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Call For Action Against Bed Bug Resurgence

(Beyond Pesticides, April 16, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened the first ever National Bed Bug Summit (April 14-15, 2009) to solicit recommendations from scientists, state and local officials, pest control operators and the general public on how to tackle the resurgence of the blood sucking insects. Bed bugs have rebounded in significant numbers for the first time since World War II, partly due to increased global travel and their increasing resistance to commonly used pesticides.

Bed bug outbreaks have tripled since 2005, according to a survey of 800 pest control firms across the country, infesting apartment buildings, college dormitories, hospital wings, homeless shelters and top-rated hotels. Bedbugs outbreaks have been reported in at least 27 states, including Honolulu, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston and Miami. In 2006, a Chicago woman sued a New York hotel for $20 million after suffering more than 500 bed bug bites.

Persistent outbreaks are normally concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, where people cannot afford to replace or professionally clean bedding and soft furnishing. Both New York and San Francisco have passed city legislation to help control the spread of the bugs. In San Francisco, the legislation centers on landlord and tenant rights while in New York, it involves controlling the sale and transport of used mattresses.

Bed bugs are reddish brown and range in size between 1/8 – ¼ of an inch. They live in the crevices and folds of mattresses, sofas and sheets, cracks in walls, behind picture frames or other wall hangings, or inside the bindings of books or even on stuffed animals. While they do not transmit disease, bites can become infected, which occurs in about 30% of those bitten, leaving behind red raised welts. Signs of a bed bug infestation include a pungent odor, and blood or fecal spots on pillow casings and sheets. A bed bug can live up to one year on a single blood meal.

“The problem seems to be increasing and it could definitely be worse in densely populated areas like cities, although it can be a problem for anyone,” said Lois Rossi, director of the registration division in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. In 2002, EPA classified bedbugs as a public health pest.

The use of broad spectrum insecticides, which kills common household insects, such as cockroaches, ants and other insects including bed bugs, exposed these organisms to a range of chemicals and allowed them to gradually build up resistance to these chemicals. Many of the chemicals used against bed bugs, such as esfenvalerate and various pyrethroids (permethrin, deltamethrin, cyfluthrin, etc) are also associated with adverse human effects including skin irritation (important if applied to mattresses) endocrine disruption, cancer and neurotoxicity.

“Generally I can guarantee that they will be tolerant to at least one or more of the things that are being used against them,” said Harold Harlan, the leading bug expert for the U.S. military. “They’ve been exposed to chemicals so they are more resistant to chemicals.”

Saul Hernandez, an aide to the Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C who introduced H.R. 6068 -The Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008, says he plans to reintroduce the legislation next week, which establishes grant programs to assist States with inspection programs for bed bugs. Federal funding for research into alternative solutions, such as heating, freezing or steaming the bugs out of bedrooms will also be sought by other stakeholders.

There are several habitat modifications and least-toxic alternatives available to prevent, control and treat bed bugs which are all be part of a sound integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. These include sealing cracks and crevices where bed bugs can hide, regular laundering of bed linens and clothing in hot water (120oF), as well as regular vacuuming and steam cleaning of carpets and other soft furnishings which can destroy bed bugs and their eggs. There are also several least-toxic chemical alternatives on the market, including diatomaceous earth. For more information on detecting and preventing a bed bug infestation in your home, read our factsheet “Bed Bugs- Back with a Vengeance” or contact Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Associated Press


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