How Did Bed Bugs Come Back
The Return of Bed Bugs: Why Did The Bedbugs Come Back?
It might be hard to imagine; but the bed bugs were completely eradicated once. However; today, they are back with a vengeance and more American cities are dealing with a bed bug crisis than we care to admit. Many theaters and hotels in New York have had to be temporarily closed down due to the bed bug menace. Thus, bed bugs are causing not just psychological problems to sufferers; they are even harming the economy of great nations. Each year, millions of dollars are estimated to be spent on pest control companies for dealing with bed bug issues. Today, we will try and figure out why the bedbugs have returned.
Bed bugs have been around since centuries
Bed bugs have been around since centuries and the common adage:” don’t let the bed bugs bite” was used to wish a good night’s rest to people who invariably dealt with these pests. During the Second World War, the bed bug nuisance increased several times over thanks to cluttered and unhygienic conditions.After the War was over, pesticides like DDT were used on a large scale thanks to which the bugs disappeared temporarily. However, in the 1970s the FDA and the EPA banned these pesticides since they were considered detrimental to people’s health. Chemicals like chlordane which were also used for keeping bugs at bay were attributed to the extinction of the Bald Eagle. As a result, greener pesticides came to be used. Over time, the bed bugs developed great resistance to these. Today, more homeowners use floggers, bed bug traps and sprays and powders to control bed bugs. However; the bugs are getting smarter and, as their primary requirement is getting a blood meal, they are often not attracted to these substances. Moreover, for them to be effective, the bed bugs have to actually come in contact with these products. Since they tend to hide during the day and only feed at night, this is a difficult ask for most homeowners. Also, failure to follow other precautions invariably causes the bed bugs to come back.
Bed bugs thriving
Entomologist Coby Schal from the North Carolina University has studied female bed bugs extensively and is worried that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. A single female bed bug can lay around 500 eggs to create entire population in a single infestation.
Also, bedbugs do not necessarily hitchhike on humans- they generally only take blood meals for up to 10 minutes and leave. However, they can still get inside our luggage which means that our clothing is certainly not safe. Also, people fail to follow the right precautions when they discarding infested furniture. Many are known to leave bed bug infested mattresses, cabinets, books on the roadside or even sell them at yard sales where unsuspecting bargain hunters pick them up. This spreads the bedbugs from one place to another/
So how can we ensure that bed bugs do not come back?
If you have taken care of a bed bug infestation recently, that is naturally the first step in the right direction. However, you must not breathe easy but must continue to maintain vigilance in order to ensure that the bedbugs have truly left. You must continue to vacuum and de-clutter on a regular basis to remove hiding places for the bugs. Inspect your sleeping areas including the bed’s box springs to keep your bedrooms devoid of bed bugs.
In dark movie theaters, it is often difficult to sight bed bugs. So, if possible, carry a small flashlight to check the place you are sitting. The same is true when you travel or spend a night or two at a hotel. Keep your luggage in the bathroom as that is one area usually free of bed bugs.Next, inspect the room thoroughly. Do not forget to check behind frames, bed-headboard, pillows, corners of mattresses etc. If you spot rust colored stains, call the management and ask for another room. If needed, leave the hotel and move to another one nearby.
House guests could also bring bed bugs into your home unknowingly. Moreover, students returning home for the holidays bring bugs back from their dormitories. To avoid this, get them to leave their luggage outdoors or in the garage where you could heat treat and vacuum them. Next, wash all their clothing in hot water and seal and store them in plastic bags.
People often go into denial that they have bed bugs. So-if you are waking up with bumps and blisters on your arms, legs or back each morning, make sure you have them checked out by a doctor. Bed bug bites are often mistaken for hives, scabies, and mosquito bites etc. Naturally, there are differences and if there are other tell-tale signs of bed bug activity, you know have to start thinking of bedbug diagnosis.
