Are bed bugs catching the train, or is the train catching the bed bugs? Today’s philosophical question is brought to you by a flurry of reports of bed bug sightings in several New York City subway trains over the last week. While tourists might be shying away from the summer heat, bed bugs think the August weather is a great time to hit the scenes in the Big Apple, and there’s no more convenient way to travel the town than the underground rails.
At least five subway cars have been taken out of service to be inspected and treated after bed bug activity was reported on them, usually by riders. So far, the outbreak seems to be limited to the “N” and “5” lines; however, this is only based on reports that are accessible to the press. The cars in question were inspected by bed bug-sniffing dogs, then fumigated.
Perhaps more troubling was the discovery of bed bugs in the lockers of two “N” train workers. This is clear evidence that bed bugs are thriving in the subway system, and are easily able to travel out of the train and into someone’s personal belongings. The news has prompted the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the union representing the “N” train workers in question, to call for fumigation of the entire “N” line.
“This is a very annoying and possibly costly infestation if it gets back to fellow employees’ homes, cars, and possessions,” says Kevin Harrington, a vice president with the union. “Some of our fellow employees are experiencing great trepidation concerning possible infestation.”
In response to the locker room findings, crew rooms for the “N” and “Q” line workers were cleared out for fumigation later in the week. The crew rooms were in Coney Island, Brooklyn, and Astoria, and are used by motormen, conductors, signal maintainers, and other workers.
Joseph Costales of the TWU Local 100 isn’t convinced that treating those cars and lockers is enough. He told Daily News that the MTA should also fumigate the homes of all workers on the affected lines. “Otherwise, you’re not resolving the issue,” Costales explained. “You’re just doing the quick fix. It will be like a ping-pong match with workers bringing the bugs home and then back to work.”
Adam Lisberg, a spokesperson for the MTA, feels differently about the severity of the case. “With 6,300 subway cars, this is a minor incident,” Lisberg said. “The subway system has 5.5 million riders every single day, and we can’t check all of them for bedbugs before letting them on the train. That said, when we get reports of bedbug sightings, we investigate — and exterminate. This is an interesting story, but not a big problem.”
If you’re a New Yorker and/or are feeling a little itchy right now, fear not — there are a couple of easy ways to keep these hitchhikers from following you home. For starters, give the subway seat a quick glance before sitting down on it; if you spot signs of bed bugs, like thin black fecal marks or small red blood spots (or even living or dead bugs), it’s best to remain standing. This is by no means a guarantee, but visible signs make it much more likely that bed bugs are hiding nearby.
The most effective prevention method available to commuters is a small bed bug heater, like the ThermalStrike Ranger. This device costs less than two months of rail commuting, and can safely heat your briefcase and other personal belongings to lethal temperatures, killing any bed bugs and eggs hiding inside in a matter of hours. Use it to treat your briefcase, suitcase, clothes, shoes, books, and work papers as soon as you get home from work.