New York is one of the country’s most diverse states, housing its largest metropolitan area and also some of its most pristine natural attractions. While the state’s continental climate, temperate winters, and preserved parkland generally keep disease and unwanted pests at bay, there are some pests and inconveniences within the state for homeowners and apartment dwellers.

One of the most visible – and most annoying – is the bed bug. Infestations have been reported in the state on an on-off basis over the past five decades, with DDT spraying in the late 1950s going some way towards eliminating their presence in the state. However, with use of the chemical now tightly controlled and population density continually increasing, New York’s bed bug problem still remains.

The most visible problem areas are the state’s cities, with New York City reporting the highest rates of bed bug infestation. As the bugs spread throughout homes, apartments, and contained buildings, a proactive response is required to remove them completely. With New York City’s density and the city’s variable climate, bed bugs are able to spread fairly easily.

How are bed bugs spreading throughout New York?

There are several reasons for the spread of bed bugs throughout New York, the most frequent of which is the state’s warm summers and favorable environment for the bugs. Most strains of
bed bugs are resilient to cool winters and fairly comfortable living in buildings, giving the state’s somewhat chilly seasonal temperatures little advantage in combating their spread and mating.

It’s in the fairly warm temperatures seen throughout the summer that they thrive. Building owners in major centers such as New York City and Rochester report an increase in the number of infestations during the state’s summer months – a seasonal increase that has prompted routine spraying in many major buildings and housing complexes.

One of the reasons for the swift spread of the bugs is the state’s population density, particularly that seen in major centers. New York City has experienced continual bed bug infestations since the mid 1990s, with apartment owners in dense areas such as Midtown Manhattan reporting more cases than homeowners living in less dense areas. In short, density leads to the spread of bed bugs.

Another major reason, although one that’s less significant than population density, is the age of many of the state’s buildings. As one of the United States’ oldest major population centers, New York has a large collection of older houses and historical apartment buildings. Without routine spraying efforts, these buildings can become major centers for bed bugs and other insects.

Which major centers are most at risk for bed bug infestation?

Due to its population density and sheer size, New York City has the highest level of infestations per capita. The city’s built-up nature and limited park space (when compared to regional towns) makes it an ideal location for the bugs to reproduce. Reports of infestations have slowed since their peak in the mid-1990s, although occasional cases of widespread bed bug infestations still appear.

Smaller population centers such as Rochester, Albany, and Buffalo also experience occasional bed bug infestations. However, due to their relatively low population density, the spread of such cases tends to be limited and infestations are more easily solved. Small towns in the state have reported isolated infestations, through its unlikely the bugs will spread rapidly.

Bed bugs in Manhattan and Downtown New York City

Bed bugs are a major issue in New York City’s most dense areas. During the late 1990s, a surge in the number of reported cases lead to the city starting its own task force to fight the bugs, with one city division going so far as to recommend forced spraying in residential buildings. While bed bugs are less prevalent than they once were, they remain an annoyance for Manhattan residents.

The most frequently affected areas are those with dense residential accommodation – Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Downtown, and Harlem areas tend to report the most cases. Despite their greater density, commercial office spaces rarely experience infestations due to the lack of inhabitable space for the pests. Apartments, condominiums, and dense townhouses are most at risk.

Bed bugs most often reside in bedding, furniture, and closet spaces. This means that the city’s large apartment complexes and shared housing buildings are most at risk of infestation. The bugs spread by ‘jumping’ – quite literally – from the clothing of one host to another, making the city’s transport system a likely area for the spread of bedbugs. In short, keep your distance when on the subway.

In most Manhattan residences, building management is responsible for ensuring that bed bugs don’t spread far. If you spot bed bugs in your apartment or condo, contact the building management team as quickly as possible – the bugs spread quickly in dense spaces, and could very easily become an issue for your neighbors. In private residences, it’s best to contact an exterminator.

Residents have implemented a number of measures to stop the spread of bed bugs in central New York City. The ‘Bedbug City’ map is one of several visual interpretations of the bugs’ infestations, using Google Maps to highlight problem areas. Retail outlets that are infested with the bugs act quickly to eliminate them, as evidenced by the recent Hollister bed bug fiasco in SoHo.

All in all, Manhattan remains a major centre for bed bugs in New York City, and residents should be vigilant in ensuring that their properties don’t become infested. While the borough experiences less infestations on average than residential areas such as Brooklyn and Queens, it remains one of New York State’s most at-risk counties. Check apartments before renting, and spray homes regularly.

Bed bugs in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Suburban New York City

Recent statistics from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development have shown an increase in the number of reported cases in Brooklyn, making the largely residential borough the most infested in New York City. The large and densely populated borough reportedly receives close to 1500 more calls year than its neighbor and runner-up Manhattan.