Nearly 88% bedbug infestations around America come back; which means we are looking at possibleinsecticide resistance. Until we are able to create a better solution that kills bed bug populations without harming humans, we must continue taking the integrated pest control management approach alongside careful monitoring and inspection. That is the only way to ensure that bedbugs do not come back ever.
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Bedbugs: Why They’re Back
Experts Explain Why Bedbugs Are Everywhere Again — and What to Do
Dec. 6, 2011 — For a while, it seemed the bedbug had gone the way of the Edsel automobile and cold water flats. Not anymore — as weвЂ™ve learned. TheyвЂ™re back with a vengeance, and experts now seem to know why.
Bedbugs may not get as much play in the media as they did in the summer of 2010, but they are here to stay, experts warned at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in Philadelphia. New research presented here helps explain why they are back and a lot of it has to do with an ability to outsmart existing treatments.
We saw hide nor hair from these vermin in the U.S. for close to 60 years, but now the number of bedbug infestations in homes, hotel rooms, and the like has jumped 10- to 100-fold since 1990.
What Is a Bed Bug?
Bedbugs are wingless, rust-colored insects. They are about the size of an apple seed. They donвЂ™t spread disease, but they do bite and munch on your blood. Their bites can trigger allergic reactions, including welts and itching in some people. Other people may not have any symptoms after a bite.
Part of the reason they are here en masse is their tremendous capacity for inbreeding. Researchers studied bed bugs from buildings in North Carolina and New Jersey and found an uncanny family resemblance among them. This was confirmed in another study of 21 bedbug infestations from Maine to Florida.
Others species donвЂ™t survive after inbreeding, but bed bugs donвЂ™t just survive, they thrive, says Coby Schal, PhD. He is an entomologist at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. вЂњA single mated female can create a whole new population or infestation,вЂќ he says.
"We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg," Schal says. "They are here to stay for awhile.вЂќ
But this doesnвЂ™t necessarily mean you should avoid movie theaters, hotel rooms, or other places where bedbugs lurk.
вЂњBedbugs donвЂ™t hitchhike on people,вЂќ he says. вЂњThey are more likely to take a blood meal for five to 10 minutes and leave.вЂќ
This means they piggyback on your stuff instead. вЂњYou can pick up bed bugs on furniture and clothing,вЂќ he says.
Beat BedBugs at Their Own Game
вЂњMovie theaters are dark, so bedbugs are difficult to spot,вЂќ Schal says. DonвЂ™t skip the blockbuster. Instead, strip down when you arrive home and place all of your clothes in the dryer at high heat for 30 minutes.
вЂњWhen kids come back from college for Christmas break, take preventive measures if their dorm has been infested,вЂќ he says. Put all their belongings in the dryer on high heat or leave them outside in the cold air to chill, as the cold will kill them off too,вЂќ he says.
When Schal checks into a hotel room, the first thing he does is take out his flashlight and check the bed, mattress seams, headboard, coffee table, and dresser. вЂњI look in cracks and crevices to see if there is any sign of bedbugs,вЂќ he says.
HereвЂ™s another tip: вЂњRemove the headboard if it is not too heavy and look behind it,вЂќ he says. вЂњBedbugs donвЂ™t like to be disturbed by housekeeping when they make the bed or change the sheets.вЂќ That is why they may congregate behind or under headboards, where they are less likely to be disturbed.
Viviana Temino, MD, says that bedbug bites can look a lot like hives and that she is seeing a lot more of them these days. She is an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the University of MiamiвЂ™s Miller School of Medicine.
вЂњWe have to start to think of bedbugs as possible diagnosis of hives, especially if hives happen at night and in the day you are OK,вЂќ she says. Temino was not at the meeting, but reviewed the findings for WebMD.
So, what do you do if you find any bedbugs or bedbug bites?
That is the tricky part, as we are running out of solutions, says Ken Haynes, PhD. He is an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Louisville. Insecticide resistance is present in 88% of bedbug populations in different parts of the country, he says.
