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New Yorkers not letting the bedbugs bite

An exterminator checks for the insidious pests. (Gil

An exterminator checks for the insidious pests. (Gil Bloom) (Credit: An exterminator checks for the insidious pests. (Gil Bloom))

New Yorkers have gotten a handle on bedbugs since the 2010 scourge that kept the city scratching and fearful of infestation.

Bedbugs are far from eradicated and continue to pop up in homes and places of business, but statistics from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development show fewer complaints and violations in multifamily residential rental buildings.

Between July 2012 and April 30 of this year, which makes up most of fiscal year 2013, there were 9,233 complaints made to HPD via 311 -- 3,907 fewer that the peak year for complaints in fiscal 2011.

There were 2,659 HPD violations, in which inspectors verify a bedbug infestation, for fiscal 2013 up to April 30 -- 2,149 fewer than fiscal 2010, which saw the most HPD violations handed out.

"I still get bedbug calls, but I don't get 10 a day like I used to," said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, an Upper West Side lawmaker who authored a bill to create an advisory board.

At the height of the city's bedbug epidemic, the critters were everywhere and striking indiscriminately, whether in co-ops, public houses, fancy hotels or movie theaters. In 2009, the city established the task force to make recommendations on combating the epidemic. It featured bedbug and pest management experts, as well as representatives from multiple city agencies.

The city launched a web portal as a clearing house for bedbug information, including tips on prevention, warning signs of an infestation and health risks. The website (nyc.gov/bedbugs) also dispelled bedbug myths and misinformation, such as the notion that they spread disease.

"The tremendous mental health -- which is what this was -- factor, the mental health panic, has been replaced with, I'm an educated consumer, I know what to do," Brewer said.

Additionally, there were rules and protocols put in place, such as requirements that mattresses be wrapped in plastic before being curbed and that landlords detail to tenants a history of bedbug cases.

Jody Gangloff-Kaufman of New York's Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University agreed that the information campaign has gotten New Yorkers to act sooner.

"Overall awareness has, I think, resulted in more action against bedbugs, particularly from landlords," said Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist who sat on the city's task force. "They may not be getting bedbugs less often. But when they do, their landlord may be responding."

Still, there are vulnerable populations in New York, particularly the elderly and mentally ill, that continue to suffer with bedbugs, Gangloff-Kaufmann said.

"I think there are as many cases as a few years ago, but many, many more severe cases we don't know about and many, many fewer cases in hotels and people who have means and won't tolerate it," she said.

Exterminators agreed that the bedbug education campaign has affected how the pest management industry deals with the pests.

Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management in Queens and a former bedbug task force member, said clients are calling for his company's services earlier than before, when there was a stigma about finding bedbugs.

"We're not seeing a decline in volume of calls, but we're seeing a decrease in the severity of what we need to respond to," Bloom said. "We're doing more inspections."

And when there is a bedbug infestation, Bloom said exterminators have a better sense of what is needed to eradicate bedbugs and an established protocol they can follow. This includes use of steam, heat, chemicals and vacuuming.

"They're a worthy opponent," Bloom said.

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