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Science Wednesday:Bed Bugs, Not Just Your Grandparents’ Problem

2011 January 26

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Daniel M. Stout

Bed bugs are for everybody, not just for the few. This insect pest has coevolved with humans, following a trail of bites from our prehistoric caves to our modern dwellings. Your grandparents knew this pest and were familiar with methods to cope with its nightly forays into their beds, disturbing their sleep and leaving tell-tale bites.

With the advent of pesticides we were able to gain about a 30 year respite from this nuisance. But the bed bug is back, resurging with a vengeance, and to make matters worse, we have forgotten how to deal with them. Figuratively, we got caught with our bed sheets down.

Bed bugs have become a problem in all 50 states and are being transported nationally on our luggage and personal possessions. In fact, it is reported that 95 percent of professional pest management companies have encountered bed bugs in the past year. And, consumers paid $258 million for bed bug control in 2009.

The problem is so significant that a congressional bed bug forum was convened and the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act was proposed. In February 2011 EPA will participate with other federal agencies in the second bed bug summit.

Do you have questions about bed bugs, such as:

  • Are you wondering how this pest resurged?
  • Are you concerned about preventing bed bugs from infesting your home?
  • Do you currently have bed bugs in your home or are you wondering how to avoid bed bugs as you travel?
  • Do you believe bed bugs can jump or fly?
  • Are you curious about what they look like, how to identify them, and how to tell if they are biting you?

Greenversations can help! Send me your questions and share your experiences about bed bugs in the comments below.

About the author: Daniel M. Stout II is an urban entomologist who joined EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in 1998 and conducts research on the behavior of pesticides, primarily insecticides, following their application in residential environments.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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28 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Bed Bugs Act, Really ???
    It’s about 35 years I didn’t see bed bugs again. Surprise ! However, my home is usual and not using something pesticides, except insecticides to killing mosquito…..

  2. Rod Allen permalink
    January 26, 2011

    With all the emphasis on eradication of bedbugs, combined with the concerns of hazards imposed by the use of toxic chemicals, it irritates me that despite numerous lab studies, testimonies, and scientific proof, that Governments (Federal, State, and Local), Chemical Companies, and Pest Control Businesses will not even entertain the idea that there is an effective, non-toxic, and most of all, cost-effective solution for infestations. It is a product produced by a Texas Company and distributed nationwide by independent distributors. Being one of those distributors, I have personally tried to market it to local Hotels and Motels, Apartment Complexes, Homeless Shelters, and other businesses and consumers, and because people are brain-washed by the Chemical and Pest Control Company’s marketing tactics, continuously get the doors shut in my face. I have even, on 2 occasions, tried to give the local University Entomology Department a sample for testing. Because they say that it does not have any ‘residual’ effect, they are not even interested. The “in-thing” now to treat bedbugs is ‘heat treatment’. It seems to me that there isn’t any ‘residual’ effect of this treatment either. As a home-owner with 4 pets and toddlers in the house, I can’t imagine the residual effect of 135 degree heat in my house for any length of time on my personal belongings, let alone the effects on the structure itself. Regardless if I could afford the thousands of dollars for the “professionals” to perform the treatment, with no guarantee that it will kill all of them. Wake up people, and use a little common sense in the treatment of the problem – think outside the chemical box. Just like the BP disaster in the Gulf last year, there were a lot of alternatives that could have been used to lessen the effects of the oil spill, but Uncle Sam and the other Bureaucrats didn’t want to entertain them, because they either made too much sense, or because they didn’t come up with them themselves.

  3. Ken Lindsay permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Does the EPA or the CDC have Lab’s similar to the ones supported by the DOE, for creation of new techonologies to combat Bed Bugs.
    I have worked with an idea for the past few years that I feel might be worth investigation or research for the control of parasites.

    Thank You,
    Ken Lindsay

  4. Ken Lindsay permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Ken Lindsay Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    January 26th, 2011 at 12:32 pm
    Does the EPA or the CDC have Lab’s similar to the ones supported by the DOE, for creation of new techonologies to combat Bed Bugs.
    I have worked with an idea for the past few years that I feel might be worth investigation or research for the control of parasites.

    Thank You,
    Ken Lindsay

  5. wallace oliver permalink
    January 26, 2011

    what is the best treatment for bed bugs? i have bed bugs i want to get rid of.

  6. Aaron@EPA permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Wallace Oliver, thanks for your question! Take a look at the search tool that EPA developed that can help you choose an EPA-registered bed bug product that meets your needs.

    You can search for a product by its:
    Name
    Company
    EPA-registration number
    Where you can use the pesticide
    Pesticide type

    You can find it here: http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/bedbug/

  7. dowens permalink*
    January 26, 2011

    From: Aaron@EPA

    Ken Lindsay: I’m not familiar with DOE labs. But I do know that EPA and CDC are working together to address recent bed bug developments and share the latest research findings.

    I really like the excellent information in their “Joint Statement” posted on the following CDC web
    site:
    http
    ://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Publications/Bed_Bugs_CDC-EPA_Statement.htm

  8. Rod Allen permalink
    January 26, 2011

    The problem with the EPA site is that it ONLY lists ‘registered’ products (i.e., toxic). It does not list 25b exempt products. There are 25b products that have been scientifically tested just as effective (if not more so) than toxic chemicals, but you will not find them recommended by any government agency or pest control ‘professional’. One specific 25b product that I am intimately familiar with is Dr. Ben’s Evictor from Cedar Oil Industries.

