Shaffer: Raleigh crawls to No. 15 in bedbug rankings

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 20, 2013 

Bedbug Insecticide Risk

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 30, 2011 file photo, a bed bug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington. A government study counted one death and 80 illnesses linked to bedbug-targeting insecticides used from 2008 through 2010. Many were do-it-yourselfers who misused the chemicals or used the wrong product. Most of the cases were in New York City, the apparent epicenter of a recent U.S. bedbug comeback. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

CAROLYN KASTER — AP

  • Blasted bedbugs Bedbug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bedbug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bedbugs. Source: Centers for Disease Control

— Clear some space on Raleigh’s trophy shelf, a showplace already cluttered with kudos.

Just when you thought we couldn’t notch another national ranking, here comes the King Daddy.

Who’d have thought we could outdo our title as sixth-best city for a happy marriage, or seventh-place on the list of America’s Can-Do Capitals, or a mention in Tastiest Town of the South?

I mean, how could Raleigh follow being named Forbes’ No. 1 city for business climate and Men’s Health’s No. 4 city for porn consumption? There’s a reason we’re obsessed with top 10 lists. We make ’em all.

But here’s one that really stands out, that people will remember, that we can print on a banner and hang on a streetlamp:

Raleigh made Orkin’s top 50 bedbug cities. We’re No. 15. And Charlotte? Way, way, way, way down the list at a lowly No. 43.

Zing!

Let me drop the sarcasm for a moment and say that bedbugs really are a terrible, blood-sucking menace. They can cause unbearable itching. You can scratch their bites hard enough to get them infected. They’re hard to eradicate. They turn up a lot in senior citizen housing. Pesticides designed to kill them are often misused.

In poking fun at this national ranking, I am by no means making light of the problem. Bedbugs are bad.

The real target of this column is the mania for appearances on best-of lists, which Raleigh gloats over like a middle-school girl’s collection of friendship bracelets.

Now back to the sarcasm.

The bedbuggiest city in America is Chicago, followed by Detroit, L.A., Denver, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. Next to Richmond (No. 12), Raleigh can boast the biggest infestation in the entire Southeast. We show up 31 slots higher on Orkin’s list than Las Vegas, a city with a bazillion more hotel rooms. We show up higher than Houston, where cockroaches grow big enough to drive cars.

Actually, Raleigh’s No. 15 spot is due to the tally of bedbug treatment calls, so a better explanation could be that Raleigh is just more proactive about bloodsuckers between its mattresses. See, I told you this was a positive.

But the uglier truth is that bedbugs are getting immune to pesticides, and they’re travelers. Entomologists at N.C. State University have theorized that our hometown population of pests could have migrated here from Latin America, Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia.

“You can go to a friend’s house,” said Bobby Leonard, Orkin’s service manager in Raleigh. “You can go to the store. You can go to the movies. You can take a ride in a bus or somebody’s car someplace. If somebody has bedbugs as an issue at their home, and there’s a hitchhiker on there, that hitchhiker is going to take a ride and now you’ve got the issue.”

In our defense, Orkin lumps Raleigh in not just with Durham, but with Fayetteville, which isn’t any Triangle I ever heard of.

The Parasite Triangle?

But however we got there, we’re on the list. Strangely enough, the city doesn’t include this accolade on its website along with its nod from The Daily Beast as one of the nation’s brainiest cities.

We’re not on the list!

So maybe we can start patting ourselves on the back for the top 10 rankings we didn’t make.

You won’t find Raleigh on the roster of America’s drunkest cities. Congratulations, Fresno.

You won’t find Raleigh in the august company of American cities with the highest likelihood of erectile dysfunction. That’d be Tulsa’s territory.

So maybe we can lower our sights, aim for a little mediocrity and hope that next year, Orkin hands us a participation ribbon – the humble reward of an American also-ran.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4818

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