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: Young girl's story may lead Idaho to approve marijuana oil

Related Stories

How Bed Bugs Outsmart the Chemicals Designed to Control Them

Jan 08, 2009

( -- 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

Young girl's story may lead Idaho to approve marijuana oil

3 hours ago

(AP)—Ten-year-old Alexis Carey has a rare but intractable form of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome. The genetic diseases causes severe and multiple seizures, which often leave parents guessing if the terror of watching their child ...

Psychology of food choice: Challenging the status quo

10 hours ago

Researchers are challenging conventional beliefs about the effectiveness of traditional strategies for encouraging healthy eating. The symposium, "Challenging Misconceptions About the Psychology of Food Choice," includes ...

Crohn's disease not exempt from racial disparities

Feb 27, 2015

A study published recently in the IBD Journal found significant differences in hospital readmissions, medication usage, and both medical and surgical complications of children with Crohn's disease related to race. In the ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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.
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.
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.
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.
1 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2010
Weather is getting warmer, human population more dense and poorer relatively, bugs got the resistance to insecticides...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.