Schools reported 1,700 confirmed bedbug cases in first five months of school year

Bedbugs are plaguing New York City public schools like never before, according to the latest stats from the Department of Education.

City schools reported 1,700 confirmed bedbug cases in just the first five months of the school year -- a rate that's on pace to triple last year's total of 1,019 cases.

The parasitic pests have thrived in the winter season, it appears, with 80 percent of cases having been reported during November, December and January.

"It's just an outbreak and I don't know how they can stop it," said Wendy Tatum, a mother at PS 54 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of hundreds of schools to have had at least one confirmed case.

The Dept. of Ed is required to record any incidents where an infestation is found, but spokesperson Marge Feinberg said this uptick in cases is fueled not by infestations but by individual students who come to school with bedbugs.

"It is important to know that schools are not hospitable places for bedbugs," Feinberg said. "They are brought into schools from the clothing."

Last year, city officials acknowledged the bedbug resurgence reached "an unprecedented rate of spread" and pledged to combat the crisis with $500,000 to raise public awareness.

In schools, that meant a new four-step protocol for dealing with cases and increased communication between schools and parents. But those efforts have been futile because so many homes are already infested.

And while private homes continue to be the source of most infestations, bedbugs hitchhike on the clothes and bags of their hosts to spead elsewhere, experts say.

"Bedbugs need to be where people are," said Missy Henrickson, of the National Pest Management Association. "So when you have homes infested with bedbugs, (students) who live there are carrying the bedbugs on them and bringing them into schools."

With 1.1 million students and 100,000 teachers, New York's schools serve as a major transportation hub for bedbugs and present an enormous challenge for pest control professionals trying reduce the citywide spread.

In winter months, when students come to school with more personal belongings, like gloves, hats and coats, the problem is even worse.

"Schools are a major transfer point from one place to another," said Elio Chiavola, owner of Metro Bed Bug Dogs, a Brooklyn-based company that specializes in treating private residences for bed bugs. "It's been a huge problem for schools."

A more nuanced explanation for the surge might be that people are more aware of the epidemic and better equipped to look for and identify the crumb-sized insects.

Feinberg declined to name specific schools. A bedbug advisory report last year noted that bedbugs were found in 243 schools in 541 cases from the 2008-2009 school year, suggesting that that number could be much higher for this year's total.