Why Aren’t Philadelphians Freaking Out About Bedbugs?

Fear and loathing at bedtime

Not long ago, my friend was staying the night in a hotel in Brooklyn. Like everyone else on the eastern seaboard, she knew someone who knew someone who’d had bedbug issues in a New York hotel, and she couldn’t help but to check her bed before she settled in. She pulled back the fitted sheet at the corner of the mattress, and — she could hardly believe it — there they were: a handful of teensy brown bugs, little six-legged vampires waiting for their human smorgasbord to take a snooze.

I haven’t stopped itching since I heard that story.

Then came the news last week that a Juicy Couture on New York’s Fifth Avenue had to be temporarily shut down because of a bedbug infestation. And that’s when I got seriously worried. Certainly, bedbugs have been enjoying a major revival in that city and this one for some time now, but given this recent and so-bold move from the boudoir to the boutique, it seems like we’re dealing with more than just a pest problem: It seems like war. (Actually, it’s war at best. It’s a Biblical-style plague at worst. Could it be a mere coincidence that it was a Juicy Couture that was smote? Just sayin’.)

So where, I ask, is the panic?

Where are the public service announcements, the news flashes, the press conferences, the front-page newspaper stories about how to keep yourself bug-free? In a country where people object to a human airport employee patting us down for reasons of safety, surely bugs sneakily invading homes possibly via clothes we buy at the store for the sole purpose of sucking our blood should warrant more fuss, right?

I realize not everybody shares my profound panic at the thought of tiny, evil, biting bugs taking up residence in a mattress (though everybody should share my dread of the tedious to-do that is de-bed-bugging your house, linens and earthly belongings after an invasion): I don’t expect federal troops to quarantine our New York neighbors (we’re way too late to contain the little terrors, anyway). I just want us to band together, Philadelphia, and fight the common enemy here with all we’ve got. And the first step is acknowledging that there is an enemy.

I heard a fascinating, if depressing, story the other day on NPR about the rapid dying out of little brown bats. Thanks to a fast-moving fungus, they’ll likely be extinct in the Northeast within the next 16 years. Bats eat insects. Think what that might mean, reader. Entire armies of goodness knows what else, readying themselves to take a cue from the Bedbugs Who Took Philadelphia, and descend. (And after them? Probably the frogs.)

For more information about bedbugs in Philly, visit BeWellPhilly, for tips on prevention and treatment.