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NYC hit by bedbug epidemic

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New York City is suffering a bedbug epidemic which has provoked a huge rise in reports of the nocturnal bloodsuckers, the New York Daily News reports.

The onslaught of the harmless but unpleasant creatures has seen complaints to 311 (the number for government information and non-emergency services) rise from 537 calls in 2004 to 6,889 in the fiscal year which ended in June. In the former year, 82 landlords were hit with bedbug violations by the Department of Housing, Preservation & Development (HPD), but by 2007 this had risen to 2,008.

Bedbugs hitch a ride on "clothing, luggage, furniture, bedding, bookbags, even shoelaces" and have apparently been seen moving around New York in cabs, limos, buses and subways.

Jeff Eisenberg, owner of Pest Away Exterminating on the upper West Side, confirmed that infestations were city-wide, and affecting rich and poor alike. He said: "In the last six months, I've treated maternity wards, five-star hotels, movie theaters, taxi garages, investment banks, private schools, white-shoe law firms... even the chambers of a federal judge."

The highest-profile bedbug incident was in around five apartments in the "swanky" rental tower at 220 E. 72nd St. owned by Bernard Spitzer, the 83-year-old dad of governor Eliot Spitzer.

Several tenants "described a persistent, if intermittent, infestation on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors", and one poor chap was forced to ditch "rugs, bedding, curtains, 20 cashmere sweaters, an Armani suit, a couch, a headboard, a night table, a bedframe and an exercise bike" before the exterminators moved in. Mercifully, he was able to find temporary lodging in the Carlyle Hotel while his unwelcome guests were evicted.

According to HPD, though, the worst affected area is Bushwick in Brooklyn, where it has issued 172 violations this year, up from four in 2004. Landlords have 30 days to clean up their premises, or face legal action.

Experts attribute the plague to various factors, including the increased risk of importing bedbugs due to the "surge in global travel and mobility in all socioeconomic classes", combined with "less toxic urban pesticides and the banning of DDT". ®

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