Resistance means that many of the treatments donвЂ™t work anymore. Haynes and colleagues are now trying to understand what went wrong and seeing if they can fix it.
Unless and until they get some answers, вЂњwe need to have a better scheme for managing insecticide resistance,вЂќ he says. Using heat treatment instead of chemicals may play a role.
Ken Haynes, PhD, entomologist, University of Kentucky, Louisville.
Coby Schal, PhD, entomologist, North Carolina State University, Raleigh.
Peter J. Hotez, MD, dean, national school of tropical medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
Viviana Temino, MD, assistant professor of allergy and immunology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 60th annual meeting. Philadelphia, Dec. 4-8, 2011.
Where Do Bed Bugs Really Come From and How to Get Rid of Them?
‘Where do bed bugs come from’ is one question many harassed people often wonder. The following article will cover everything you need to know about bed bugs and their journey into your house.
‘Where do bed bugs come from’ is one question many harassed people often wonder. The following article will cover everything you need to know about bed bugs and their journey into your house.
Bed bugs are tiny, wingless creatures that infest our homes, offices and take away our peace of mind. These blood sucking creatures are embarrassing pests that invade our homes and minds. They feast on our blood, when we are sleeping in our own beds. They tend to leave behind a trail of poop along our walls and furniture, that makes it look very embarrassing when you receive guests. Children tend to scratch and itch on the red, bumpy bed bug bites that may in some cases become infected. But where do they actually come from? They seem to be present everywhere, but how do they originate. Before we go onto the details of the journey of a bed bug into your house, let us start with their life cycle, that is, how do they come into being.
How do Bed Bugs Originate?
Bed bugs are members of the Cimicidae family and theCimex lectulariusis the common bug that gives us sleepless nights. These bugs have been a troublesome parasite to humans since a thousand years. It is said around 1940 they were almost eradicated from most of the developed countries. However, since the year 1995, they have again started to make a presence in the developed countries.
Bed bugs reproduce by traumatic insemination. Wondering what is a traumatic insemination? Well, it is mating procedure, where the male bed bug inseminates the female by piercing his hypodermic genitalia into the female beg bugs stomach (abdomen). The sperms are injected into the mesospermalege, that is a secondary genital structure. Injected sperms via haemolymph (blood) travel to the seminal conceptales, that is, sperm storage structure. Fertilization occurs at the ovaries. Eggs are released that then hatch into translucent nymphs. They feed and moult and reach maturity. These bugs communicate with the help of pheromones and kairomones. This helps them keep a track of the nesting location, reproduction as well as feeding.
Bed Bugs – Where do They Come from
The biggest question asked by many annoyed home owners with bed bug infestation is where do bed bugs come from? You tend to maintain the highest standards of hygiene and keep your home spick and span. Yet where do these bugs come from and begin sucking on your blood? Well, let me answer your question by explaining some possible factors related to the origin of bed bugs in your home.
There are many sources that lead to a bed bug infestation. There is not a single country in the world, that has not been traveled to by the bed bugs. The bed bugs are just 1/4″ in size and can easily sneak into baggage, luggage, clothes, trailers, planes, trains, buses, anything and everything without being noticed. These bed bugs hitchhike all over the world and make your home their heavenly abode. Let us see some of the possible sources of where do bed bugs come from.
If you have recently traveled or have received a guest in your home, chances are that the bed bugs had a piggyback ride in the travel luggage and baggage. They tend to hide in the seams of baggage and become the uninvited guests in your home. If you have school going or college going kids at home, chances are they have unwittingly bought home the bed bugs from their schools or college dorms. If you have just moved or received some packages, chances are these pesky creatures moved in with the boxes and packages received.
If you have bought some antique wooden furniture in the garage sale or purchased some furniture off the streets or during garage sale or even from a furniture dealer, it may be possible that the bed bugs came into your home absolutely free. It is possible that bed bugs come in with the furniture, as these bugs can even survive for a year without feeding. Thus, second-hand furniture may come along with a first-class problem, that is, bed bugs!
