This year’s plague, the newly emerged coronavirus, will likely spare many people from being attacked by an ancient scourge: bedbugs. Given the drastic pandemic-induced reductions in travel and nights spent in hotels, motels and other venues outside one’s home, the chances of being bitten by or bringing home these uninvited guests have been greatly curtailed.

But that’s not a license to become complacent about a pesky insect that has been around for at least four millenniums, defied eradication for more than a century and, under normal circumstances, can be extremely challenging to avoid.

Last year, in a survey of 50 American cities by Orkin, a leading extermination company, the nation’s capital proved to be the most heavily infested, followed by Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles. Orkin ranked New York sixth, after Columbus, Ohio, although Terminex gave New York a dubious top billing among 15 American cities. In just five years, from 2004 to 2009, annual complaints about bedbugs to New York’s City Council rose from 537 to 10,985, prompting restrictions on how to discard mattresses to keep from spreading contamination.

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