TODAY   |  August 24, 2010

How bedbugs give people the blues

Infestations of bedbugs are on the rise this summer and, as NBC’s John Yang reports, their effects go beyond the infernal itching.

Share This:

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

ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:10, and as we've been reporting, bedbug infestations are on the rise all across this nation and the impact goes far beyond that infernal itching and physical discomfort. We've got NBC 's John Yang explaining now.

JOHN YANG reporting: From head to toe, Robin Boyd has the physical scars of being eaten alive by bedbugs .

Ms. ROBIN BOYD (Bitten by Bedbugs): My face, my back, my breasts, my buttocks, my legs.

YANG: What you can't see are the psychological scars.

Ms. BOYD: You're ashamed. You can't tell nobody you got bedbugs because as soon as you tell people you got bedbugs they shy away from you. Nobody's your friend because you're scared of everybody. You get paranoid of everybody, even at your work.

YANG: Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association says it's an all too common story.

Ms. MISSY HENRIKSEN: People do oftentimes find themselves dealing with a great deals of anxiety, sleeplessness, oftentimes depression. I hear stories of people that truly are on the brink of holding onto their sanity because of all that they're experiencing.

YANG: Having bedbugs means bites, itching, and the nuisance of trying to get rid of them. While they don't transmit physical disease, experts say they can bring untold mental anguish and social stigma .

Ms. HENRIKSEN: Unfortunately, if someone does find out that their friends or neighbors do have bedbugs , oftentimes the social visits do stop. Children's playdates stops, cocktail parties or dinner parties get canceled.

YANG: That can leave sufferers feeling isolated with no one to turn to for help and support and worse.

Ms. HENRIKSEN: The anxiety, the depression. A great deal of reclusiveness that oftentimes comes when people do have bedbugs and they're concerned to talk to other individuals about it.

YANG: Alone and ashamed, Robin Boyd tried to fight.

Ms. BOYD: Well, you know what, I'm going to get rid of this. I'm going to go get something and I'm going to get rid of this. They're not going to beat me. And they beat you anyway.

YANG: A life turned upside down by the tiniest of pests. For TODAY, John Yang , NBC News, Chicago.

CURRY: Dr. Susan Taylor is a dermatologist who has had bedbugs three years ago, and Steven Brodsky is a psychologist who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic. Good morning to both of you.

Dr. SUSAN TAYLOR (Dermatologist): Good morning.

Dr. STEVEN BRODSKY (Psychologist Specializing in OCD and Panic Disorders): Good morning. Great to be here.

CURRY: So you've personally experienced some of this -- these feelings that we've just heard.

Dr. TAYLOR: I have indeed. I went on a business trip to Las Vegas , stayed in a very nice hotel, ended up being bitten. And it's very traumatic. It's very upsetting. But I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of. You know, bedbugs are so prevalent not only in hotels, but also office buildings, department stores. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You know, it's another type of infestation.

CURRY: Dr. Brodsky , she's right. There's no reason to feel shame for this. It could happen actually to anyone that may have bedbug bites. But what is it about bedbugs that makes them so traumatic as we just saw from this last tape, especially given that they don't carry diseases?

Dr. BRODSKY: I think it's just the frustration and the difficulty in addressing the situation. I have a lot of people, for example, that I treat for hoarding and so forth. Some of these people as well as just an ordinary individual very often has to, you know, basically throw out all of their possessions, if not abandon their apartment entirely. So it really is quite an upheaval.

CURRY: OK. So we've got to really talk about what's getting -- in fact, it's often said you're only as sick as the secrets you keep. So let's talk about how to be open then about some of this stuff.

Dr. TAYLOR: Right.

CURRY: You know, we just heard the woman in this piece saying you really can't tell anybody.

Dr. BRODSKY: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: The truth is that we're trying to figure out the rules of the road here. What can you do? What should you do? What's your feeling, Doctor?

Dr. TAYLOR: Well, my feeling is that it's important to be open and honest and to be a good citizen. So I think you should say, 'You know, my apartment was infested with begbugs; I've had an exterminator, Ann. They've come back and they say that we're all clear. If you take your clothes to a dry cleaner, and that's what's suggested, I think it's important to say to the dry cleaner, ' I want you to know that I've had bedbugs and we're fighting this.' And I think you can't go wrong by being open and honest and informing people.

CURRY: But we just heard from the tape earlier that people don't invite you over for playdates, they don't want to hang out with your kids. I mean, there is -- there's a cost we pay for honesty, Doctor.

Dr. BRODSKY: Yeah, I think that there's a balance. Clearly, you have to kind of get your house in order first. I think that's obvious, you know, if you're going to have guests over or visit other people. Having said that, I think that, you know, paranoia and stigma has never been helpful in any situation whether it's bedbugs , whether it's swine flu or anything else. And basically if it keeps you from reaching out for help that you need, that's really -- that's really, you know, can be very damaging.

CURRY: Mm-hmm. So -- and so, for example, you can also worry about -- people were worried about, for example, picking them up at work?

Dr. TAYLOR: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: Right, at restaurants, as you just talked about. So should you go to your bosses? Should you go to your colleagues and mention that you have begbugs?

Dr. TAYLOR: Well, Ann , I think that's a very interesting question. I think that it's important for the corporate environment or the work environment to say, 'You know what, this has been a problem, I want you to be aware of it.' And then they can be on the lookout for signs of an infestation in the office. So I think honesty is, indeed, the best policy.

CURRY: All right. So we've -- we've talked about that part of it but in terms of the practical part of it...

Dr. TAYLOR: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: ...the reason why you weren't -- did not bring bedbugs home is because you did the smart thing, which is to keep your bag away from the bed, right?

Dr. TAYLOR: That's right . I never -- I travel quite extensively. I never put my luggage on the bed. I always put it on a luggage rack. I pull it out from the wall and I think those maneuvers made a big difference and I think people should be aware of that.

CURRY: And the bottom line is, this too shall pass , Doctor.

Dr. BRODSKY: Absolutely. I think -- you know, we've seen public hysteria about other kinds of epidemics. Eventually it passes and so stigma should not be your motivating -- should not be your motivation. You should just try to get the job done.

Dr. TAYLOR: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: All right, Dr. Steven Brodsky , Dr. Susan Taylor , thank you so much ...

Dr. TAYLOR: Thank you.

Dr. BRODSKY: Thank you.