Your next door neighbor may unknowingly share their problem of bed bugs with you. If you have visiting neighbors, the bed bugs may hitch a ride in their clothes, bags, etc. and start living with you. It may even happen that the creepy crawlies, just stealthily crawl through the common pipes, vents, dead spaces between common walls from the next door apartment into yours. They may move in because they aren’t getting their daily bread and butter as your neighbor is away for a few days or may be they are forced to evacuate as the neighbor has treated his home with bed bug killing spray.
Bed bugs may also find laundry as a way to get inside your home. If you use laundry rooms to clean your dirty linen, it is possible that someone with a bed bug infestation has passed on the problem to you unknowingly. Many people launder their bed lines and clothes in case of an infestation and may unconsciously bring along some bed bugs in their laundry bags. Bed bugs can easily walk into your laundry bag kept nearby and travel along with you and your freshly laundered clothes into your home.
You thought a nice vacation with your partner in a quiet and peaceful locale with help you unwind your nerves. Well, instead you come back home and get entwined into a long and irritating bed bug infestation problem. Bed bugs are very common pest found in hotels. They are found in the pillows, under the mattresses, between the bed joints and the wardrobe. As they can survive a year without feeding, they are waiting patiently in the dark corners for their next victims.
Bed bugs are champion world travelers. They have no problems traveling by plane, train, ship, buses, cars, mopeds, cycles, etc. You never know, they may even hop into a rocket or submarine and make a cozy home there. Who knows, they may even have traveled to the far, far galaxy when E.T. visited earth! (I know, I am going crazy with my imaginary assumptions!). Anyway, these are just a few possible answers to your question where do bed bugs come from. Just to be sure you have encountered a bed bug in your home, let me explain in short what do bed bugs look like.
How do I Identify Bed Bugs
Most of you by now may have few questions popped into your heads, like how do I identify bed bugs? If you can’t differentiate between a mosquito bite and bed bug bites then you might find your answer in the article what do bed bugs bites look like.
Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. The hatchlings are just about the size of a poppy-seed. The adults can measure about 1/4th of an inch. They are oval in shape and flat from top to bottom. Bed bugs are white after molting. They may even have a tan brown or orange color. After feeding you may see your blood in their body as a dark red mass. You may even come across empty shell-like skin of bed bugs. It’s just their cast skin. They generally feed in the night, when their prey is sleeping, when it will not disturb their banquet. While feeding the bed bugs inject a tiny amount of saliva into the skin and repeated bites make many people sensitized to the saliva, or it may result in a full-fledged allergic reaction in some. The bites are scratchy but resist the urge to scratch, as it will just intensify the irritation and pain. But, you can breathe out just a single sigh of relief, bed bugs are not known to be carriers of any infectious disease agents.
Apart from the bug itself, you can identify its presence in your surroundings by black marks on your walls and furniture. These black marks are the bed bug droppings of dried blood. You may even smell over-ripe raspberries in the room infested with bed bugs. One may even find blood stains on bed sheets in the morning or molts.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
So, now you know where do bed bugs come from, what do they look like and how to identify them. The next logical thought is getting rid of bed bugs. You need to look for these creatures under the tufts, seams and folds of mattresses. You may even observe small black spots of dried excrement in the corners of your walls, furniture, etc. It may also happen that you will find them hiding under the carpets, loosened wallpaper, cracks and crevices of the walls, etc. In fact, you should not be surprised, when you find them hiding in your television, computer, etc.
Now that you found the hiding places of these creepy crawlies, you need to follow some steps for getting rid of bed bugs. You should reduce clutter around the house and clean your carpets, blankets, stuffed toys with a vacuum cleaner. You can bag these household items in plastic bags with Nuvan Strips in case of a heavy infestation. You should remove drawers from desks and check properly for possible hidden bed bugs. Caulk and seal all holes and crevices in the pipes and wires in the walls and floors. Launder garments and bed linen in hot water, that is about 120° F. Vacuum the bed seams, foot boards, bed stands, head boards, carpets, etc. and then discard the vacuum bag once done. Spray insecticides that can kill bed bugs in every nook and corner of your house. You may even call in professional pest control services, if the infestation is out of control.
