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” What Spreads Faster Than Bedbugs? Stigma “

Jeremy Sparig spent months fighting bedbugs. Now, to some people, he is like a mattress left on the street, something best avoided in these times.“They don’t want to hug you anymore; they don’t want you coming over,” said Mr. Sparig, of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “You’re like a leper.” At the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which recently had a bedbug breakout, defense lawyers are skittish about visiting, and it is not because of the fierce prosecutors.

Even Steven Smollens, a housing lawyer who has helped many tenants with bedbugs, has his guard up. Those clients are barred from his office. “I meet outside,” he said. “There’s a Starbucks across the street.” Beyond the bites and the itching, the bother and the expense, victims of the nation’s most recent plague are finding that an invisible scourge awaits them in the form of bedbug stigma. Friends begin to keep their distance. Invitations are rescinded. For months, one woman said, her mother was afraid to tell her that she had an infestation she should contact pest control London straightaway. When she found out and went to clean her mother’s apartment, she said, “Nobody wanted to help me.”

Fear and suspicion are creeping into the social fabric wherever bedbugs are turning up, which is almost everywhere: “Public health agencies across the country have been overwhelmed by complaints about bedbugs,” said a joint statement this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency nad also Pest Control Services Some of the fear is rooted in fact: The bugs, while they are not known to transmit disease, can travel on clothing, jump into pocketbooks and lurk in the nooks of furniture. And they do, of course, bite. Wenay James, a credit card account executive in Chicago, said that last year, a friend who had just had an infestation brought her children over for a visit. “I’m staring at their seat,” she said, “wondering if the cushion is going to run across the room.” “I haven’t been over to her place in a year,” Ms. James said. “I don’t want the cooties.”

Even in New York, where the roach and the rat are considered members of the melting pot, no one wants to be associated with the minuscule pests that treat sleeping bodies as smorgasbords. Whole livelihoods are considered in jeopardy. Tutors and music teachers, who go from apartment to apartment, fear losing their clients. An Upper West Side caterer canceled work and dressed in long sleeves and pants during July’s hottest days so no one would see her bites. “Who is going to want me in their private home?” said the woman, who was interviewed on the condition that her name not be disclosed, for obvious reasons.

Businesses are fearing the stigma as well, as reports of infestations multiply. In recent weeks, bedbugs snuggled into the seats at AMC’s movie theater in Times Square, crept around a Victoria’s Secret store on Lexington Avenue and the offices of Elle Magazine and hitchhiked into the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. “There were attorneys that didn’t want to come to our building,” said an assistant district attorney who would identify herself only as Caroline A. “I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where there is known to be bedbugs only pest control can help.” But those places are becoming increasingly hard to avoid. Bed bugs, once nearly eradicated, have spread across New York City, in part because of the decline in the use of DDT. According to the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation, the number of bedbug violations has gone up 67 percent in the last two years. In the most recent fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the city’s 311 help line recorded 12,768 bedbug complaints, 16 percent more than the previous year and 39 percent above the year before. A New York City community health survey showed that in 2009, 1 in 15 New Yorkers had bedbugs in their homes, a number that is probably higher now

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