bed bugs nyc

Just bed, no bugs. (Getty Images)

Two words strike fear into the hearts of New Yorkers, from Astoria to the Upper East Side and everywhere in-between: bed bugs. These insects may be teeny-tiny, but they can create chaos in your home. If you’re feeling itchy — or just paranoid! – don’t panic. This guide to everything you need to know about bed bugs in NYC will help you sleep tight — and not let the bed bugs bite.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. They’re oval, brown, and relatively flat, especially if the insect hasn’t eaten recently, and they look like this:

bed bugs nyc

The most unwelcome kind of houseguest: a bed bug. A dime for scale. (Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association)

According to the EPA, bed bugs can grow up to a quarter-inch long. Their offspring, called nymphs, are much harder to detect because they’re significantly smaller — about the size of a poppy seed — and nearly translucent.

It’s no surprise that bed bugs in NYC can sometimes be mistaken for other creepy crawlies, like young cockroaches or even carpet beetles. They are every bit as unruly as a couple of other urban pests we can think of: namely roaches and of course, resilient New York City rats.

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What Are They Attracted to?

“Although we may associate these pests with dirty environments, bed bugs can be found just about anywhere, from a five-star hotel to a nursing home,” says Dr. Jim Fredericks, Chief Entomologist for the National Pest Management Association.

“They are extremely elusive and adaptable creatures and have been reported in all 50 U.S. states,” Dr. Fredericks says. “Additionally, bed bugs can live for several months in between blood meals and can even survive temperatures of nearly freezing to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.” In other words, these insect vampires are parasites that pack a punch.

How Do I Know If I Have Bed Bugs?

Break out your flashlight. “Bed bugs can be difficult to spot, as they typically emerge at night to feed,” says Dr. Fredericks. “Tiny dark fecal spots and shed skins on bedsheets, around the corner crevices of mattresses, and in cracks in bed frames or furniture are tell-tale signs of an infestation.” It’s worth looking behind any hanging artwork you might have in your bedroom and under your bed skirt, too.

Another tactic? Check your skin for their “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” — three bites in a row. “Although bed bug bites can turn into large, raised itchy welts, everyone reacts to bites differently and some people exhibit no reactions at all,” says Dr. Fredericks. One other thing to keep in mind: “The histamines in bed bug feces have been linked to allergic reactions in humans such as rashes and breathing problems. These chemicals can linger and remain high for months in residences, even after the property has been professionally treated.”

If you do think you have bed bugs, don’t beat yourself up. They’re certainly creepy, but they don’t carry disease. And you’re definitely not alone — there are thousands of reported cases of bed bugs in NYC a year. (Want to see the current infestations plotted on a map? Visit the Bedbug Registry, if you dare.) In fact, landlords are required to disclose a unit’s bed bug history to you if there was an infestation within the past year.

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Where Do They Live?

Unfortunately, these pests are pervasive. “Bed bugs can be found virtually anywhere humans gather, such as residences, hotels, schools, and even public transportation,” Dr. Fredericks says. “They are skilled hitchhikers, hiding in suitcases and latching onto personal bags in search of a food source. Once brought inside, they can hide behind baseboards and in cracks, crevices, and folded areas of beds, bed frames, bedding, and adjacent furniture, especially mattresses and box springs. Bed bugs can even be found hiding behind electrical switch plates, picture frames, and loose wallpaper. Generally, they take shelter anywhere near a food source, typically hiding out in bedrooms or other places people sleep to feed at night.”

How Do I Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

No matter how much HGTV you binge-watch, this is not the time to DIY. The internet teems with advice on eradicating bed bugs yourself, but please, do yourself a favor and call your landlord to get it taken care of properly. Tenants in New York City have a right to a bed bug–free environment. Your landlord should also alert your neighbors that there is an infestation in the building. (And you should do the same yourself, as a neighborly courtesy.)

If you own your apartment, Dr. Fredericks says hiring an expert is a must. “Bed bugs are not do-it-yourself pests,” he says. “If you discover or suspect an infestation, contact a licensed pest control professional for assistance.”

If the exterminator you call offers a flat fee, that’s a red flag. A good pest control professional will inspect your apartment before giving you a price quote and will provide you with an inspection report and action plan. Treatment typically requires two or more visits and a follow-up inspection to confirm they’ve been eliminated.

bed bugs nyc

If you see this, call a professional immediately! (Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association)

You’ll want to thoroughly treat your linens and textiles to kill off any lingering eggs and nymphs. To offload the chore, services like Bed Bug Laundry NYC will do the work for you (and have five stars on Yelp). Disinfecting surfaces and affected items is vital. Enclose your mattress and box spring for at least a full year, keeping an eye out for any tears in the cover. Or, if you’ve got the budget, toss them — remembering to wrap your mattress in a plastic bag, per NYC law — and invest in new ones.

What Else Do I Need to Know About Bed Bugs in NYC?

Unfortunately, no high-tech “electronic mouse repellent” gadget will keep bed bugs at bay. But there is plenty of common-sense advice that can help prevent them from making themselves at home in your home again.

For one thing, all those freebies calling your name from the brownstone stoop are probably a no-no. “Never bring second-hand furniture into your home without first examining it for signs of an infestation,” says Dr. Fredericks. Another tip: “If you have pets, regularly inspect areas where they sleep for signs of bed bugs. Although they are not a preferred host, bed bugs can bite them too.” Lastly, especially if you’re a renter, you have rights — see our guide to the Warranty of Habitability for more intel.

Most importantly, remember that you’re a New Yorker: You are tough, and you will survive this!

[This post has been updated and republished.]

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