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updated 10/25/2010 9:09:05 AM ET 2010-10-25T13:09:05

New York City's bedbugs have climbed out of bed and marched into landmarks like the Empire State Building, Bloomingdale's and Lincoln Center, causing fresh anxiety among tourists who are canceling vacations planned for the height of the holiday season.

Some travelers who had arranged trips to New York say they are worried about staying in hotels and visiting attractions as new reports of bedbugs seem to pop up every few days. And officials in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration are concerned about the effect on the city's image and $30 billion tourism industry.

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The discoveries of pests at high-profile places are often not full-blown infestations, or even in public areas. Bloomingdale's reported finding exactly one bug in the famous department store, the Empire State Building had them in the basement and Lincoln Center's were in a dressing room.

But those reports, along with bedbug discoveries in movie theaters, hotels and clothing chain stores, are causing skittish travelers to call off trips planned months ago.

Industry professionals — who have privately told city officials that they are nervous about bedbugs hurting New York's reputation — say publicly that they are not aware of any bedbug-related cancellations. But several would-be tourists tracked down by The Associated Press say they are aborting their trips here because they fear the bloodsucking pests.

"It sounds like you can get them anywhere, any time of day and not know it until you get home," said Patty Majerik, from Baltimore.

Vote: Are bedbugs a reason to cancel your vacation plans?

She said she may not travel to Manhattan next month with her children, ages 7 and 10, as they do every year around the holidays to shop, catch a Broadway show and see the Radio City Christmas show.

"I've got four people traveling on a train, in cabs, going to stores and theaters, and they could be in any of these places? I hate to say it, but I doubt we're going to come this time," Majerik said.

Related: How to avoid bedbugs when you're in a hotel

Suzanne Baldwin said she is forfeiting money spent on reservations for a November trip to New York City from her home in Florida. She had already grown accustomed to checking hotel rooms for bedbugs — and has done so in New York before — but she is now overwhelmed at the idea that the bugs have spread beyond hotels.

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"We thought long and hard about this trip," she told the AP in an e-mail. "However, we decided, knowing we would lose quite a bit of money from nonrefundable tickets, it was not worth the worry."

Susannah Johnston, a yoga teacher who lives in the New York City suburbs, said she and her husband wanted to stay overnight in Manhattan last weekend after attending a late concert, but bedbugs thwarted their plans.

Video: Bedbugs become a recurring nightmare (on this page)

"We started researching hotels and prices, and then we read the reviews," she said. "Every one of the hotels we were considering had a guest horror story regarding bedbugs."

Bloomberg said Monday he was concerned about the effect of bedbug hysteria on the city's reputation.

"You don't want anything that would dissuade people from coming here," he told reporters. "Hopefully these things come and go, and this will go quickly."

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Sightings of the rust-colored bugs, which are about the size of an apple seed, have surged in New York and around the United States in recent years. It is not known what caused their sudden spread, but experts have theorized that an increase in global travel and the banning of certain pesticides may be partly responsible.

Bedbugs are famously difficult to eradicate; they hide in many more places than beds and can go for a year without feeding.

The city's tourism agency, NYC & Company, said it has not seen mass cancellations because of bedbug fears. But officials said some New York hotels, museums and other attractions that depend on tourists have told the administration they are concerned the bedbug rumors will scare travelers away.

Tourism officials are keeping an eye on the situation, and are trying to decide how to address the public relations side of it.

New Yorkers themselves are feeling more anxious about regular activities like shopping, seeing movies and even just going to work, as bedbug reports have spread to office buildings and schools.

"I have definitely had people talking about it more, checking more for signs of bedbugs — it's on people's minds and changing the way they live their lives," said Lisa Tischler, a Manhattan psychologist who treats anxiety disorders. "People are really taking it seriously, and there are people who are out of control about it."

Video: Expert says bed bugs can affect 'anyone, anywhere' (on this page)

The online travel site TripAdvisor, where travelers post reviews and ask questions of other tourists, said it has seen a 12 percent increase in New York City posts referencing bedbugs. The site compared the first eight months of 2010 with the same period the previous year.

City officials and experts say it is difficult to fully measure the extent of the problem, partly because of bedbug stigma and the lack of solid data about confirmed infestations.

For the first time, the city health department included a question about bedbugs on its annual community health survey. In 2009, it found, more than 6 percent of New Yorkers — one in 15 adults — said they had battled the pests in the past year. Until the AP reported those results earlier this year, data had been limited to government statistics on bedbug complaints and private pest control company surveys.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Bedbugs become a recurring nightmare

  1. Transcript of: Bedbugs become a recurring nightmare

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The subject of bedbugs recently making its way into an episode of "30 Rock," just as bedbugs are making their way into a quickly growing number of homes and apartments in this country, especially here in New York City , but also as far west as Alaska . We readily admit this is not ideal dinner hour viewing, but it's an awful and growing problem. And once they move in, it's very tough to move them out. NBC 's Mike Taibbi willingly took on this assignment.

