For those of you that don’t know: bedbugs aren’t just part of a before-sleep rhyme. They are real.
According to NPR, they hide out in the crevices of beds, couches and sheets. They like to come out when it’s dark and feed on human blood. Bedbugs have gotten bad enough lately for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to summit on the most widespread outbreak of the critters since the Second World War.
The two-day conference was spearheaded by one of EPA’s committees and took place last week, April 17, in Arlington, Virginia, just miles outside of the nation’s capital. Leaders in the bug field gathered at a hotel to address the increase in complaints from apartment buildings, hotels and city officials about the offending insects.
Controlling the bugs, which are reddish-brown in color and round in shape, is iffy since not many chemicals can be legally used on mattresses or other places in the home where bedbugs like to live. Since they feed on blood, normal bug bait doesn’t work on them the way it does on other household pests. Pesticides are also problematic because they can’t reach all the nooks and crannies that bedbugs lurk in.
"It is a question of reaching them, finding them," said Harold Harlan, an entomologist at the meeting.
Many of the chemicals that do kill bedbugs are banned by the EPA because of their ill effects on public health. Those same chemicals are in use in other countries, though; which therefore makes them less likely to work on our population of bugs if they were to be legalized. And those other countries with bedbugs haven’t helped our population, since many international travelers unknowingly bring the little guys along for a ride. The bugs, however, end up staying here.
"One of our roles would be to learn of new products or safer products. … What we are concerned about is that if people take things into their own hands and start using pesticides on their mattresses that aren’t really registered for that, that’s a problem," said Lois Rossi, director of the registration division in the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs.
Other branches of government are also trying to stamp out our bed bug infestation. The "Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite Act" (catchy!) is being reintroduced in Congress by North Carolina Democratic Representative G.K. Butterfield. The bill will help public housing authorities deal with the bugs.
"It was clear something needed to be done," said Saul Hernandez, G.K.’s legislative assistant.
The effects of bedbugs are limited. They do not transmit diseases, but some people are allergic to their bites. Bedbugs release an anticoagulant (substance that prevents blood from clotting) to get the blood that they need from victims. They also numb the area that they will bite, so their prey won’t wake up. Since extermination can cost $400 to $900, poor people are most affected by an infestation.
"We need to have better tools," said Greg Baumann, a senior scientist at the National Pest Management Association. "We need EPA to consider all the options for us."
New pesticides take a long time to be legalized, so bug experts want the EPA either to consider emergency pesticides or research different pest control methods, like heating, freezing or steaming bugs out of the house.
Prevention and Treatment
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much information on how to prevent the critters from getting into your home. However, experts do advise that you inspect your bed and home for signs of them. Look for the little bugs themselves (see pictures here), or look for their tiny, black fecal spots. Also, before you sleep on a bed away from home, give it a good inspection. This includes cruise ships, hotels, a campsite and even your parents’ house.
If you find evidence of bedbugs, wash everything in the vicinity. Other methods, like freezing your sheets, have been reported with varied results. And definitely consult a pest control company.
– Whitney Teal