This was a little about bed bugs. These are real annoying bugs that suck your blood just like a vampire. It is very important to act fast and control the spread of bed bugs on the first sign of a bed bug in your house. I hope this article on where do bed bugs come from, proves to be of some help to you.
Why Bedbugs Are Back
Bedbugs have returned with a vengeance. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
It must have been pretty rotten to sleep in, say, 12th century Europe. Your floor was dirt. Your mattress was made from hay or bean husks. The biggest drag of all must have been the bedbug problem.
It’s not so fabulous to lie there asleep while thousands of ghastly critters gnaw on your flesh. You wake with rashes all over your body.
They heal gradually over a few days, but, every night, it starts all over again.
No, they don’t kill you. But they surely make life desperate and miserable. They know where you are. They sense the carbon dioxide. They are after your blood, so they can stay alive. No wonder some people have been driven to suicide.
It stands to reason that among the earliest priorities of civilized life was the total eradication of bedbugs. And we did it! Thanks to modern pesticides, most especially DDT, generations knew not the bedbug.
That is, at least in capitalist countries. I have a friend from Russia whose mother explained the difference between capitalism and socialism, as summed up in bedbugs. In the 1950s, capitalist countries had eliminated them. The socialist world, by contrast, faced an epidemic.
But you know what? They are back with an amazing ferocity, right here in 21st century America.
You can attend BedBug University, which is "an intensive four-day course that covers bedbug biology and behavior, treatment protocols and explores the unique legal challenges and business opportunities of bedbugs."
You can browse the Bedbug Registry, with dozens of reports coming in from around the country. You can call a local company that specializes in keeping them at bay.
Welcome to the post-DDT world, in which fear of pesticides displaced fear of the thing that pesticides took away. Oh, how glorious it is to embrace nature and all its ways—until nature begins to feed on you in your sleep.
The various restrictions and bans from the 1970s have gradually brought back the nightmares that wonderful, effective, killer chemicals took away. Some people claim that today not even DDT works because the new strain of bedbug is stronger than ever.
Forget innovating with new pesticides; the restrictions are just too tight. There is not a single product at your local big-box hardware store that can deal with these bloodsuckers. And the products that more or less work that are available online, such as Malathion, are not approved for indoor use—and I know for sure that everyone obeys such rules!
In our current greeny ethos, people are suggesting "natural" methods, such as "take all of your laundry and bedding to the laundromat and wash and dry it at high temperatures."
Why not do it at home? Well, thanks to federal regulations, your hot water heater is shipped with a high temperature of 110 degrees, which is something like a luxurious bath for the bedbug. Add your detergent—which, by government decree, no longer has phosphates—and your wash turns into Mr. Bubble happy time for Mr. Bedbug.
So you could stand over gigantic pots of boiling water in your kitchen, fishing beddings in and out, beating your mattresses outside with sticks and otherwise sleeping in plastic bags, as they do in the new season ofOrange Is the New Black. You know, like in prison. Or like in the 12th century.
No matter how modernized we become, no matter how many smartphones and tablets we acquire, we still have to deal with the whole problem of nature trying to eat us—in particular, its most wicked part, the man-eating insect. There is no app for that.
Google around on how many people die from mosquitos and you are immediately struck by the ghastly reality: These things are even more deadly than government. And that’s really saying something.
But somehow, starting in the late 1960s, we began to forget this. Capitalism achieved a wonderful thing, and we took it for granted. We banned the chemicals that saved us, and gradually came to prohibit the creation of more. We feared a "silent spring" but instead created a nation in which the noise we hear at night is of an army of bugs sinking their teeth into our flesh.
