened public has latched onto the idea of hungry insects and turned them from a potential inconvenience to an all-out monster.