A New Look at the NYC Bed Bug Problem

New York is known for being one of the most diverse cities in the world. From the people, to the cuisine, to the clothing, there are so many different ethnicities, food choices, and apparel styles that it boggles the mind. Believe it or not, that diversity goes for bed bugs, too. According to a new study published in Nature Communications about bed bugs, aka Cimex lectularius, researchers from American Museum of Natural History worked with geneticists at Weill Cornell Medicine's Institute for Computational Biomedicine to map the bed bug's genome. And the researchers discovered some surprising things that have changed the way we look at bed bugs. "The genetic information suggests that bedbugs running north and south are more closely related," geneticist Christopher Mason told 1010 WINS Radio, "than bedbugs on, say, Manhattan's West Side versus the East Side." In Manhattan, there are multiple subways that go north and south, but no subways that travel the entire length of the borough from west to east. He said that "broad trends appear" when you look at the different boroughs. "To them the area of the city is the size of the planet to us, and so they have the same differences in their genetic makeup and also what makes them family members in different areas of the city." The study took DNA from bed bugs in over 1,400 locations around the city, with college students swapping subway stations, park areas, and other locations.

Bedbugs Continue to Evolve

George Amato, another researcher in that study, told that despite bed bugs being one of the city's "most iconic living fossils, along with cockroaches" the bed bugs "continue to evolve, mostly in ways that make it harder for humans to dissociate with them." Which means, like cockroaches, it's tougher for people to get away from these bugs. That study found that bed bugs have 187 potential genes that enabled them to feed on people and animals without causing any pain. The scientists also discovered genes that helped the pests resist insecticide. Amato said that the research "gives us the genetic basis to explore the bedbug's basic biology and its adaptation to dense human environments." Researchers hope that the study can lead to coming up with better pesticides for bed bugs, as well as figuring out a way to improve human blood thinners by looking at the pests.

How to Protect Yourself Against Bed Bugs in the Big City

Since bed bugs are so adept at hitching a ride on humans when they travel on public transportation, here are some safety tips for riding the NYC subway bed bug free:

  • Know how to spot a bed bug: An adult bed bug is the size of an apple seed.

  • Hang on to your stuff: Instead of putting your bags on the floor, or in the trunk of a taxi cab or on a shelf of an express bus, hold onto your bags yourself on your lap. While this is not a foolproof method of avoiding bed bugs, it can help from potentially bringing home some unwanted passengers.

  • Watch where you sit: Bed bugs can be "sitting" anywhere, but they especially like particular accommodations. Express buses, especially in New York, have soft cushiony seats which could be tBed bugs can be he perfect home for bed bugs. And while subway cars do not have cushions for passengers, the seats in the conductors' cars do, where a number of pests have been known to be hiding.So do taxicabs, bed bugs love cracks, crevices, and cloth, so if you are sitting on something cushiony as part of your commute, make sure to pay extra attention you are not sitting next to a bed bug!

  • After arriving home: Make sure to not put your bags where you sleep -- if you can, separate your backpack, purse and the clothing you wore from your sleeping area. (We realize this can be easier said than done in a tiny NYC apartment.) Inspect your items closely. If you can, run your clothing in the dryer for 20 minutes on high heat -- this will help eliminate any hitchhiking bed bugs. For items like purses, you can put the bag in a zip-type plastic bag and watch to see if any bugs come out.

  • Also, you may not notice bed bugs on the subway right away, but you may have the symptoms associated with them. If you think you might have bed bugs but want to know what to look for here is some more information on the first signs of bed bugs and how to tell where your bed bugs are hiding.

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