LIKE IT OR NOT, a lot of trends that start in New York slowly find their way to Philly, from pricey mojitos to diners-as-gourmet-restaurants to industrial lofts.

But did it have to be bedbugs, too?

A new report by pest-extermination company Terminix aims to rip the covers off what some local cleaners, bug experts and residents say has been the city's dirty secret for the last year or two - that Philadelphia is quietly experiencing a major bedbug attack.

In fact, the Terminix study - which the company based on call-center stats and from canvassing its 350 service centers coast-to-coast - comes out like the 2009 World Series, with New York on top and Philadelphia the runner-up, ahead of urban rivals such as Detroit (No. 3) and four cities in Ohio that made the top 15.

Philadelphia officials said yesterday that the city Health Department doesn't keep records on cases of the hard-to-see, bloodsucking, mattress-loving pests, but bug sprayers and apartment cleaners say they have seen a lot more of them here in the last year or two.

"Three, four, five years ago, we rarely ever heard of bedbug calls," said Chris Anfinsen, a board-certified entomologist who works for Terminix in the Philadelphia region. "But that has increased over several years. We went from only a few calls, to now we have many calls."

"It's really disgusting and nobody seems to be taking it seriously - it just keeps growing," said a city-based cleaning professional with 15 years of experience. She spoke anonymously because she didn't want to offend her clients, mostly upscale Center City apartment-dwellers.

The cleaner said she and her crew has encountered bedbugs in several units in Center City over the last 18 months. It's gotten to the point that after work every night, she changes into a fresh set of clothes outside - before going into her house - and immediately washes the old ones in hot water and jumps in the shower.

In recent months, there has been increasing hype over the bedbug problem in New York, where one recent survey found 6.7 percent of residents have encountered the less-than-a-centimeter night-crawlers that leave victims covered with red, welty bites. In the Big Apple, the pests are everywhere, from the basement of the Empire State Building to a Victoria's Secret on Lexington Avenue.

Philadelphia's done a better job of keeping its problem under the rug, although the city's IRS office was exterminated for the tiny pests in April - right after the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association held a confab on the growing infestation.

Experts say the sharp rise in close encounters of the bedbug kind is at least partly a result of more international travel; some large foreign cities have long been plagued, and clothes-laden suitcases are a favorite way for the pests to travel.

But once they're here, they are vexingly hard to get rid of. Most experts say only a professional exterminator can do the job, but many bedbug victims fret over the use of chemicals or the expensive techniques like high-heat treatments or efforts to freeze them out.

Joe Giampietro, who runs Triumph Exterminating at 23rd Street and Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia, said he's watched a growing stream of bitten-up customers come in over the last year, determined to fight the pests themselves.

"I try to tell them, it's not like roaches," Giampietro said, although he and other experts say techniques like shrouding mattresses in thick covers or even vacuuming frequently can make a difference.

A former resident of a top-floor apartment in a three-story home in South Philadelphia says he was driven in defeat from that unit this summer when bedbugs infesting a second-floor apartment were poised to move upstairs, and the landlord decided not to pay the thousands of dollars for the heat treatment an exterminator recommended.

"I finally decided to get the hell out of Dodge," said the man, who'd already thrown away some furniture and put all his clothes on plastic crates up on the building roof. He said friends who knew of the bedbugs were reluctant to visit or even entertain him in their own homes.

He says he's moved recently to West Philadelphia, where his new neighbors are telling him that infestations are now on the rise as well.

But some bite victims are also on the verge of pulling their hair out. That would include Aileen Sobel, a Chester County native whose then-future husband lived through a total apartment makeover to get rid of bedbugs in his unit in Conshohocken two years ago - only to have to fight the creatures again nonstop after the couple moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn this May.

"These bugs are so ruthless," said Sobel, noting the tiny insects are long gone by the time their victims realize they've been bitten.

Unfortunately, that is no longer an only-in-New-York story.