Nightly News   |  August 31, 2010

Why bedbugs are tough to exterminate

The plague of bed bugs is not just in New York City anymore – it’s everywhere. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports on why bedbugs are resistant.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Apologies up front here for all of you who consider this time of night the dinner hour and thus may be eating right now, but this next story, while disgusting, is growing in urgency and importance. Today's New York Times all but put out a special section on bedbugs . The city passed a new bedbug disclosure law today; but make no mistake, they are now a national health issue. From the East Coast through hard-hit Ohio to the West , bedbugs are at epidemic proportions. We have an update on the fight tonight from NBC 's Mike Taibbi .

MIKE TAIBBI reporting: There's probably no one who knows more about bedbugs than entomologist Lou Sorkin of New York 's American Museum of Natural History .

Mr. LOU SORKIN: See, this one's red. It's feeding.

TAIBBI: Yeah.

Mr. SORKIN: I don't feel a thing, though.

TAIBBI: Sorkin has been collecting and studying them for decades, and demonstrating by letting them feed on him that they're not known disease carriers. Wow. Though if they were...

Mr. SORKIN: There would probably be more research on bedbugs and how to get rid of them.

TAIBBI: In fact, urban centers across the country that had once been overrun almost got rid of them for good after World War II , until DDT and then other pesticides were banned and cimex lectularius began a now-ferocious comeback. In New York City , for example, confirmed infestations jumped from 82 in 2004 to more than 4,000 last year. The Big Apple still tops a list put out by Terminex of cities with the biggest bedbug problem, followed by Philadelphia at number two; and at number three, Detroit , that has seen whole buildings evacuated. But a surprise, four of the top 15 are in Ohio , middle America . It's all fodder for psychiatric consultations...

Mr. STEVEN BRODSKY (Psychologist): It really is both the mystery -- because you can't see them really so well, particularly bedbugs -- and also the sense of loss of control.

TAIBBI: ...and for late night comics.

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN: You folks applauding or trying to kill bedbugs ?

Mr. JON STEWART: By the way, the scariest thing about bedbugs , no place is safe.

TAIBBI: But Sorkin only sees a growing problem no one seems able to control, one that can be fought with permitted pesticides and steam and frequent vacuuming, but that still leaves some people living with this, really.

Mr. SORKIN: You wouldn't want that spilled.

TAIBBI: Are there residences with colonies as thick as this as we're looking at right now?

Mr. SORKIN: Oh, yes. Some of the times I've been in places, that person lying on his bed had all these bugs crawling on them.

TAIBBI: That much?

Mr. SORKIN: That much.

TAIBBI: Crawling and feeding their way across the country. Mike Taibbi , NBC News, New York .