Volume 80, Number 41 | March 10 -16, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

In bedbug battle, the pros offer tips, and products

By Aline Reynolds

Bedbug infestations can be a nightmare, which more and more New Yorkers have recently learned the hard way.  

What many victims didn’t know is how to prevent bedbugs from entering their homes in the first place. And, according to pest management control experts, there are several ways to do so.

Bedbug consultants hosted an event at 201 Mulberry St. in Soho last Wednesday to provide tips on how to stop the blood-sucking critters in their tracks before they become a problem. About 75 people attended.

“There’s not one simple bullet that’s going to kill or control them,” said Gretchen Paluch, director of basic research at EcoSmart, a nationwide pesticide-producing company. The strategy she and the other experts recommend is known as “integrative pest management,” a multistep approach to prevent and eliminate the spread of bedbugs and other pests in one’s home.

The number of bedbug infestations in New York City and other cities nationwide is rapidly climbing. The New York City hotline, 311, received 10,985 calls from residents reporting bedbug infestation in 2009, up from 9,213 calls in 2008, according to EcoSmart.

Bedbug experts expect the number to continue to rise if New Yorkers don’t get up to speed with prevention measures.

“Education and awareness is the number one key component to helping prevent this problem,” said Danny White, an account representative of Bed Bug Central, an informational resource company in Lawrenceville, N.J.

EcoSmart introduced three new federally approved pest-repellent sprays to the market last Wednesday, made with rosemary, cinnamon, peppermint and other plant derivatives. Their oil extracts attack the insects’ nervous system, killing them on contact, and act as odor repellents, keeping the bugs away from beds and other furniture.

The company collaborated with universities and labs around the country to test the products’ safety and effectiveness before bringing them to market. The sprays are supposed to be applied to suitcases and beds’ headboards and legs.

Steve Bessette, EcoSmart’s president, stressed that the products are complements, not substitutes, to exterminators.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said.

Starting in April, the sprays will be available in limited quantities at ShopRite, Grand Union, Stop & Shop and other chain stores in the tri-state area and around the country. They are also for sale on EcoSmart’s Web site, www.ecosmart.com.

Mattress encasements and climb-up insect intersecters can also help detect bed bugs early on before they multiply, according to Bed Bug Central’s White.

“As bugs migrate to the bed, they fall in the outer well, and this powder traps them,” he said, demonstrating how the intersecter works.

White and his brother, Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for Bed Bug Central, also showcased bedbug monitors, which emit heat, carbon dioxide and chemicals that attract the pests and eventually trap them inside the devices. The monitors are meant for use in office buildings, retail stores and vacant space.

Genma Holmes, a Tennessee-based bedbug consultant, provided tips on how to avoid bringing bedbugs home from hotels, which have become popular nesting grounds for the pests. Valises’ rough nylon surfaces are hotbeds for the pests, since their eggs easily stick to the material.

Holmes advises guests to store all luggage items in the hotel bathroom, where bedbugs don’t typically congregate, and discourages the use of closet space, coat hangers and other potential critter-hideout amenities the hotel provides.

Holmes reported there was no sign of bedbugs in her hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Soho.

Another cautionary tactic is to encase travel bags in vinyl zip-up cases, which the company, BugZip, was advertising at the Soho session.

“Just because the room looks clean, doesn’t mean there aren’t bedbugs,” warned the company’s president, Adam Greenberg. The cases are sold at USBedbugs.com, Amazon.com, Bed Bath and Beyond and specialty travel stores.

Bedbugs tend to resurface in abundance in warmer weather, in July, August and September. The bedbug epidemic is particularly worsening in densely packed urban areas such as New York City.

“The more people you have, the more bugs you have, because people are living so close together,” explained White. “And it’s easier for bedbugs to make a resurgence each year as they get more and more embedded in a community.”

Bedbug bites can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from itchy skin welts to more serious allergic reactions. The skin irritations typically vanish in a few weeks’ time, but they can reappear at a later date.

Once a residence becomes infested, the experts suggest immediate attention from professionals and active monitoring thereafter. Mattresses and other furniture unprotected by pest-repellent sprays or wrapping material should be discarded immediately.

“If you let it go on for a long time, it turns into a bigger problem than low-level infestation,” explained White.

Once the bedbugs disappear, the experts also advise victims to observe their weekly lifestyle habits that could be conducive to infestation, and modify their behavior accordingly to keep the blood-thirsty pests from returning.

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