A little silence would be welcome.
So here we are: mystified, afraid to lie down and sleep, afraid to buy a sofa from Craigslist, boiling our sheets, living in fear of things we can’t see. It’s the Dark Ages again. It gets worse each year, especially during summer when the bedbugs leave their winter hibernation and gather en masse to become our true and living nightmare.
How bad does it have to get before we again unleash the creative forces of science and capitalism to restore a world that is livable for human beings?
Jeffrey A. Tucker is a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education. This article first appeared on the FEE website.
Why bed bugs have made a horrifying comeback
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For 60 years, Americans thought they’d vanquished bedbugs forever. They were wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
Bedbugs have been a staple of American life since the Mayflower. In 1926, infestations in hotels and apartments had become so common that experts couldn’t recall a time when theyweren’ta problem. People hated being bitten in the night by these pesky bloodsuckers hiding in mattresses, but the bugs seemed impossible to wipe out.
Then everything changed in 1939, when a Swiss chemist named Paul Hermann Muller discovered the pesticide DDT, which proved stunningly effective at killing insects. For decades thereafter, DDT and other chemicals helped keep America’s homes and hotels bedbug-free.
But it didn’t last. Since 2000, a new strain of pesticide-resistant bedbugs has been popping up in the US. In 2009, there were 11,000 reported complaints in New York City alone. In New Jersey, a Rutgers study found, fully 1 in 8 low-income apartments had infestations, with bugs hiding in sofas, beds, and tiny cracks in the wall. Many residents don’t realize anything’s amiss until they wake up in the night with strange bites and rashes. By then, the unwelcome guests can be tough to get rid of.
One of the best recent books about bedbugs is Brooke Borel’sInfested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedroom and Took Over the World(the book was partially funded by the Alfred Sloan Foundation). Last year, I called Borel, a science journalist, to hear more about how bedbugs made a comeback, why they’re so tenacious, and whether we might ever get rid of them again.
Brad Plumer: I’d half assumed bedbugs were a very recent phenomenon, so it was fascinating to see that even the ancient Egyptians were trying to cast spells to ward them off.
Brooke Borel:Yeah, one thing that struck me were the similarities through history. When the bedbug resurgence happened in the last 15 years, we had all these newspaper articles saying, "Oh my god, they’re in the movie theaters, they’re in this place, in that place." But that’s always been the case.
You can go back and read descriptions of old beds with jars around the legs that contained paraffin to ward off bedbugs. That’s just an old-school version of these little traps you can buy today to put under your bed. It’s an old story that’s been repeating itself forever.
BP: There was this 60-year period after World War II where we’d vanquished bedbugs. How did that happen?
BB:A big part of that story happened in 1939, when a Swiss chemist [Paul Hermann Müller] discovered the insecticidal properties of DDT. These were the first synthetic insecticides, and they were way more effective than the natural botanicals or elemental poisons we had been using previously.
Most insects had never experienced this type of poison before — and they were very vulnerable to it. So we were able to knock bedbug numbers down. One key thing about DDT is that it leaves a residue on surfaces for a long time: months, maybe even a year. That was especially effective against bedbugs, because they hide in cracks either during the day or whenever you’re not there to provide food. Earlier sprays might have dissipated or not gotten down into the cracks where the bedbugs were. But DDT leaves a residue, and bedbugs would walk through it in order to come eat.
There might have been other factors in knocking down bedbug numbers, too. Some experts point to different housekeeping practices that emerged after World War II — people were using vacuum cleaners more, and so on. That’s more anecdotal than anything else. Or in the United Kingdom, they were able to reduce bedbug numbers before the war, in the 1930s, because they completely tore down all these tenement buildings and rebuilt them.
Bedbugs crawl around in a container on display during the second National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, DC, February 2, 2011. (Media for Medical/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
BP: So how did bedbugs make a comeback? It wasn’t simply because we banned DDT in the 1970s, was it?
