Bedbugs proliferating

2010-09-06

in Science, The environment, Travel

I have had one nasty personal experience with these fast-spreading bloodsuckers, and hope to never have another. Alas, that may be an unrealistic hope, given how they are spreading all over the world. According to the BBC, the last big outbreak happened before World War II: “[i]n the 1930s there were large swaths of London where every house was infested.” Eradication with DDT after 1946 pushed that outbreak back, but such pesticides are restricted now because of their health and environmental effects.

Apparently, bedbugs have also grown resistant to DDT, so bringing it back probably wouldn’t help address the current problem. The pesticides currently used for bedbugs may be losing effectiveness, as the creatures become resistant. Increased domestic and international travel may also contribute.

Personally, I have taken to adopting a few precautions:

  • When staying in hostels and hotels, I check for the fecal spots, moults, and blood smears they leave behind, especially when there is a severe infestation (as there is at the Sous Bois Hostel in Montreal).
  • Keeping luggage off the floor and away from upholstered furniture is also a good idea.
  • When I found that I had stayed somewhere with bedbugs, I put everything I had with me through either a high temperature wash or three weeks of sub-zero temperatures.
  • I will no longer purchase or accept used furniture.

Thankfully, these horrible creatures don’t seem to spread disease. They are revolting, however, and extremely expensive and difficult to eradicate. As such, it pays to be cautious.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 6, 2010 at 12:18 pm

All About Bed Bugs

Posted on 03 September 2010 by Chris Hebbern.

The bed bug resurgence

Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, have been infesting human habitations for thousands of years. About the size of an apple seed, the bugs can hide in electronics, such as radios, in drawers, in and under furniture, behind baseboards, under loose wallpaper, behind paintings and posters, in small cracks and in the curtains. They only eat blood, and they like the taste of ours.

North America has seen a resurgence of bed bugs in recent years, notoriously in New York but also in cities throughout Canada, including Toronto and Ottawa. Bed bugs don’t discriminate by class or status: the Upper East Side has them; hostels, hospitals, and offices have them, and even the Empire State Building has had them. The bed bugs are back, and they bring with them a plague of sleepness nights.

It doesn’t take a night’s stay in a bed to acquire the bugs. Cinemas in New York have reported infestations. For bed bugs, a cinema is a perfect environment: darkness, soft furniture with lots of hiding places, and a ready supply of blood meals all together in a confined space. Bed bugs have been reported in offices and commercial properties, notably the offices of Time Warner. In New York City, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch have had to shut their doors to deal with the problem.

A survey from the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky confirms the resurgence. Prior to 2000, only 25% of U.S. pest management professionals reported an encounter with a bed bug in the past year. Now, 95% have reported bed bugs, a dramatic and sudden increase. Increased international travel, changes in indoor pest control and pesticide resistance are among the possible explanations for why the bed bugs are back.

Despite all that we know about insecticide resistance, there are calls to bring back DDT. If DDT hadn’t been banned, as some people are now arguing, the bed bugs wouldn’t have come back. It’s a claim that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The Heartland Institute, a free market think tank, has been pushing the revisionist line. “Bed bug outbreak hits all 50 states thanks to DDT ban”, they claim. And they aren’t alone. The Competitive Enterprise Institute points out that we once “believed that bed bugs were a thing of the past having been brought under control—and essentially eradicated in the U.S.—due in part to the pesticide DDT. However, now that the highly effective DDT has been banned for more than three decades, bedbugs are making a resurgence absent pesticide effective enough to zap them and thanks to increased global travel.”

The Toronto Sun, picking up the theme, laid the blame for bed bugs squarely at the feet of environmentalists

Scott September 7, 2010 at 11:31 am

I had a run in with these little bastards while on a course at CFB Borden.
My arms were covered in bites, it was not fun.
Needless to say the chain of command was notified and the BComd saw to it the situation was rectified.

. September 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

The Bed Bug Registry is a free, public database of user-submitted bed bug reports from across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2006, the site has collected about 20,000 reports covering 12,000 locations.

alena September 7, 2010 at 11:22 pm

When Mirka and I traveled through India and stayed in Government guest houses, there were a lot of fleas. Quite often we would sleep in the bath tub and we were safe from flea bites, but not comfortable as we could not use any of the bed linen.

. November 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

Doubts Rise on Bedbug-Sniffing Dogs

If any heroes have emerged in the bedbug epidemic sweeping households, movie theaters, retailers, schools, offices, you-name-it nationwide, it is surely bedbug-sniffing dogs.

Cute, diligent and armed with highly sophisticated detection tools — their noses — these dogs are fast becoming the American equivalent of the St. Bernard rescuing the snowbound in the Alps. Commercials vaunt bedbug-sniffing dogs’ prowess and purport up to 98 percent accuracy. In New York, a bedbug-sniffing beagle named Roscoe has become so well known — he has a Facebook page and now an iPhone app — that fellow beagles often are mistaken for him on the street.

