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7 Sep, 2010 04:57

New York’s newest greeting: “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”

Bedbugs are emerging at an alarming rate in the US. Homeowners have been putting their life at risk trying to get rid of them. The Environmental Protection Agency has warned Americans to be careful with the chemicals.

This plague on the city is barely visible by day, but at night blood sucking bedbugs become a big problem for thousands in New York City. Bugs people once knew only as a nursery rhyme are infesting many areas across the US at rates not seen for decades.

Over the past five years, bed bug complaints in New York have jumped from 500 to 10,000, for reasons experts can't pinpoint.

With people starting to get rid of all of their furniture, you know something is wrong.

Yvonne Priester and her 84-year old mother Emma know what it’s like to have bed bugs.

“They will drive you up the wall,” said New York resident Yvonne Priester. “This thing is really serious. I've seen them on my mother's pillow and she smashes it and blood comes out.”

“They're not restricted to beds, actually, and that's one of the bigger problems,” noted entomologist Louis Sorkin. “In many situations, I've seen firsthand hundreds of thousands of bed bugs in the whole room. Part of the reason is bad education for people knowing about their bugs.”

And just lately they’ve turned up in the offices of the fashion magazine Elle, at the Time Warner Center where CNN’s offices are, and at a popular movie theater right in Times Square.

“God knows wherever else; I heard last night even Donald Trump had them, I don't even know,” said Priester.

Her mother Emma, who is already ill, has been a bed bug feast.

“She has bites all over her body – when I say all over, I mean all over,” Yvonne said.

New York public housing, where Yvonne lives, is backed up with complaints. It takes months for the exterminators to come, as they have so many requests.

And after exterminators are gone, bugs reappear, despite Yvonne’s constant washing, drying, and living out of bags. She doesn’t even want to leave the house to go to church because of the shame.

“People judge, yes they do,” Yvonne said. “I don't know, that's just people.”

“Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite” is now a nightly invocation that has more than just a folksy ring to it in New York, despite its image of sophistication.