BB:No. Some people still say the only reason we have bedbugs now is because we banned DDT [after concerns about its threat to wildlife]. But that’s just not true. We would’ve had this problem regardless of the ban. The bigger problem is that bedbugs were becoming resistant to DDT, and that was starting to happen way before the ban occurred.
DDT and other pesticides work on the nervous system of insects — often by screwing with their ion channels and leaving them open so that it fries the nervous system. These new resistant bedbugs were essentially able to close that channel again, so that didn’t happen.
BP: Okay, so some bedbugs evolved resistance to DDT. But how did they become so widespread?
BB:The idea is that pockets of resistant bedbugs evolved somewhere in the world, probably in more than one place. Then in the 1980s and 1990s, you have this huge increase in air travel both domestically and internationally — it got cheaper through the deregulation of airlines in the US and a set of new treaties in the 1990s. That probably helped spread these resistant bedbugs.
The question we still don’t know is where, exactly, the resistant bedbugs came from. One hypothesis is that it started in Eastern Europe. There’s also the idea that resistant bedbugs came from somewhere in Africa because of the use of pyrethroid-impregnated mosquito nets. I think that’s pretty compelling, too. [ Pyrethroids are another pesticide that works by preventing the sodium channels of insects from closing.]
American Museum of Natural History entomologist Louis Sorkin feeds bedbugs on his hand in New York, April 17, 2014. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
BP: So what is it that makes bedbugs so tenacious and hard to kill? Is it just this pesticide resistance?
BB:I think it’s the combination of so many things. They’re cryptic insects, and they hide during the day, which makes them hard to detect with the human eye.
But the resistance is definitely a problem. Bedbugs have what’s called a knockdown resistance — it’s the same genetic mutation that gives them resistance to DDT. Separately, there are enzymes called P450s that break down the insecticides more quickly, so that they’re not as toxic to insects. There’s also research that some insects may be growing thicker exoskeletons, making it tougher for insecticides to penetrate.
There are other factors, too. Some people aren’t allergic to them, so they might catch the problem only far later, when it’s become a really bad infestation. Also, bedbugs can spread very easily in cities — because to get rid of them you have to work with other people sharing living space or sharing walls. That can be incredibly difficult.
There’s also a lot of shame involved in having bedbugs. And it’s expensive to get rid of them. So people might initially try to hide the fact that they have an infestation —until it gets worse and worse, and then it’s spilling over to neighbors.
BP: You mention in the book that you’ve experienced bedbug attacks several times. What is it that makes them so hellish?
BB:Before I answer that, I will say the reason I think I’ve encountered them so often is that I’m really, really allergic. Like in this Chicago hotel [where, in the book, she gets bitten], I was staying with a friend, and he didn’t get any bites. But he just might not have been allergic. A lot of people might sleep in beds with bedbugs and not notice at all.
Now, on the psychological part, probably any psychiatrist who has dealt with someone with bedbugs will tell you the same thing.
There is something about the fact that your bedroom is your sanctuary, and you’re also the most vulnerable in your bed, because you’re sleeping. You really don’t get much more vulnerable than that; you’re literally paralyzed. And to have something that’s hiding that you can’t see that comes out and attacks you in your sanctuary, that is just really psychological difficult.
Pestec technician Carlos I. Agurto inspects a couch cushion for bedbugs at an apartment April 30, 2009, in San Francisco, California. Cases of bedbug infestations are on the rise across the US, with many people bringing them into their homes after visiting hotels and airports. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BP: Why can’t we just invent a new chemical or insecticide to kill these bedbugs?
BB:It’s a pipeline problem, just like the discovery of antibiotics or other drugs or other insecticides. It gets increasingly difficult to find the right chemicals and figure out whether they’re safe enough for us to use.
Bedbugs are especially difficult, because they live in our bedroom, and that’s one of the places we want to be especially careful when it comes to applying insecticides. So that’s part of the issue there.
