by Cynthia Murray
November 11, 2010
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite” is more than just a saying for a growing number of New Yorkers.
On Monday, Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer, declared “war” on bed- bugs in the city’s public schools. He wants the city to rehire some of the pest control agents who were recently laid off and to cut the time between the discovery of bedbugs in a school and a visit from an inspector.
“When it comes to protecting the physical well-being of our students, eradicating bedbugs should be the environmental equivalent of war,” Stringer said in a press release.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall agrees. Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall’s office, called Stringer’s declaration a “sensible approach” to the ongoing problem.
The amount of bedbugs in the city has been creeping up for years. There were 426 confirmed cases resulting in treatment at 243 public schools in 2009, twice as many as the previous year.
Some published reports have said the number of cases in city schools has jumped to 336 in the first two months of this school year, more than double the 135 discovered in the same stretch last year.
But the Department of Education reports few cases in Queens. The most publicized incident of bedbugs this year in the borough was at PS 107 in Flushing. The school’s principal confirmed an “isolated” case in a second grade classroom in October.
Despite the sharp rise in bedbugs around the city, the administration opted to cut back on the number of inspectors and pest control aides earlier this year.
Principle Antonio K’Tori, of PS 15 in Jamaica, is not taking any chances.
“We have Ziploc bags on hand in case there are bugs found,” K’Tori said.
The DOE’s Office of School Support Services currently provides bedbug kits for schools, offering detailed instructions for containment.
School officials are asked to capture specimens with gauze or tape and place them in plastic bags, before mailing them to the DOE’s Pest Management Unit in Long Island City for testing.
“Every time we find a single bedbug, we are required to report it. We have not had any infestations in our schools — in fact, some of these cases are literally one or two bugs,” said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the DOE.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Assemblyman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), who is now a state senator-elect, made headway in the fight against bedbugs with two new laws. Gianaris’ Bedbug Notification Law, requiring school health officials to alert parents should bedbugs be discovered on school grounds. Peralta’s bill requiring landlords to disclose prior bedbug infestations was signed by Gov. Paterson in August.
While health officials may be well informed, parents say that many public schools have not given them any in-depth information on the critters, or the schools’ plans to combat the issue.
“Schools haven’t really sent home any information on bedbugs,” said one parent, Ellen Murray of Bayside.
The mother of four noted, “the focus still seems to be on lice.”
That may be because schools are not considered ideal feeding grounds for the nocturnal pests, according to Dr. Alfonso Chan, medical director of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, which has several Queens locations.
The risk for serious illness from bedbugs is extremely low, Chan added.
Bedbugs are not known to spread diseases, but negative reactions include dermatitis, secondary skin infections and even anemia in severe cases.
Doctors warn that parents should be on the lookout for red bumps or a flat welt that could resemble a mosquito bite.
Sometimes the bite is accompanied by intense itching, which is caused by an allergic reaction to an anesthetic in the bedbug’s saliva. Cortizone, Chan said, will help manage the discomfort.
Some other bedbug safety tips from the doctor include inspecting children’s clothing outside before they bring the pests inside the home, and wash their clothes in hot water if concerned about an outbreak.
Dark spots and blood stains on mattresses or clothing are also signs the bugs may have moved in.