Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Howard Stern vs. Bed Bugs

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

Last week, it was announced that Howard Stern had become a victim of the bed bug epidemic that is sweeping through New York City. Signs of bed bug infestation were detected in his Sirius Radio studio and also in the limo that he uses to get to and from work everyday.

So, Howard Stern Has Bed Bugs! That, at least, was the headline. Actually, here are some of the real headlines: "Stern Gets Bed Bugs" (New York Post); "Bedbugs Bite Howard Stern...Watch Those Private Parts!" (E! Online); "Howard Stern's NYC Office and Limousine Infested with Bed Bugs" (TheCelebrityCafe.com).

But... is that what really happened? Did Howard Stern really get bed bugs? I'm not so sure. Let's take a quick look at all of the evidence!

The infestation was originally detected on the 37th floor of the building where Sirius is located: Sirius operates out of the 36th floor. From what I understand, Howard (who, like lots of New Yorkers, has bed bugs on the brain these days) decided to have his studio checked for bed bugs proactively, perhaps because he has heard that bed bugs can easily spread through buildings. To do this, he brought in one or more bed bug-sniffing dogs. The dog(s) registered a "positive" sniff in the studio (specifically, I believe on the couch where the guests sit). There was also a positive reading in Howard's limo. Following these readings, the studio was treated for bed bugs over the weekend of Sept. 25. The limo was supposed to be treated the following week, but the last I heard the treatment was pending.

This story has some problems. Most importantly, bed-bug sniffing dogs can deliver "false-positives." This means that it is possible for a trained dog to indicate that bed bugs are present when they are not. In fact, no one seems to be quite sure how often they give false positives. I don't want to knock bed bug dogs: they will be an essential tool in our new war against bed bugs. But it is usually a good idea to follow a dog-based inspection with an inspection by a human pest-control professional.

I don't know if Howard and Sirius relied only on bed bug dogs. Perhaps they had a follow-up inspection to confirm the presence of bed bugs. But here is something else that is known about Howard Stern: he is a self-described victim of obsessive-compulsive behavior. (some OCD evidence: the protective anti-bed bug suit that Howard was wearing last week).

And here's something that Howard's listeners know: possibly due to his self-described obsessive and phobic nature, Howard has been bringing bed bug dogs to his home(s) and he's been doing this for a while--before any of the current headlines broke. I DON'T believe that he was doing this because he really thought that he had bed bugs. Instead, I think (this is pure speculation!) that it was because he'd been hearing a lot about bed bugs in the news and he wanted to make sure that he didn't have them. I'm not sure how often he brought the dogs to his home, or when he started doing it, but he mentioned it several times on the air well before the recent headlines broke. Sounds to me like Howard's brain was just waiting for those dogs to give a false positive!

So, did Stern have his studio and his limo treated for bed bugs, even though a positive reading from a dog was his only evidence? I don't know. But I think that the statement "Howard Stern Gets Bed Bugs" may be an uncertain one. "Howard Stern Treats Studio for Bed Bugs," yes. "Howard Stern Freaks Out About Bed Bugs," probably. But that's all we know right now.

Bed bugs really are a growing threat, and they are showing up in lots of places. There is a very good chance that Stern's studio and limo really did have bed bugs. But I'm starting to wonder if the fear of bed bugs is causing almost as many problems as the creatures themselves!

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