Hearing the Problem

Bed Bug Bites

Bed Bug Bites

Problems that require coordination among individuals often cannot be fixed without government help. Government has the ability to pass and enforce regulations that require people to cooperate for the common good. On December 3, 2014, the Philadelphia City Council conducted hearings on bedbugs.

Philadelphia has areas with row houses that share adjoining walls. This is an energy efficient arrangement for a cold climate and improves neighborhood walkability, but it is also more “walkable” for bed bugs. One unit with a large bedbug infestation can contaminate neighboring units. At the Philadelphia hearing, a pest controller testified about an elderly gentleman who had hundreds of bed bugs in his front window alone, but refused to let anyone in his house. The infestation had spread to three houses on both sides. To get relief, the neighbors need bed bug control applied to the old man’s house, but lack the authority and perhaps the means to have it done. Coordination, so necessary to effective urban pest management, must be solved by government.

People may live with large bed bug infestations for a variety of reasons.
People may become numb to the bites and choose to ignore the bed bugs.
People may itch, but not associate the itch with bedbugs or recognize the infestation.
People may recognize the bed bug infestation but be embarrassed to seek help.
People may have mental dysfunctions that prevent them from seeking help or distrust of outsiders who might cheat instead of help them.
People may be aware of the problem but not be able to afford the professional pest control services they need.
People may be trying do-it-yourself products that are ineffective for bed bug control or used in a manner that is ineffective.
People may know they need help and advice but don’t know where to turn.
People may have excessive clutter that prevents effective treatment.
People may have other issues beyond the ones I have listed.

Bed bugs, like head lice, are a public health issue. We coordinate head lice control measures because they impact public schools. Public schools have the motivation and are positioned to address the head lice problem. Will public schools add bed bugs to their list? Public schools can become conduits for the spread of bed bugs. Students who live in bed bug infested housing may bring bed bugs into schools in items such as back packs. Most troubling are bed bugs that harbor in the bindings of library books that move from home to home.

In an era of small government, coordinated response to the bed bug epidemic has been missing in action in many places. Bed bugs are a problem that is unlikely to be rolled back through the actions of individuals alone, no matter how good. Coordination is important, but the public and the politicians are not yet convinced. Admitting the problem is an important step and Philadelphia has made that step.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Bed Bugs, by jjneal, Health, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

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