It’s also incredibly expensive to research and develop the ingredients that go into an insecticide. The estimate for pesticides is something like $256 million per active ingredient over a period of around a decade. And even though bedbugs seem like a big problem, and it seems like you could make money making a bedbug insecticide, it’s not anything compared to the amount of insecticides we use in agriculture. So it’s not necessarily a major focus of the chemical companies.
BP: So what are the best ideas experts have come up with for getting rid of bedbugs?
BB:Keep in mind that there’s a caveat for anything I could possibly say here. I do think heat treatments are very helpful — bedbugs don’t seem to be developing a resistance to those. Basically you heat a room to a certain temperature, and it kills the bugs and the eggs, without chemicals involved.
The caveats, though, are that this is expensive; it can cost thousands of dollars. It’s not necessarily the best approach in an apartment building, because if you only treat one unit, and the neighbors have bedbugs and aren’t taking care of the problem, then you’ve probably wasted that money, because the bedbugs are going to come back.
Then the other problem is that people have been hearing about this and trying to do their own heat treatments. They’ll use a space heater or something inappropriate, and their houses will catch fire. So it’s not for everyone.
Bedbug insecticide products are displayed at the Bed Bug University North American Summit 2010 on September 22, 2010, in Rosemont, Illinois. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
BP: You did a lot of reporting on the multimillion-dollar industry that’s sprung up around controlling bedbugs. And you seemed to come away skeptical. Why?
BB:I think that especially in the United States, we’re still in this Wild West era for bedbug control. There are some people who really believe in their products, but their products are bad. You could walk into a store and see a product that says, "Kills bedbugs on contact." To a consumer, that sounds great, but all that means is you have to spray it directly on the bedbug. But bedbugs are often hiding, so that’s not necessarily helpful.
There’s a lot of opportunity to take advantage of people’s fears. Even the Federal Trade Commission has caught wind of this — they had two cases against two companies against products advertised as all-natural contact killers, and they said, "You can’t advertise like this."
BP: Having written the book, what advice would you give for someone who discovered bedbugs in their room?
BB:As far as the psychological stuff goes, I would say it’s going to suck — but don’t panic!
In every city and state, there’s a hodgepodge of rules for who’s responsible financially for a bedbug infestation. So the first step is getting educated on that. If you do rent, your landlord may be legally required to pay for bedbug treatments.
As far as actual treatments go … I have a little section in the book where I say what I would do. It’s not going to be right for every person. Because I’m so allergic, I’d know pretty quickly if I did have bedbugs. So before calling an exterminator, I would try to do all my laundry, do a search and see if I could find the bedbugs and where they’re coming from, clean up, and then see if I was still getting bites. But that’s mainly because I’d be able to tell easily if I was still getting bitten.
But that’s not necessarily right for everyone, and I don’t recommend that for each person. For the most part, I’d suggest people call a professional — though it can be daunting to figure out who’s good.
BP: Do we know if the bedbug problem is getting worse in the United States?
BB:It’s a little tough to say. In general, I don’t think the problem’s getting better; I don’t think there are fewer bugs. I do think people are not freaking out about them as much and are more knowledgeable on how to deal with them.
There’s a survey by the National Pest Management Association, where they interview pest-control people from all over the world and ask how many bedbug cases they had in the last year. And those numbers have continued to rise. Then again, that’s an industry group, and they’ve been making money out of this.
It also really depends on the city. I’m working on an essay about bedbugs in New York City, where numbers show that 311 calls about bedbugs are going down, but those numbers can be deceiving [since a lot of people don’t necessarily make 311 calls when they have bedbugs].
BP: You interviewed a lot of scientists for the book — I loved all the pictures of researchers who raise bedbugs for study by feeding them on their own arms.
BB:Some people still do that, though for a lot of these bedbug research labs they have way too many bugs to be able to do that. One of the fascinating things I learned was that it took a long time for scientists to figure out how best to keep bedbugs alive in the lab, given that they’re so hard to kill in the wild.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.