As one of the United States’ education centers, Boston is using specialized research to fight its bed bug problem. The city has experienced a boom in reports of the critters over the past two years, as inexpensive student apartments and high-end hotels alike battle to ensure that the creatures are no longer able to affect guests. The city fears it could become a bed bug haven without further action.

But beyond the somewhat misleading news reports and alarming blog posts, Boston is actually a fairly bed bug free city. When compared to nearby New York City and southern Philadelphia, it’s one of the most compelling ‘clean’ cities on the East Coast. However, a bed bug massacre is very much going on within the city’s historical apartment buildings, and it could soon grow bigger.

Residents have lodged complaints about bed bugs for years, though the total annual complaint count rarely rises above fifty. However, as the use of pesticide chemicals and high-power spray treatments has been outlawed, the city has experienced an exponential increase in the number and frequency of bed bug related calls. What was once a fifty-call problem now results in hundreds of calls annually.

The call outs are mostly to densely-packed apartment complexes, many of which house thousands of residents in the city. Due to Boston’s temperate winters and rough snow-heavy weeks, the buildings in many inner city suburbs are packed with insulation and build to last. That’s great for heat, but it’s a paradise for bed bugs – the pests can make insulated walls their homes, alongside most furniture.

Cambridge is one of the most obviously affected areas, with its large student population unable to incur the cost of a professional extermination and equally unwilling to spend weeks complaining with a stubborn landlord. Student accommodation is one of the most frequently infested locations for Northeastern cities, as the great housing density allows bugs to easily travel from room to room.

However, despite the obvious reason for concern, Massachusetts appears to be tackling the bed bug problem better than its neighbors to the south. Calls are responded to quickly and the state’s choice of pest control companies is fairly good. However, given the harsh winter the state is famous for, a bed bug infestation is not the ideal presence when double blankets and duvets are required.

How are bed bugs spreading through Massachusetts?

Experts believe that Massachusetts’ bed bug problem is coming from travelers, particularly those arriving in the city from Eastern and Southern Europe. The city is a major travel hub for residents based in the Northeast, taking hundreds of flights daily and routing passengers traveling south to New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and even cross-country to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Its position makes it a popular one-night stopover location, with thousands of short-term visitors packing the city’s hotels on a nightly basis. This quick turnover makes it very difficult for staff to locate and eradicate bed bugs quickly, particularly in hotels geared towards business travelers. A single outbreak can spread from room to room, compounding the city’s obvious problems.

Residents are advised to search through hotel rooms for signs of the bugs before committing to stay, as the pests can easily transfer to luggage and clothing during the night. If you suspect that there are bed bugs at your hotel room, store all luggage in the bathtub (hat tip ABC News) and call the staff to inquire about being moved to another room. Bad infestation? Consider switching hotels entirely.

As part of a major megalopolis, is Massachusetts at risk?

Simply put, yes. Boston’s position on major Amtrak lines makes it a frequent destination for bed bug travelers from New York City and nearby New Jersey. Unlike other pests, which tend to seek out isolated areas and warm regions, bed bugs thrive in the tight conditions found in many of the city’s apartments. More transportation links simply open more avenues for the pests to arrive.

When using public transportation (or long-distance trains) in the Boston-New York region, check seats before sitting or storing baggage. If possible, keep your bags elevated from the train’s floor and do not sit on any surfaces that you suspect may be housing an infestation. The bugs are very easily transferred, and being careless on public trains can lead to widespread outbreaks.

Bed bugs in the Boston Metropolitan Area

Most bed bug cases have been reported in the Boston-Cambridge area. The New York Times ran a piece recently detailing the risk that many students incur when using second-hand furniture. City officials have attached stickers to used mattresses and couches alerting students to their potential to lead to a costly infestation – a move that many believe will be effective in fighting the bugs.

Other outbreak sites have included central city apartment complexes and high-end hotels. Many travelers opt for high-end hotels, believing that they’re more likely to be free of bed bugs. While luxury accommodation options may spend more time monitoring for the bugs, there is no major advantage gained by sleeping in a clean bed and none lost by opting for an inexpensive room.

Bed bugs in Worcester City and County

Five bed bug infestations have been confirmed by the Worcester County Environmental Department in hotels. The unnamed hotels have been ordered to spray for the bugs and take efforts to implement a permanent solution. Several isolated incidents have occurred in private residences, although those were dealt to fairly quickly, with most outbreaks contained and treated to.

Despite the lack of major cases, officials in Worcester County and other small regions in the state are concerned that large infestations could spread further. Visitors to any towns in Massachusetts will be advised to store their belongings securely and check bedsheets for discarded bug shells or traces of the pests.

Recent outbreaks in Massachusetts and New England

Boston is listed as one of the EPA’s most problematic metropolitan areas, with several alerts offering information for travelers and tenants within the city. Almost all reported cases are found in the city center, with few infestations present in residential Middlesex or Suffolk Counties. Articles have raised awareness of the bugs, such as this 2006-dated piece in the Boston Globe.

More recent coverage has included a brief guide to the insects, once again published by the Boston Globe. Several TV news reports have also been prominently featured on Boston local programming, although most have focused on the preventative measures available to homeowners and tenants.