  9. Sydona Anderson permalink
    January 26, 2011

    would like to know the product’s name and how to get some. Will be going to Greece in June and want to know what to in suitcase so I don’t have hitchikers. Thanks, Sydona

  10. Bed Bugs in my classroom permalink
    January 26, 2011

    I found out today that a student was sent home because the family had bed bugs. I was not aware of it until another teacher had informed me. The child hangs his coat up next to other students in the class. Can these little creatures travel to other students homes? How do you get rid of them?
    EMM
    robena02@aol.com

  11. Anonymous permalink
    January 27, 2011

    Dr. Ben’s Evictor from Cedar Oil Industries (or from one of their dealers).

  12. Rod Allen permalink
    January 27, 2011

    Google search ‘Dr. Ben’s Evictor’ and you will find it. Have a safe, bug-free, and toxic-free trip.

  13. Impact permalink
    February 1, 2011

    Bedbug are really a nightmare for most of us. Most of us face this problem but we can’t find a way out of this problem. The different techniques that we adopt doesn’t work after sometime. The pesticides that are available in the market have no action on them as such.

  14. Daniel M. Stout II permalink
    February 3, 2011

    Rod you make a lot of good points in your post. The use of heat treatments to control pests has been in development and perhaps looking for a market niche for many years. I view the advocacy for heat treatment as a positive not a negative. Approaches that give us options to residual approaches (that have in part contributed to the prevalence of resistance in the bed bug population) are yet another tool in our control toolbox and one we should appreciate. Also the current heat approach involves the focused use of steam and the latent heat of vaporization of water rather than the increase in ambient temperature to induce mortality. Although the latter has also been demonstrated. Your comment on the financial cost for control is sharp and on the mark. Bedbugs are for everybody not just for the few. That means all strata of our society are impacted including those that can least afford to hire pest control specialists to safely resolve their bedbug problems. How to extend control and bring relief to those folks may pose greater difficulties than the development of control practices. Bed bugs most certainly pose a scientific quandary, but i suspect that this small insect will also greatly influence our social behaviors as we relearn how to deal with its unwelcome presence.

  15. Daniel M. Stout II permalink
    February 3, 2011

    It is true that bedbugs present a nightmarish problem to our society. We had literally forgotten what our grandparents knew about dealing with this insect pest and had relegated it to nothing more than a childhood slogan for goodnight. In the interim the pest developed resistance to many of our registered insecticides. As a result we were caught unaware as the problem swept our globe and nipped at us under our sheets. Currently, our goverment (state and federal) is calling experts together to pool our science knowledge and intergrate our research efforts to more efficiently strategize and develop the safest approaches for bringing the public relief from this biting pest.

  16. Daniel M. Stout II permalink
    February 3, 2011

    I am not sure of the DOE labs you refer. The EPA typically leverages the support and partners with businesses and academia to make advances regarding technological development. I require more information to fully respond to your question.

  17. Daniel M. Stout II permalink
    February 3, 2011

    I have found that the best approach for controlling bedbugs and eliminating them from your living area is to contact a pest control operator for professional assistance. Pest control operators are dealing with bed bugs on a routine basis and have in general developed the knowledge and strategies for controlling this pest and safely administering insecticides. As a good precaution insure that the professional service you contact is certified in your state and use only pesticides registered by the EPA for bedbug control. You can and should ask the pest control professional questions regarding their approach, obtain labels for the insecticides they will use, locations where applications will be performed, options of least toxic approaches and the cost and number of visits that will likely be required. Of course you have an obligation to minimize the introduction or reintroduction of bedbugs into your home. There are many websites available that can help guide you on this subject and as always your state supported Agricultural Extension Service should be able to assist you with information more specific to your region and location.

  18. Daniel M. Stout II permalink
    February 4, 2011

    Bedbugs moving from an infested home is certainly possible, but considered a minor risk. The answer (and this is adressed at many websites) is that bedbugs can move from a coat or backpack and hitch a ride back home with a student. I would start by making sure your school has an action plan for dealing with students who report bedbug infestations in their homes and similarly an plan for the day bedbugs are detected in the school or associated with a child. Minimizing the occurence of and controlling the bedbugs in schools is important, but as important is how we deal with pupils and thier parents. A little tact and discretion is equally important especially since there can be considerable deep felt concern when bedbugs are identified in a fascility (even media coverage).

  19. sim permalink
    July 13, 2011

    Hi. Thanks for the informative blog. I’ve been fighting bed bugs since I moved to New York City in September

  20. Bugs Exterminator Chelsea Nyc permalink
    July 14, 2011

    It is really hard to get rid of bed bugs. i also had this problem and the best solution is to replace all your bed room.

  21. pest Control permalink
    July 18, 2011

    This is not best solution to change your bedroom to get rid from bed bugs.Use pesticides to finish bed bugs is only good solution of this problem.

  22. Bed Bugs Exterminator Chelsea Nyc permalink
    July 22, 2011

    This is a problem that effects a lot of people from all walks of life, bugs, all bugs can invade someones home and more or less take over without intervention.

  23. Maria Miller permalink
    August 30, 2011

    I prefer to use the harsh way of eliminating bed bugs I’m so troubled dealing with this little creatures.

  24. scratchies permalink
    November 2, 2011

    I had no trouble navigating through all the tabs and information was very easy to access. Pretty awesome. Would appreciate it if you add forums or something, it would be a perfect way for your clients to interact. Great job

  25. Katherine permalink
    March 6, 2012

    @Rod Allen
    Thanks for giving us way on how to prevent this bed bugs. I will search it to the internet.

  26. Katherine permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Thanks for giving us another way how to prevent this red bug. I will search it to the internet.

  27. David Z permalink
    May 24, 2013

    My question is, can bed bugs dissipate with a tube in the wall home system? I’ve read they get rid of any other pests. What about bed bugs?

  28. Brisbane Pest Control permalink
    July 31, 2013

    Thanks for a lot’s idea that you’ve shared. Keep sharing for informative idea like this. Thanks!!!

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