“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
My mother used to repeat that rhyme to me each night, but at the time I didn’t realize bedbugs were a real thing. I thought they were another nocturnal myth, like the monster under the bed or the boogeyman in my closet. Of course, now I know better.
Washington is giving Biblical Egypt a run for its money when it comes to plagues. We’ve had no boils nor frogs, but this year has seen record-breaking blizzards, months of intense heat, both flash floods in August and a drought watch in September, the close passage of Hurricane Earl, and even an earthquake -- just 3.6 magnitude, but still. And in parts of the city, a third of the jobs have burned up.
While the Book of Exodus had its gnats and flies, the D.C. area now has its bedbugs. As in many things, Washington is following New York, which has had a significant rise in bedbug reports over the past two years. The New York Times breathlessly wrote in August that one victim had a friend who “was too scared to invite her to come out to the Hamptons this summer.” A Bronx resident told the Times, “It’s like terrorism.”
This region’s biggest outbreaks were at the Ronald Reagan Building, and -- a bit ironically -- at a Department of Health and Human Services building in Rockville. Now they’ve decided to get an education. The creatures have turned up in at least five residence halls at the George Washington University. In January, the D.C. Department of Health will host a conference called “Bedbugs are Changing Our World.” Interest is so high that the date and location had to be changed to accommodate the expected crowd.
D.C. and New York are not alone. After a nationwide lull of about 50 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency say “in recent years, public health agencies across the country have been overwhelmed by complaints about bed bugs.” While they “are not known to transmit disease, they are a pest of significant public health importance.” They feed on human blood, and their bites can cause rashes, sometimes severe allergic reactions, and general discomfort -- not to mention insomnia.
If you do find bedbugs, your best bet is to call a specialist -- though a full household purge can run more than $5,000. The EPA has set up a bedbug website, and there are also sites like the Bed Bug Registry and Bedbugger, which track outbreaks and report recent news.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC