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Bed Bugs: An Unyielding Menace?

Previously believed to have been eliminated after World War II, bed bugs are experiencing a resurgence. They’re expanding beyond bedrooms into unexpected places like offices and public transport, as was notably observed during the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023. Known for their bloodsucking nature and knack for concealment, these elusive pests are causing widespread concern.

But is this fear justified? And how can we counter their pervasive spread beyond our bedrooms? Let’s delve into the basics to understand why there’s less cause for alarm than it might seem.

Bed bugs are flightless insects, related to garden pests like stinkbugs, belonging to the Hemiptera order. This group, also known as true bugs, feeds through a proboscis, lacking typical mouthparts for biting or chewing. Unlike their garden counterparts that feed on plant sap, bed bugs thrive on blood.

Originating from caves where they fed on bats, bed bugs saw a post-World War II spike, especially in apartment buildings. During that era, extensive use of the highly toxic chemical DDT by pest controllers was a common control method.

The resurgence of bed bugs in recent decades can be attributed to several factors. One reason is the development of resistance to common insecticides like Pyrethroids. Additionally, the chemicals used today are less toxic but also less effective compared to DDT.

While bed bugs, like mosquitoes, have fluid-to-fluid contact with their hosts, they currently do not transmit diseases. However, this might change in the future, as suggested by scientists.

So, should we be concerned? The answer is both yes and no.

The United States offers a case study in managing bed bugs over the last few decades. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) enlisted Dr. Richard Cooper to educate both professionals and the public on effective bed bug control strategies. His approach moved away from indiscriminate chemical use, which was exacerbating the problem, and focused on more efficient methods.

How to Eradicate Bed Bugs?

One effective method is the use of heat. Despite some bed bugs’ resistance to chemicals, they are highly susceptible to heat. Household steam cleaners, for instance, can kill bed bugs and their eggs at temperatures over 100°C. Professional pest control services might use a more intensive heat treatment, but this can be costly and impractical.

For large infestations, vacuuming with a stocking filter can capture many bugs, which are then frozen to death.

Encasing mattresses or box springs with holes or infestations is another strategy. This method traps and starves the bed bugs. Pitfall traps, as shown in studies by Dr. Cooper, can also effectively manage mild infestations without chemicals.

However, most sprays available to the public are ineffective against bed bugs and may worsen the situation by driving them deeper into hiding.

How Do Bed Bugs Locate Humans?

Bed bugs are attracted to the CO2 gradient created by a stationary human, like when sleeping. This explains why initial bites often occur on the neck, face, or arms. In places where people are transient or awake, like buses or offices, bed bugs are less common due to the lack of a stable CO2 gradient and increased human alertness.

In Conclusion

While bed bugs are indeed on the rise for various reasons, panic is unnecessary. These insects, although a nuisance, are not overly common in places like New Zealand. Simple, non-chemical measures, such as using a household steamer, can effectively control them.

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