Philly’s Bedbug Problem

Thanks New York: Your Great Bedbug Plague has come south and invaded our lives (along with the stinkbugs and squirrels). Now only a few good men — and their dogs — stand between Philadelphia and a hostile takeover.

“Got a hit,” says Marty Jr. laconically.

Got a hit? How can he be so calm? Buddy, the apartment’s tenant, looks understandably shocked. Sheila, the manager, looks like she could use a stiff cocktail, while Chase looks rather pleased with himself. Marty Jr. is imperturbable. “We’ve treated apartments here before,” he says evenly. “Heat the stuff, use chemicals, it will be okay.” No one else looks calmed by this.

Marty’s about to call in the report and get started on a plan for treating the apartment when Sheila asks him to do a quick inspection of a property-management office. Chase scuttles in and starts sniffing while two maintenance dudes on their break look on.

“Hey, man, isn’t this expensive?” one of the guys asks Marty.

“It’s $250 an hour for the dog to come in,” he answers, with a small smile. He knows it sounds like he’s hit the mother lode, but after all, it’s not exactly a glamour job. Plus, sending Chase to school in Florida cost $10,000. Still, Chase earned that back within about two months.

“Two-fifty an hour!” marvels the maintenance guy. “I’m gonna quit my job and do this!”

IF THERE’S ANY UPSIDE to the horrific Bedbug Plague of Philadelphia, it’s that now is a great, great time to be in pest control. If you have an impassive nature and a strong stomach, and are willing to prowl through people’s most private quarters without judgment or overwhelming anxiety, you can make a financial killing. And any one of us, unfortunately, may need such services at some point. “We get a dozen or more calls a day,” reports Carmine Accordino, Terminix’s manager in Philadelphia. “It crosses all socioeconomic lines, and it has nothing to do with sanitation. I’m seeing bedbugs more in upper-class neighborhoods, because these people travel.”

Other than the spike in business for exterminators, it’s hard to find a redeeming aspect of the bedbug scourge. Cimex lectularius, the most common type, feed on warm-blooded animals, usually humans and sometimes cats and dogs. Bedbugs, like lice, are blood-sucking ectoparasites, and are about the size of an apple seed, though they can be slightly bigger after feeding. They are wingless and almost translucent until they become dark red with blood after a meal, which makes them hard to spot in their immature or nymph stage, and they lay eggs prolifically during their year-long adult life. The bugs tend to live near where people sleep, typically in headboards or frames of beds, on box springs, in bedside tables, and in cracks along floorboards, usually emerging in the early morning, before dawn, to feed. One might think that a bite would awaken the human host, but the bugs first inject an anesthetic that numbs the skin, then ingest blood for about five minutes per meal.