WITH JORDANNA THIGPEN
Photo by Jack
San Francisco Bedbugs: A global epidemic
By Jordanna Thigpen
February 17, 2006
There is a global epidemic, and it's not avian flu.
Instead, it's a broader and more insidious problem: bedbugs. Our
city is just one of many across the world with the problem.
Since 2001, SoMA, Mission, and TL have been infested with bedbugs.
Central City Extra's November 2005 issue was devoted to the problem.
It can be apparently/allegedly be traced to several sources: (1)
SRO and hotel management which refuse to address the problem;
(2) residents, who will not agree to cooperate with a major and
necessary extermination; (3) infestation from other cities and
nations; and (4) a lack of cooperation and coordination between
local government agencies. Why is this a critical public health
issue for the whole city to address? Because even if you do not
reside in District 6 and don't consider it your problem, the bugs
have started to infest tourist hotels, and that means our economy
is at risk. There are recent reports of the bugs turning up at
some big name San Francisco hotels. Perhaps as a city we can now
come together to solve this problem.
Some psychologists say it's comforting for a human to experience
suffering with the knowledge that other humans are going through
the same experience. Is it comforting to know that other humans
are having their blood siphoned from their veins on a nightly
basis, all across the world? Is it comforting to know that each
of us is a potential carrier, because the bugs can lay flat and
hitch a ride on clothing, luggage, and personal effects? Is it
comforting to know that other cities are having as much difficulty
solving the problem?
Here in San Francisco, we have to address all four components
of the problem. First, management should be accountable for the
conditions in the hotels. At a bare minimum, all mattresses should
be covered in plastic. Rooms should be treated with stronger pesticides
(to combat both cockroaches and bedbugs; apparently finding a
dual agent has been difficult.) More stringent amendments to the
Health Code need to be passed by the Board of Supervisors, and
failing that, must be introduced by our Assembly members at the
State Level to literally create a new chapter in Health &
Safety. Assuredly, we need fewer chemical agents in our society.
But this is precisely the type of threat that we should save the
heavy artillery for.
Next, residents need to cooperate with management in solving
the problem. Some residents are unable to leave their rooms -
obviously, these individuals need special aid and procedures must
be set up by management to deal with the elderly, the disabled,
and the ill. But some residents are unwilling, and since any untreated
area can cause a re-infestation, raging against the machine in
this instance is a public health risk. Should residents be forcibly
removed from their rooms for treatment? What means justifies the
In Australia, in the capital cities of Europe, in New York, in
Los Angeles, the bedbugs are biting. Like tuberculosis, bedbugs
are experiencing a second adolescence in our dense urban societies.
It is a worldwide epidemic, and our infestation is due in part
to the mobility of humans (hostels are particularly susceptible.)
Other cities are apparently just as hapless at dealing with the
problem. Only regular treatment of problematic locations will
keep address the continued re-infestation from travelers.
There seems to be a lack of coordination between the various
city agencies which address the problem. The Department of Public
Health needs dedicated resources and a directive to address the
issue in a meaningful way. Perhaps major tenants' and landlords'
groups can finally come together, with DPH as a facilitator, to
What we need is a Bedbug Partnership. Before snarky spectators
dismiss this solution, note that New York has recently established
a task force in response to its own epidemic. We do not know what
solutions are feasible, and what laws may be passed, until we
examine the issue with all sides at the table.
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