Probing Question: Why are bed bugs on the rise?

Aug 12, 2010
Probing Question: Why are bed bugs on the rise?
Source: wikipedia

"Bed Bugs Invade New York City." "Bed Bugs Biting All Over US." "Bed Bugs Are Coming To Get You." From the headlines, you might think America was under attack by an army of millimeter-sized parasites. Media reports have bed bug "epidemics" plaguing cities from New York City to Bloomington, Ind., to Los Angeles.

Similar upticks in bed bug populations have been reported in recent years, an apparent resurgence after almost 50 years of relative quiet. So what's causing these infestations? And can they really be called "epidemics"?

Not really, said Alexis Barbarin, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Penn State. "Epidemic," she said, suggests "a mental picture of something huge, serious and possibly life-threatening." It grabs the reader's attention, but probably overstates the seriousness of the problem. The Centers for Disease Control has hesitated to call the bed bug problem an epidemic because they do not spread disease. "Have bed bug infestations reached epidemic proportions?" Barbarin asked. "In my opinion, no. But will they if we do not do anything about it? Probably so."

Most Americans have little understanding of ; that lack of education, Barbarin said, may be part of the problem. Contrary to popular imagination, infestations are not caused by poor housekeeping or hygiene, nor are the bugs found only in poor neighborhoods. Yet these commonly held misconceptions, she said, can prevent people from taking appropriate precautions. They also create a social stigma that can keep people from reporting infestations.

In fact, bed bugs -- small, elusive, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals -- have been found in New York City's highest-class hotels. "Bed bugs are not interested in the money you have in your pocket," Barbarin said, "but they are interested in the blood in your veins; rich or poor, we all make a decent meal."

Scientists have several hypotheses about the recent increase in bed bug populations. The affordability of air travel has made it easy to reach almost anywhere in the world quickly and cheaply. "Some travelers bring back unintended souvenirs," she said. Increased urbanization, too, has pushed people closer together, making it easy for infestations to spread if untreated.

Additionally, Barbarin said attitudes toward pesticides have changed. Routine pesticide spraying became less frequent as people became wary of its large-scale environmental effects (Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" often is credited with this change in public consciousness). While today many consumers want "green" pest-control solutions, in a former era powerful pesticides such as DDT would have been on the front lines fighting bed bugs. Ecological concerns about its misuse led the Environmental Protection Agency to ban DDT for most uses in 1972. While some experts suggest bringing it back, Barbarin said that bed bugs had shown resistance to the chemical as early as 1946. Another class of pesticides, called pyrethroids, has largely replaced DDT -- but bed bugs also have shown resistance to these compounds. The only solution to the pesticide-resistance problem, Barbarin said, is more research and more public education.

In this case, adds, using a biological control is not really an option. Talk about a Catch-22 -- one of the bed bug’s fiercest natural enemies is the cockroach.

Explore further: Uruguay begins registering marijuana growers

Related Stories

How Bed Bugs Outsmart the Chemicals Designed to Control Them

Jan 08, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Bed bugs, once nearly eradicated in the built environment, have made a big comeback recently, especially in urban centers such as New York City. In the first study to explain the failure to control certain ...

Control, treatment of bed bugs challenging

Mar 31, 2009

A review of previously published articles indicates there is little evidence supporting an effective treatment of bites from bed bugs, that these insects do not appear to transmit disease, and control and eradication of bed ...

First preliminary profile of proteins in bed bugs' saliva

Jun 23, 2010

With bed bugs reemerging as a nuisance in some parts of the country, scientists are reporting the first preliminary description of the bug's sialome — the saliva proteins that are the secret to Cimex lectularius' ...

Bed bugs: Awake to the growing problem

Nov 01, 2007

Bed bugs have taken up residence in urban areas across the country, and the infestation may only get worse, said a Penn State entomologist.

Recommended for you

Team approach improves practice efficiency

35 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—The increasing administrative requirements of a medical practice are requiring a team-based approach to care, and physicians must learn to manage the team, according to an article published ...

Influence of migration on health

3 hours ago

Migration has a significant influence on the health sector, including in Austria. The healthcare sector faces challenges due to migrants' different social status, background and gender, as Christine Binder-Fritz ...

Uruguay begins registering marijuana growers

10 hours ago

Just a handful of people had registered by midday Wednesday to be private growers of marijuana in Uruguay, the first country to fully legalize the production, sale and distribution of the drug.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
not rated yet Aug 12, 2010
all sorts of people from plumbers to doormen are paid off by the exterminators to release bedbugs in many buildings. it's good for business. this is a fact.
baudrunner
not rated yet Aug 13, 2010
The bedbug problem is one of hygiene. In general, they are found mostly in low-cost and subsidized housing complexes. Regardless of what the article says, they are not evenly distributed amongst the classes.
eldowan
not rated yet Aug 13, 2010
Why don't you back up your fact with a cite? Just making a statement doesn't make it so.
newscience
not rated yet Aug 13, 2010
Natural enzymes such as Lice-R-Gone can be used to kill lice and bed bugs and other insects. They can never build up a resistance to it because the enzyme breaks down chitin which is the insects outer skeleton. This is proven to control lice, yet across the world children are being prescribed toxic pesticides to their scalp which has been shown to cause cancer. These enzymes also have use in natural farming.
Xaero
1 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2010
Weather is getting warmer, human population more dense and poorer relatively, bugs got the resistance to insecticides...