Philadelphia has a bed bug crisis.

Most major cities have a policy to deal with bed bugs, but the City of Philadelphia avoids bed bugs like the plague. No city agency will take responsibility for addressing this serious issue.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that bed bugs are "a pest of significant public health importance." But when bed bugs have you losing sleep and suffering panic attacks, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's response is to send you a fact sheet.

International Property Maintenance Code standards adopted by our city call for structures to be kept "free from insect infestation." However the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections will not cite a property for bed bug infestation stating they are either not a structural pest or not an insect — neither of which is correct.

And as is often the case when you don't have a plan, a nuisance becomes a crisis. In an annual ranking of bed bug-infested cities, Philadelphia ranked No. 2.  We were No. 1, but Detroit took first place.

People treat you badly when you say you have bed bugs, so you whisper the truth to a trusted friend. But the truth is that bed bugs don't discriminate. Anyone can get bed bugs. Entire blocks of the city can get bed bugs. The only way to stop bed bugs is to establish a clear policy.

Although the folks in charge of health and buildings have decided bed bugs are not their problem, Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs disagrees. It's a problem when you can't get your landlord to address a bed bug infestation. It's a problem when bed bugs needlessly cause another family to abandon furniture and mattresses they cannot afford to replace. It's a problem when essential food, healthcare, and transportation services are denied because agencies won't serve people who live with bed bugs.

Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs has a plan. The City of Philadelphia needs to adopt the Philadelphia Bed Bug Task Force's 2015 Policy Recommendations: Require property owners to keep their properties free of bed bugs. Implement a code enforcement policy that takes infestations seriously. Educate our city about best practices for extermination. And implement policies that keep our homes, schools, and workplaces free from infestation.

Until then, sleep tight!


What are the best resources for learning about bed bugs?

  • Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely:  A Guide for Property Owners, Managers and Tenants.  Download in English or in Spanish.
  • Got Bed Bugs? Eliminate Bed Bugs with IPM.  Download in English or in Spanish.

What are bed bugs, besides scary?

Bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius) are small, wingless parasites that feed mostly on the blood of humans.

When did bed bugs become a thing?

The bed bug used to be a common pest in the US, affecting one third of the population. After World War II the use of pesticides essentially eliminated them from the United States. However, small populations persisted, and bed bugs continued to thrive in areas around the world. Over time bed bugs developed a resistance to every pesticide used against them. The older formulas, now banned, no longer kill the bugs. Beginning around the year 2000, new bed bug populations were introduced into the US by travelers. By 2008, bed bug infestations had become a major issue in the United States capturing media attention.

How common are bed bugs in Philly?

In Philadelphia, calls to the Vector Control program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health increased monthly, reaching over 69% annual increase between 2008 and 2010. Similar reports from around the country confirm these trends. In another Philadelphia study, 11% of a sample of South Philadelphia residents had contact with bed bugs in the previous 5 years.

What happens when they bite?

Bed bugs are most active at night. They often bite people who are asleep or sitting still for an extended period of time. Bites are usually the first sign that people notice when they have bed bugs. Reactions to bites can vary widely, ranging from blisters and pustules to no reaction at all. Physical reactions to bed bug bites can include skin irritation, swelling, and rashes. Reactions to bites may take as little as a few minutes to as many as 14 days to appear. It is very hard to look at a bug bite and know if the bite came from a bed bug or another insect. A proper inspection is needed to confirm if your home has bed bugs.  

Can bed bugs drive you crazy?

Living with bed bugs can also result in psychological and emotional distress including loss of sleep, anxiety, and depression. Bed bugs frequently prevent or delay critical ­home health care and access to other public services for elderly, mentally ill, and disabled individuals creating additional challenges for vulnerable members of the population.  The stigma associated with bed bugs interferes with reporting and treatment, and can result in social distancing, isolation and deprecatory treatment by others. 

How long do they live?

Early detection is critical in stopping a bed bug introduction from becoming an infestation. Adult female bed bugs lay white, pearshaped eggs in clusters of 10 to 50 in cracks and crevices of bed frames, floors, walls and other similar sites.  The bugs go through various stages before becoming a mature, oval, brown or red-brown adult. Adults may survive as long as one year without feeding. Under perfect conditions, the time from egg to adult can be 4­6 weeks, with eggs hatching in 10­14 days.


Step One: Read these. You need to know what you are up against.

  • Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely:  A Guide for Property Owners, Managers and TenantsDownload in English or in Spanish.
  • Got Bed Bugs? Eliminate Bed Bugs with IPM.  Download in English or in Spanish.

Step Two: Hire a qualified exterminator.  The only effective way to eradicate bed bugs is an integrated approach using multiple methods, starting with careful inspection, and probably using heat or steam treatment. A minimum of three visits at 10-14 day intervals will be required, and should be specified. "Pesticide only" treatments will fail, because of resistance by the bugs, but especially their eggs.  For more information:

Copyright Philadelphians Against Bed Bugs 2017