But as the number of reported infestations rises and the demand for the dogs soars, complaints from people who say dogs have inaccurately detected bedbugs are also climbing. And in the bedbug industry, where some dog trainers and sellers have back orders until spring despite the dogs’ $11,000 price tag, there are fears that a rise in so-called false positives by dogs will harm their credibility and business.

“Many pest control companies have the same frustration,” said Michael F. Potter, an entomology professor at the University of Kentucky, “that they often follow behind dogs that are indicating bedbugs, and they can’t find anything.”

. January 24, 2011 at 6:09 pm

My initial surprise at hearing this story, I think, reflects an inherent progressivist bias in our thinking. We tend to think of human history as making inexorable progress. This bias is reinforced, especially since the industrial revolution, by the fact that science and technology has been relentlessly progressive. The problem is in the default assumption that all change is progressive – whatever current system we have must be better than the old system because newer is better.

Human history, however, is more complex than our default assumptions. Sometimes history is regressive. And sometimes it is cyclical. Not all current trends will extrapolate indefinitely into the future. Today’s fad is not always the wave of the future. In my mind bedbugs were a problem of pre- or early industrial societies, and were no longer an issue given modern hygiene and pest-control. I associated bedbugs with an earlier age, and it just seemed incongruous that they could return in the 21st century. But the details tell a different story.

[Of course] We shouldn’t fall prey to assuming that because bedbugs are currently on the rise that they will continue to do so. Perhaps their return will turn out to be only a brief cycle, and then they will fade once again from our collective attention.

dot May 12, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Residents of an impoverished area of Vancouver were infested with bedbugs carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, say researchers who warn doctors to watch out for the potential problem.

The letter in Wednesday’s issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported that two types of drug-resistant bacteria were isolated from bedbugs found on three patients.

The resistant bacteria were methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), a less dangerous form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Christopher Lowe of the University of Toronto and medical microbiologist Marc Romney of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital suggest bedbugs carrying MRSA could transmit the bacteria during a blood meal.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/05/11/bedbugs-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria-vancouver.html

. October 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm

The prevalence of bedbugs has clearly gone up in recent years, but the rate of freak-outs has been increasing even faster. It’s essential to recognize that the “disease” is just not that easy to catch. Although the insects have made a comeback—R0 is up—they are hardly lurking in every bus stop and banquette, as folks in the bug-busting business might have us believe. (Richard Pollack points out that 90 percent of the “bedbugs” he is asked to examine turn out to be other kinds of insects—or even specks of lint.) If the brown peril does strike, victims should remain calm and enlist professional help. Recently the CDC reported on a rash of poisonings in which people got sick after nuking their infested homes with insecticide, and history shows these episodes of friendly fire to be the bug’s deadliest effect. In the 19th century, reports of accidental death from drinking bedbug poison, suicide by insecticide, and fatal fires during bug exterminations—such as the tragic case of a New Jersey jeweler’s wife who accidentally roasted her spouse and infant child while fighting bedbugs with benzene in 1893—were all too common.

This is not to suggest we are regressing, entomologically speaking, to the buggy Victorian era. In fact, there is some evidence that the current bug craze could be topping out: According to new data from New York City, landlord bedbug violations declined in 2011 for the first time since 2004. Experts view New York’s bedbug problem as relatively mature, since the city is often seen as the epicenter of the outbreak. If New York’s drop is real and sustained, it could represent the start of a broader decline in bedbug prevalence, a downgrading of their international hobgoblin status, and a welcome reduction in nocturnal blasphemy. The little devils are not worthy of our rage. After all, them’s only chinch-bugs.

. March 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Bed bugs
A new debugger
How to get rid of bloodsucking insects

FEW things destroy the reputation of a high-class hotel faster than bed bugs. These vampiric arthropods, which almost disappeared from human dwellings with the introduction of synthetic insecticides after the second world war, are making a comeback. They can drink seven times their own weight in blood in a night, leaving itchy welts on the victim’s skin and blood spots on his sheets as they do so. That is enough to send anyone scurrying to hotel-rating internet sites—and even, possibly, to lawyers.

New York is worst-hit at the moment: neither five-star hotels nor top-notch apartments have been spared. But other places, too, are starting to panic. Hotel staff from Los Angeles to London are scrutinising the seams of mattresses and the backs of skirting boards, where the bugs often hide during the day, with more than usual zeal. But frequently this is to no avail. Bed bugs are hard to spot. Even trained pest-control inspectors can miss them. What is needed is a way to flush them into the open. And James Logan, Emma Weeks and their colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Rothamsted Research think they have one: a bed-bug trap baited with something the bugs find irresistible—the smell of their own droppings.

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