Bed Bug Epidemic
The Bed Bug Epidemic is a global phenomenon according to a 2010 survey
by the University of Kentucky
and the NPMA (National Pest Management Association). The study points
bed bug exterminators are receiving more and more calls about bed bugs,
with most calls concentrated
in urban and suburban areas. Reasons for the growth in bed bug
complaints include international travel, the lack of easy to implement
treatment methods, and a lack of education on how to protect yourself
against a infestation.The same survey indicates that the
majority of bedbug exterminators believe that bedbugs are more
difficult to treat than termites, ants and cockroaches.
The History of the BedBug Epidemic
Bed bugs have been a plague for man kind for centuries (even
back to the last ice age in Middle East caves - 10,000 years ago). They
are even referenced by Aristotle. Before WWII, they were a constant
homes, which is the origin of the rhyme "don't let the bed bugs bite."
Further proof of a past worldwide bed bug epidemic is that
every language has a word to described the insect. In middle English,
they are referred to as bugge, which means ghost or wraith.
This makes sense since bedbugs usually come out at night.
Bed Bug Epidemic
Title page from book on
bedbugs, about 1730
In Sweden, the largest pest control company is named after the
bed bug, Cimex. In England in the 18th Century, "professional
exterminators concocted secret formulas to destroy bugs" (Usinger
1966). At the time, there was a company that described
itself as "bug-destroyers to Her Majesty and the Royal Family."
People often switched to iron beds instead of wood, since
iron is not as attractive as wood to bed bugs.
In the late 19th century (1875), the pesticide DDT was used to
kinds of insects including bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas and mosquitoes.
This was the primary method for killing bed bugs in the 1940's and
1950's. It's use declined as bed bug resistance to the
insecticide increased. The insecticide was banned in 1972 due
to a link to cancer
Insect treatments that replaced DDT for insects such as cockroaches,
did not kill bedbugs, allowing the bed bug population to grow.
Even if DDT were allowed to be used today as a response to
the bedbug problem, it would not work as a recent University of
Kentucky study on Bed
Bug resistance (pdf download) showed that 95% of bed bugs in
New York are now resistant to the insecticide. It would be
more effective in other areas.
In the early 20th century (1901-2000), reports in London said 4 million
people suffered from bed bug bites and 1/3 of the dwellings in
Stockholm were thought to be infested (IPM Practitioner 4/2007).
Today's Bed Bug Epidemic
The current bed bug epidemic began in the 1990's as
International travel increased combined with the ability of bed bugs to
not be affected by insecticides used to kill other insects.
Places that cater to transient populations such as
dormitories, hotels, halfway houses, summer camps, airport lounges,
conference centers, restaurants and temporary shelters are at risk for
In New York, the city that is considered to be on the verge of a bed
bug epidemic, the growth in complaints is alarming:
Bed bug infestations are rapidly increasing in number and are a
worldwide problem. For example, in Australia, between 1999
and 2006 there was exponential growth in the number of new infestations
equating to an extraordinary increase of 4,500% (Doggett and Russell,
In the United States, according to the NPMA, the average bed bug
receives 1 to 2 bed bug related calls per week (2010) vs. prior years
where they would receive 1 to 2 calls a year. Most bedbug infestations
are reported in urban and suburban areas, as well as other places where
their are transient populations such as hotels, dormitories and
Bed Bug Inquiries
New York City Bed Bug
Bed Bug Related Calls to NYC 311 Information Hotline
Picture Bed Bug Biting Skin
Why is Bed Bug Treatment so Difficult?
Bed bugs are very resilient and difficult to control, even for
professionals. They are adept at hiding and have rapidly
to many pesticides. For example, as mentioned above, DDT, a banned
chemical credited with
practically ending any past bed bug epidemic in the Unites States, has
lab test to only kill 5% of bed bugs found in New York City, with the
rest completely resistant (University of Kentucky).
Bed bug control requires a treatment strategy utilizing
multiple chemical and non-chemical techniques. Bed Bug pesticides are
often combined with other methods such as vacuuming, steam and
diatomaceous earth to address an infestation.
What are Current Methods of Bed Bug Management?
Ending today's bed bug epidemic is difficult given the need to
use multiple methods of bed bug control instead of one method, such as
the use of DDT.
Fighting a bed bug epidemic or problem involves multiple
|Bed Bug Management Method
and clothes washed in hot water followed by 20 to 30 minutes in the
dryer will be bed bug free. Items should be stored after washing in a
bed bug proof container or Ziploc
Bug Sniffing Dog
are effective at locating bed bug infestations. They cost $10,000 to
purchase and can several hundred dollars for an in-home inspection. Bed
Bug dogs are 98% accurate, but can falsely detect bedbugs.
and Box Spring Encasements
approach traps bed bugs and bed bug eggs that were missed during
Dioxide based bed bug traps and climbup
interceptors can trap bedbugs or help to keep bedbugs from
getting up on the bed.
to remove some bed bugs from the room. Crevice tool can help get into
tight spaces. Must be used with other methods.
held steamer can generate the heat needed to kill bedbugs and
bed bug eggs. Often used before the application of bed bug pesticides.
treat luggage a portable heat chamber called a PackTite
is used. For single rooms, homes or buildings, portable heaters are
used to raise temperatures to the required levels so that
lethal heat can penetrate all items in the room including walls.
