Bed Bugs are Back
In the last few years, Once considered to be virtually nonexistent in the United States, bedbugs now account for a large percentage of calls to pest control professionals.
Exterminators all over the United States are reporting that calls for bedbug treatments are on the rise.
What are Bedbugs?
Bedbugs are small, parasitic insects that feed on human blood. They've been around pretty much forever, and are even immortalized in a famous poem recited by parents to their children at bedtime for generations:
Don't let the bedbugs bite.
For many years, bedbugs got little more mention than that in the United States. They were considered to be, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than a distant memory. Some people even thought they were extinct. But in reality, bedbugs never quite left us. They were always around; they were just so rarely encountered that few people -- even exterminators -- ever came across them.
World-famous entomologist Austin Frishman tells a story about when he was an apprentice exterminator and performed his first bedbug job. When Frishman excitedly told his mother, she replied, "But there are no vantzen in America." To Mrs. Frishman, vantzen (the Yiddish word for bedbugs, also loosely applied to other parasites and pests) were just a memory from a world left behind.
Reasons for the Increase in Bedbug Problems
Yes, this is the era of the Bedbug Renaissance, and they are back with a vengeance: Often, a single mattress can contain thousands of bedbugs. When asked the reason for the bedbug renaissance, most entomologists (biologists who specialize in the study on insects and related arthropods) tell us that the dramatic increase in bedbugs complaints is resulting from two factors:
Firstly, people are more mobile these days. This has increased the number of bedbugs "hitch-hiking" in baggage and on people, from countries where they are still endemic, to countries where they had once been considered eliminated.
Secondly, until about a decade ago, most residential pest control in the United States was performed using broad-spectrum insecticides that were applied as sprays. These older insecticides were effective against a wide variety of insects.
More recently, however, the trend in residential pest control has shifted toward the use of specie-specific baits that have little or no effect on insects other than those they were designed to control, thus allowing other insect species that are not being specifically targeted to thrive.
Let's put it another way, back in "the old days," an exterminator treating an apartment for roaches likely sprayed the baseboards and other cockroach-prone areas with a broad-spectrum insecticide such as chlorpyrifos (Dursban), propetamphos (Safrotin), propoxur (Baygon), or acephate (Orthene).
Although the reason the exterminator was there may have been to spray for cockroaches, the insecticide he or she was using was also effective against bedbugs. As a result, bedbug populations were controlled as an incidental result of other insect control treatments.
Modern Pest Control Methods are narrow-spectrum in nature, which is better for the environment overall, but also allows bedbugs to thrive. Nowadays, fewer exterminators use broad-spectrum sprays to control common insects such as roaches and ants. Instead, most use baits that are designed to be palatable to only one or a very few species of insect, and which therefore have no effect upon other insects. Although widely believed to be less hazardous than older-style treatments, the specificity of insect baiting has proven to be a drawback in at least this one regard.
But no matter what the reason, the increase in bedbug complaints is going up quite dramatically -- and a lot of people are losing sleep over it.