Your mother or grandmother have undoubtedly bid you goodnight by saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” For the last few decades, this expression has become almost a jovial expression, wishing someone to have a good night sleep. But the tiny, reddish-brown insect, known as bed bugs, has become a serious issue once again. A survey of 800 pest control companies across the country suggests bed bug infestations have tripled since 2005. In New York City, bed bug treatment & control now comprises 9% of total revenue for pest control with little signs of slowing. Persistent outbreaks have shown up in Chicago, Cincinnati, Honolulu, Houston, Miami, and San Francisco. Worse yet, pest control experts and health officials alike say that eradication of bed bugs on a level similar to that accomplished after WWII is extremely unlikely.
Bed Bug Infestation, Prevention, and Remediation
Bed bugs can’t fly or even walk great distances, but they are resilient, can live upwards of 12 months without food, and can easily attach to humans and animals, including farm animals and pets, as well as bedding, clothing, and other items frequently found in luggage. Increased international travel has created an entirely new risk factor. Consequently, the stigma associated with bed bugs is largely unfounded. In fact, shamed residents, who remain reluctant to report an outbreak in their home, are quite possibly the bugs’ best ally, making it difficult to track infestation patterns.
Once bed bugs have infiltrated your home, they’re notoriously difficult to get rid of, despite known lethal remedies. You can freeze them or wash them in hot water, but the big problem is finding them in the first place. Bed bugs don’t just live in beds. Along with clothing and luggage, they can hide out in furniture, carpet, cracks in your walls or floors, and other places throughout the home. Worse, at 1/5 inch and active only at night, they’re virtually impossible to see. Thus, common household remedies aren’t always effective, and insecticides, applied by a pest control company, are often necessary to control larger infestations.
Naturally, the best plan of attack is preventing bed bugs from ever getting into your home. Washing your luggage and its contents in hot water after traveling is critical. Weekly vacuuming, washing your sheets, and general cleaning are also important. Keep in mind, too, that if you own outdoor pets, live in a tropical climate, or live in an apartment complex, you’re at higher risk. And realize that no method of prevention is 100% effective.
Health Risks: Serious Scare or Nuisance?
The good news is that bed bugs don’t transmit disease directly, but they can play “host to the organisms that cause hepatitis B and Chagas’ disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Moreover, in approximately 30% of cases, the bites become infected leaving raised welts that can itch like crazy, while other people can develop an allergic reaction that leads to further skin rashes and/or pus-filled sacs, and in rare cases, anaphylactic shock. Topical creams can alleviate itching, and antihistamines can help with allergic reactions, although severe symptoms may require further medical assistance. Often, the biggest problem isn’t treatment, but identification of bed bug bites, as they can easily resemble other insect bites and skin ailments.
A New Debate about DDT?
After WWII, the use of DDT was particularly effective in eliminating bed bugs as a problem in this country. Many people are confused about the facts surrounding DDT. There is very little evidence to suggest the chemical presents any direct harm to humans, although its ability to build in the food chain does present hazards to wildlife and eco-systems, especially when used haphazardly or without proper disposal. That said, many pest control experts say that insecticides alone are unlikely to wipe out the bugs this time around, but without further and reputable studies on the use of DDT and other scarcely used insecticides, it’s hard to know for sure. In fact, it’s possible that, more than just the use of DDT, the previous generation’s closer attention to house cleaning, helped drive the bugs out. As of right now, the problem hasn’t become large enough or serious enough to repeal the prohibition on DDT. Yet, if bed bug infestations continue to grow, the debate may become increasingly fierce.
The Afflicted: What Starts in Bed Bites throughout the Day
From an anonymous blog post (http://ask.metafilter.com/73890/DDT-for-bed-bugs): “I recently found out that I have bed bugs in my new apartment. Obviously, this is extremely upsetting to me, as I’m a college student and work a lot so I don’t have the seemingly endless amount of time or money needed to get rid of them. I have contacted my landlord about the bed bugs but they are not being very forthcoming about helping me….I haven’t been able to sleep or eat very well for the past week (midterms+stressful work+bed bugs+mice=HELL). I feel like I need a set plan so that I can feel like I’m actually doing something to control it, I’ve been avoiding dealing with it for far too long.”
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