The department has pointed to numerous reasons for the borough’s high rate of infestation, the most obvious of which is its large number of residential buildings. While Manhattan is home to most of the city’s hotels and commercial buildings, its rate of infestation remains lower due to more vigilant cleaning efforts. Hotels and offices are more likely to spray for bugs than renters and homeowners.

Another major cause is the borough’s large amount of low-cost accommodation. While Manhattan remains New York City’s hotel center, Brooklyn is home to a larger number of low-price hotels and shared hostels. Studies suggest that while high-end hotels are equally as vulnerable to infestations, their efforts in removing the bugs tend to be more dedicated and effective.

Recent bed bug reports in the borough include an outbreak at the District Attorney’s Office – one so severe that it prompted the buildings closure for several days. Well-known area blog McBrooklyn is one of several to report an increase in bed bug complaint rates, claiming that there has been a 1,900 percent increase in the number of reported cases in the last six years.

Another well-known city website – particularly to residents that have experienced outbreaks – gives advice on the legal side of bed bug infestations in the city. Most of its reported cases are from home and condo buildings in Brooklyn, although a smaller number come from residences in Queens and the Bronx, primarily from similar shared apartment buildings and co-op housing complexes.

Due to its lower population density and house-centric construction, bed bug outbreaks are fairly rare and isolated in Staten Island. Individual callouts are frequent and infestations do occur, although it’s rare for the bugs to spread throughout an entire block, as is seen in Brooklyn and Queens. The outer reaches of Queens are also unlikely to experience outbreaks, due to their lower population density.

Bed bugs in the Greater New York City region

New York City isn’t just the city itself – the Greater New York City area spread across four states and houses close to twenty-million residents. With a high population density and many buildings that, simply put, aren’t adequately cared for, outbreaks remain common in areas such as Yonkers, Jersey City, and smaller residential communities across Long Island.

Recent developments have pointed towards a greater level of government assistance for building owners experiencing outbreaks. The New Jersey Pest Control Convention highlighted the amount and frequency of outbreaks in the area, claiming that a greater level of monitoring and vigilance is required in order to keep houses, apartment buildings, and co-op residences free of the pests.

In April, a conference hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency further raised awareness of the bugs in the Greater New York area, highlighting their potential to spread throughout less dense areas such as the region’s largely suburban residential zones. Problem areas include schools, small apartments, and public transportation – one area where the pests can easily spread through clothes.

While rates of infestation are lower in New York City’s surrounding areas than in the city itself, a number of legal measures have been taken to ensure that the pests are unable to spread easily. The ‘bed bug bill’ – one of several measures passed in New Jersey, has mandated that building owners and landlords must spray for bedbugs as soon as they have notice, else they could face a fine.

The fines are, expectedly, fairly steep. Each infested bedroom could cost landlords up to $300, with common areas and hallways approaching $1,000 per reported offense. The surrounding counties are fighting bed bug issues directly, using measures that many believe should have been implemented in New York City close to a decade ago. Reported cases in the region are declining, albeit slowly.

Recent outbreaks, and how they’ve affected businesses

The most alarming outbreaks in New York are those that occur in commercial buildings, especially retail outlets and high-traffic locations. Outbreaks in the Abercrombie & Fitch stores have remained a leading feature for the city’s news media over the past two months, with most outlets using them as an example of the city’s growing problem with unwanted and easily spreadable household pests.

One of the city’s major co-op housing projects has also experienced an annoying – and expensive – outbreak. The unnamed Theater District co-op complex was forced to shell out almost $250,000 in fees to remove the bugs from its buildings, after residents filed complaints with management. The cost of fighting an infestation increases with time, as the bugs can spread from one unit to another.

A less recent New York Times study has pointed to the bugs’ lack of discrimination when it comes to social class or spending habits. Exterminators have reported that many of the city’s most expensive and exclusive hotels are home to the bugs, most of which spread through cleaning units and shared usage of furniture. Luggage is also a home for bed bugs, and can spread from bag to bad unnoticed.

For commercial operators within the city, bed bugs remain (and will likely continue to be) a major issue. Their invisibility during daytime hours makes them a difficult force to combat, and a strong resistance to standard extermination sprays makes them an even more difficult pest to force out of houses independently.

The most obvious, and beneficial, solution is to contact a qualified exterminator. Due to the large amount of reported cases within New York City and its surrounding areas, bed bug exterminators tend to be fairly priced and readily available. Treating the bugs before they become ubiquitous is important – it will lower the cost of extermination and lower the risk of them spreading.