Have Bed Bugs Invaded NYC Subway System?

City agencies are swatting at the “bed bugs on the subway” story faster than a bed bug victim scratching his bites. The fracas started when NYC Housing Department educator Edward Brownbear told a Brooklyn audience he had seen bed bugs on a woman at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station. Meeting attendee Heather Letzkus of Greenpoint wrote in her blog, “I was horrified. It’s a very scary thing. Just the thought that I could pick them up by sitting on a subway bench freaks me out.” Fear that the nefarious nocturnal blood-suckers had invaded the subway system tore through the news media, provoking consternation and denial by city officials.

The facts are that bed bugs are easily transported on clothing, backpacks, briefcases and suitcases by often unsuspecting victims. “If you go way back 100 years ago, bed bugs were very common on trains, on buses, in taxicabs, in all modes of transport,” University of Kentucky entomologist Michael Potter told the New York Times. The noted bed bug expert explained that bed bugs could easily harbor in cracks and crevices on subway benches and on seats in the trains. “In other areas of the world where bed bugs are also a big problem, like India, there have been reports of massive problems of bed bugs on trains and on benches.” He’s heard similar reports about bed bugs on European trains.  However, Potter didn’t think New Yorkers should panic. “This is still probably a rare occurrence and people shouldn’t stop riding the subway.”

New York City Transit spokesman Charles Seaton reassured subway riders that a bed bug infestation had not yet been confirmed, saying, “We will send people to check to see whether there is this problem.” Until then, watch where you sit.