Very effective. It costs approximately $800 to $2000 to treat
a combination of knock down (kills bed bugs and bed bug eggs on
contact) and residual products (provide protection for several weeks)
are used. Highly effective bedbug sprays include the knock down
and the residual spray Phantom.
The EPA in the United States has a bed bug pesticide
Carbon Dioxide Spray (Dry Ice)
carbon dioxide spray is used by some bed bug exterminators to kill
bedbugs by freezing them.
Does Temperature Effect Bedbugs?
effect the rate at which they multiply, with ideal human temperatures
matching the ideal temperatures for bedbugs. Bedbugs can move from egg
to adult in 21 days at 86F (30C). At lower temperatures, 68F
(18C), the can develop from egg to adult in 120 days. Their
activity slows down between in temperatures lower than 55F (13C) and
59F (15C). However, bed bugs can adapt to cold weather and be
active at 45F (7C).
Heat at temperatures between 111F and 113F (44C to 45C) will kill bed
bugs and bed bug eggs.
How are Bed Bugs Spread?
Bed bugs need to be carried from one location to the next. They do not
fly and they do not leap. They crawl about the speed of an ant from one
object to the next and tend to not move more than 100 feet in any
Many researchers suspect that global travelers are the reason why we
seeing the current bed bug epidemic. A traveler that stays in an
infested hotel room would bring back bed bugs hiding in their luggage.
When the luggage is brought home
the infestation spreads. This is why bed bugs are found at both
expensive hotels and inexpensive hotels. Places where people constantly
move in and out, such as hospitals, apartments etc. are particularly
susceptible to bed bugs. Lower income apartments
have seen rapid growth of the problem because residents are more likely
to purchase or pick up used mattresses and furniture. For example a
mattress that is discarded due to bed bugs could easily be picked up by
another home owner, thus spreading the bed bug problem.
most cases, people are completely unaware that they are bringing home
bed bugs hidden furniture, clothing, bedding, and luggage. In other
cases they move through openings in walls to adjoining apartments.
In fact, there is a 20% chance that bed bugs will move from
infested apartment to an adjacent apartment and a 7% chance
they will move to an apartment over or below the infested apartment.
Are Bed Bug Bites a Sure Sign of an Infestation?
Also, it is believed that 70% of the population shows no reaction to
bed bug bites. Since bites are often the first noticeable sign of a bed
an infestation can be allowed to grow unchecked and spread to other
areas of buildings. These individuals can then carry bed bugs to other
locations such as theaters, hospitals, social service offices and other
locations where they hitch a ride on another person who then carries
the bedbugs to another home.
Picture Bed Bugs Bites on
Do Bed Bugs Spread Disease?
Bed bugs do not spread disease. However, in allergic
individuals the bed bug bites, when itched can become infected. A very
small percentage of individuals
can experience asthma or shock from the bites. A recent study
(11/2010) has indicated that in hospitals there may be a connection
between bed bugs and the spread of the MRSA infection in patients. This
is a dangerous skin disease that is difficult to treat.
According to the NPMA study, bed bugs due lead to distress.
According to the study, 99% of clients who have had bed bugs were
“upset and concerned” and 77% said such customers were “very upset and
Top Bed Bug Cities in the United States
According to Terminix, the top U.S. based on bed bug calls to the
- New York
- Columbus, Ohio
- Dayton, Ohio
- Washington, D.C.
- Los Angeles
- Louisville, Ky.
- Minneapolis, Minn.
Ohio was the single state with most bed bug related calls.,
Philadelphia and Detroit were also mentioned as having a significant
number of calls.
Bed Bug Identification
Bed bugs are often confused with other insects such as young
cockroaches and bat bugs. To be sure, bring a sample bed bug
to a cooperative
or county extension office. Call ahead to make sure
have a staff entomologist (insect expert).
The Future of the Current Bed Bug Epidemic
There is not clear resolution to the growing bed bug epidemic.
Many cities and states are just starting to adjust laws that govern
landlord/tenant rights to include bed bugs. Others are using
education to warn residents regarding bed bug protection methods.
Bed bug pest control firms are quickly getting up to speed on the
latest chemical and mechanical methods of bed bug removal. The future
however, is largely based on the ability to come up with either an
organic or pesticide based method of killing bedbugs that provides
lasting protection against these insects. Until then, the
worldwide bed bug epidemic will continue to be a problem.
References for Bed Bug Epidemic:
National Pest Management Association
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Battling Bed Bugs in the USA
Potter, Michael F; Haynes, Kenneth F.; Romero, Alvaro
University of Kentucky
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