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Battle of the Bad Bed Bugs

Posted: November 16th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Tony Burda, Carol DesLauriers, Abra Berg (Student Resident)

If even the briefest mention of bed bugs is enough to make you itch, imagine spending hours researching this topic! However, for the sake of our readers, we stalwartly slathered on the calamine and dove right in.

If you have been following the news in the past year or two, the problem of bed bug infestation in private residences, travel lodges, schools, and even theaters is all to familiar. Although no official statistics exist regarding the incidence of bed bug infestation, cites 20,000 reports of bed bugs since 2006.

So, just what are bed bugs, and why are they such a public health nuisance? These little critters areactually tiny wingless bugs, approximately 5-8mm in size that are nocturnal and lust for the taste of your blood. Well-fed adult bed bugs can be as large as a pencil eraser. While you are catching some Z’s, these little “suckers” will crawl out of their hiding places (mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and carpet pads) and imperceptibly bite you and lavishly dine on your blood for several minutes before making an escape back to their cozy dens. 

Frequent body areas attacked are neck, arms and legs.00 Symptoms may range from almost undetectable red dots to a very itchy rash or hives. Fortunately, these teeny-tiny vampires are not known to carry any contagious diseases. Symptoms may be managed by taking antihistamines (e.g. diphenhydramine) by mouth and/or applying topical anti-itch creams (e.g. hydrocortisone cream).

Here are some recommendations to prevent and evict these unwelcome, parasitic guests in your boudoir:

  1. Remove loose linens and clutter from around your bed
  2. Pull your bed several inches from the wall
  3. Vacuum carefully along your base boards and behind furniture
  4.  Inspect beds carefully when you travel and avoid placing luggage on the floor
  5.  Avoid purchasing second-hand and thrift store furniture

Professional exterminators may use techniques such as:

 Since this piece is coming to you from a “Poison” Center after all, we thought we would also share with you some info on the insecticidal chemicals used to combat these critters.

Historically, the chemical DDT was a popular and effective insecticide for a wide variety of insect infestations. Despite its popularity, DDT’s use was banned by the US EPA in 1972 due to environmental pollution. Due to previous widespread DDT use and environmental persistence, the spread of bed bugs was held in check until recent years until the big bed bug boom began again.

There are chemical alternatives advocated with varying degrees of success and are best employed by trained and licensed pest management professionals.

Currently, the most widely used class of insecticides in and around the home is called the “pyrethroids” or “pyrethrins”. These are chemical cousins of pyrethrum, a natural insecticide found in plants such as the chrysanthemum. When used as directed, pyrethroids are generally considered to have a lower order of toxicity compared to other insecticide classes. For instance, if you ever had the atrocious task of treating the entire family (including small children) for head lice, another public health nuisance, you probably shampooed them and applied a non-prescription pyrethrin based lotion (e.g. Nix®, Rid®) to their entire bodies without adverse consequences.

However, a large exposure or sensitivity to this pesticide has caused symptoms such as:

  •  Hypersensitivity (ranging from itchy/watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, to more serious problems such as difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis)
  • Rashes and itching of the skin.

 **It is important also to note that cats are particularly sensitive to pyrethrin-based products as they may experience foaming at the mouth, tremors and seizures at lower doses. **

Other classes of insecticides used to combat bed bugs include:

  • Desiccants (diatomaceous earth, aka silicon dioxide)
  • Boric acid 
  • “Natural” alternatives such as cedar leaf oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, thyme oil and clove oil
  • Organophosphates (e.g. dichlorvos)
  • Carbamates (e.g. propoxur)
  • Fumigation chemicals (e.g. sulfuryl floride or methyl bromide).  Both of these are considered extremely toxic pesticides and require application only by licensed professionals wearing special self-protective equipment. They are reserved for an especially egregious infestation.

So you can see there are a wide variety of strategies and tactics one can use in the battle of the bed bugs. If you or your family inadvertently expose yourselves to one or more of these pesticidal agents, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate assistance. Additionally, if you are just not sure about the safety of a particular product to be used, we can also assist you. Armed with this information, you and your family can make battle plans to ensure victory over bed bugs.

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3 Comments on “Battle of the Bad Bed Bugs”

  1. 1 nobugs said at 1:54 pm on November 16th, 2010:

    Re: your comments on types of pesticides used: Propoxur is currently banned for indoor use and so is not being used in the US to fight bed bugs at this time. (Ohio has lobbied the EPA to lift this ban under certain conditions, but this has not been granted so far.)

    Also, your readers need to be aware that first instar nymph bed bugs (the first of 5 nymphal stages) are only 1 mm long, and transparent in color before feeding, bright red after. They differ a great deal in size and color from later life stages.

  2. 2 IPC said at 11:19 am on November 22nd, 2010:

    Thanks for your comments and the useful additonal information! Keep up the great work you’re doing by helping us all stay informed about bed bugs.

  3. 3 paul hibbert said at 5:19 pm on November 28th, 2010:

    I found a decontamination company that’s very effective in eradicating bed bugs and they’re completely green and non-toxic.

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