    Mr. AL BERNARD: Exterminator.

    MIKE TAIBBI reporting: It's another bedbug call for New York exterminator Al Bernard , this one a three-bedroom student apartment in Manhattan that's been infested for months. Bernard uses steam heat first on anything that's remotely porous, and then a chemical pesticide aimed at wherever these critters hide out before coming out to feed at night. The students who live here all suffered rashes like these, and saw plenty of evidence, before prepping their apartment for the full treatment. This is what it takes, days of work by the three people who live in this apartment, basically washing everything and bagging it and plastic boxing it -- `as much work,' the tenants told me, `as though we were moving.' Some famous stores have had to fumigate, too, including this Victoria's Secret store. And among Bernard 's recent jobs...

    Mr. BERNARD: Bill Clinton 's office on 125th Street .

    TAIBBI: And it's not just heat and chemicals. Dogs can be trained to sniff out even a single cimex lectularius , the common bedbug that's uncommonly hard to find and kill. To support what's actually the called the federal Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act , now in committee, researchers say bedbug populations have increased 500 percent in recent years, and that a survey of 700 hotel rooms found one in four infested. The scourge is everywhere.

    Mr. JEFF WHITE Alaska , for instance, had an 800 percent increase just this year.

    TAIBBI: And, country or city, getting rid of these unwanted guests is expensive.

    Mr. WHITE: You could be looking at anywhere from 800 to $ 1200 to treat a bedbug infestation.

    TAIBBI: The reasons? Not poverty or hygiene, but more travel and the bugs' resistance to available pesticides. So families like the Condis of Brooklyn endure months of attacks by a mostly invisible enemy.

    Ms. CONDI: You'll never find them. It is sort of a like a -- insanity.

    TAIBBI: And even if the dogs and the pros do their jobs...

    Mr. JEFF EISENBERG (Pest Away Exterminators): We'll get them clean, but in a year from now, I got -- anything can happen.

    TAIBBI: They are, the experts say, the toughest of all pests to eradicate. Mike Taibbi , NBC News, New York .

Photos: Take a Bite Out of The Big Apple

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  1. A full moon rises over the skyline of New York City, as seen across the Hudson River in Weehawken, N.J., on April 25, 2013. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Commuters move through the grand hall of Grand Central Terminal in New York City on Jan. 25, 2013. Since its grand beginnings in 1913, when it was dubbed the greatest railway terminal in the world with an $80 million price tag, Grand Central has been an integral part of New York City. (Brendan Mcdermid / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Revelers cheers under falling confetti at the stroke of midnight during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square on Jan. 1, 2014. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One World Trade Center overlooks the wedge-shaped pavilion entrance of the National September 11 Museum, lower right, and the square outlines of the memorial waterfalls in New York. (Mark Lennihan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees walks back to the dugout after flying out in the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians on June 13, 2011, at Yankee Stadium. Located in the South Bronx, the new stadium opened in 2009. (Jim Mcisaac / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Central Park was the first public park built in America. Its 843 acres include woodlands, lawns and water. Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and a New York City Landmark in 1974. More than 25 million visitors enjoy Central Park each year. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Saint Patrick's Cathedral is the largest decorated gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the U.S. The cathedral's construction began in 1858, and it opened its doors in 1879. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Skaters glide around the rink at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. The ice rink, open between October and April, has attracted more than 250,000 people a year since it first opened on Dec. 25, 1936. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons line up outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem to see Amateur Night. Since 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has launched the careers of famous entertainers such as Billie Holiday, James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, and many others. (Jonathan D. Woods / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City commemorates those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. (Justin Lane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Pedestrians pass along a walkway under falling snow on the Brooklyn Bridge on Jan. 3, 2014, in New York. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S., the Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Statue of Liberty looms over a visitor as he uses binoculars to look out onto New York Harbor on Oct. 13, 2013, in New York. About 4 million people visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Coney Island features entertainment parks, rides, an aquarium, a public beach, a boardwalk, fishing and Nathan's restaurant. (John Minchillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. New York City Subway dancer Marcus Walden aka "Mr Wiggles" performs acrobatic tricks on the subway while passengers watch Nov. 23, 2010. More than 4.3 million people ride the New York subway system every day. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of two-mile-long Roosevelt Island - between Manhattan and Queens - was dedicated in 2012. (Paul Warchol / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York has been around since 1924 and includes large balloons, floats and performances. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors view the Manhattan skyline from Rockefeller Center's "Top of the Rock" observation deck. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Pedestrians walk along a path on the High Line park on June 7, 2011, in New York City. The High Line was formerly an elevated railway 30 feet above the city's West Side that was built in 1934 for freight trains. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The moon rises at sunset behind New York's Empire State building, which opened in 1931. At 102 stories high, the Empire State Building is the fourth tallest skyscraper in America. (Gary Hershorn / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
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