NEW YORK — One of every 15 New Yorkers battled bed bugs last year, officials said Wednesday as they announced a plan to fight the spreading infestation, including a public-awareness campaign and a top entomologist to head the effort.
The bloodsucking pests, which are not known to spread disease but can cause great mental anguish with their persistent and fast-growing infestations, have rapidly multiplied throughout New York and many other U.S. cities in recent years.
Health officials and pest control specialists nationwide report surges in sightings, bites and complaints. The Environmental Protection Agency hosted its first-ever bedbug summit last year.
In New York City, the pests have been discovered in theaters, clothing stores, office buildings, housing projects and posh apartments.
The stigma of having bedbugs — whose bites leave itchy red welts — and the elusive nature of the pests make it impossible to fully understand the problem, experts say.
But in 2009, for the first time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration included a question about bedbugs on its community health survey, and it revealed the finding to The Associated Press on Wednesday: More than 6 percent of New Yorkers who responded said they had battled the pests in the last year.
The figure would equal roughly 400,000 adults in the city, the health department said.
Data previously has been limited to government statistics on complaints and surveys of private pest-control companies, which also have reported nationwide spikes.
The Bloomberg administration fielded 537 complaints about the bugs in fiscal 2004. In fiscal 2009, there were nearly 11,000.
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Source: Associated Press