Return of the bedbug may be worth losing sleep over
The Denver Post
Thursday, January 6, 2011
BROOMFIELD - The resurgence of the bed-hopping bloodsuckers
might be more of a runaway train than a gravy train for
exterminators, a leading bedbug expert told pest controllers
The boom in bedbugs in the past three to five years has to be
good for somebody, doesn't it?
"Be careful what you wish for," University of Kentucky
researcher Michael Potter told a packed session at the National Bed
Bug Forum this week at the Omni Interlocken Resort.
Bedbugs are the hardest pest to control in America, despite
stiff competition from ants, roaches and termites, he said.
"Yes, they're coming back," Potter said. "Infestation is
inevitable. Infestation is unstoppable."
The bedbug problem is going to be more difficult to deal with
this time around, Potter said.
People have completely forgotten about risky behavior, he said.
When bedbugs last surged, in the early to mid-1900s, Americans
trained themselves in "eternal vigilance," Potter said. They
checked for bedbugs whenever they ventured away from home.
Dedicated "search and destroy" missions by parents and public
servants virtually eradicated the pests by the late 1950s.
"Eternal vigilance," however, was short-lived, and they're back
with a vengeance. Americans travel more. Immigration continues.
Secondhand furniture, clothes and other recyclables are in vogue.
The hitchhiking insects have even more opportunities to get
Another factor, Potter said, is that people have more stuff -
more hiding places for bedbugs, which like to aggregate in any dark
nook and cranny, not just mattresses. Bedbugs hang out until hunger
drives them to seek human warmth and exhalations (carbon
They might be lurking in a TV set or behind a drawer. Pest
controllers are going to find themselves literally going through
people's drawers and underwear, experts warned at the conference,
sponsored by the National Pest Management Association.
The bugs aren't known to carry diseases, but their bites can
raise itchy welts in some people and cause serious infections in
others. And the "ick" factor is off the chart for most people,
Don't bother spraying over-the-counter insect repellants on
yourself at bedtime. They don't work, researchers said.
The bloodthirsty bugs typically feed five to 10 minutes on a
human, Virginia Tech researcher Dini Miller said, and then they
leave their host.
"It's like a bad one-night stand," Miller said.
Once sated with blood, the bugs mate with abandon. When blood is
available, they feed every three to seven days, Miller said.
Female bedbugs typically die after about nine nosh-and-nookie
sessions. An adult female on average produces 113 eggs in her
Americans probably will have to learn to live with bedbugs,
whose ranks include many resistant to currently available
insecticides and banned ones, such as DDT, that previously were
effective but wouldn't be now, Miller said. There are fewer
chemicals in the arsenal, and all are less effective than they once
were because of bedbug genetic adaptations.
"Americans think it's our birthright to live free of vermin,"
Miller said. "Get over it."
Miller said people should learn how to watch for and identify
the bugs, typically the size of an apple seed, and to keep an eye
out for their eggs. They must accept that controlling infestations
probably will require repeated spraying by more than one chemical
cocktail and/or destruction by carefully managed heating
techniques. Then, follow up. Then, follow up again.
"The dryer is your best friend," Potter said. About 10 to 15
minutes in the appliance can kill bedbugs in clothes, linens,
blankets and more.
That just leaves the rest of the house.
Panic won't help.
"It's insane to shut down a school or building because one
bedbug was found," Potter said.
A survey of more than 1,000 pest-control operations - more than
500 in the U.S. - found that exterminators have treated
infestations in homes, hotels, schools, hospitals, movie theaters,
offices, college dorms, ambulances and elsewhere.
"It's just a matter of time before you're routinely finding them
in all these places," Potter said.
Potter and Miller expressed concerns that the costs of
controlling bedbugs is going to seriously cut into the
profitability of apartment complexes, hotels and other businesses
when the country can least afford it.
Federal dollars have not been available for research, Potter
said, because bedbugs are not disease carriers. Medical
professionals have limited knowledge to share with patients
concerned about bites.
"The pest-control industry is going to have to lead," Potter
The survey of pest controllers found that 76 percent of
respondents considered the bedbug hardest to eradicate, compared
with the 13 percent that cited ants and the 9 percent fingering
roaches. Termites finished a distant fourth.
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or firstname.lastname@example.org