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How The Ongoing Nationwide Bed Bug Epidemic Started

June 19th, 2020

The earliest known ancestor of modern bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) first appeared around one hundred million years ago, and the first known mention of the bloodsucking pests can be found in ancient Greek and Roman texts. Bed bugs were well documented as parasitic pests of man in Europe during the latter period of the middle ages. European colonists transported bed bugs to the New World hundreds of years ago, and by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bed bugs had become epidemic in urban centers of the eastern US.

During the early 20th century, no serious government efforts were made to develop area-wide bed bug eradication programs, but most urban residents were familiar with simple bite-avoidance tactics. One such tactic involved placing cups or bowls beneath bed legs where any bed bug that attempted to climb onto a mattress would become trapped. Bed bugs were declared eradicated from the entire country in 1940 due to the heavy use of the now banned pesticide known as DDT. Between 1980 and 2000, isolated reports of bed bug infestations in homes, lodgings and other high traffic areas gradually increased. In 2004, US authorities stated that a nationwide bed bug epidemic had become established, and this epidemic continues today.

Since bed bugs were largely absent from the US for a period of 60 years, pest control professionals and government employed entomologists were unprepared for the monumental task of controlling the pests when infestations skyrocketed 16 years ago. Since then it has become clear that insecticides are wholly inadequate for controlling bed bugs due to the species’ ability to rapidly develop resistance to new insecticide formulations. Luckily, many pest control professionals have come to rely on very effective heat treatments for bed bug control, as it has been shown that the pests cannot evolve to tolerate extreme environmental conditions, such as temperatures in excess of 140 degrees.

The modern ecologically-friendly approach to pest control known as “integrated pest management” (IPM) largely originated from the urgent need to develop a chemical-free bed bug control method during the 2000s. In an effort to determine the cause of the bed bug resurgence, academic researchers all over the world carried out many studies on the topic. Today it is clear that insecticide resistance and increased global travel were significant factors that led to the bed bug resurgence in the US, but many modern experts are not fully satisfied with this explanation.

Do you give hotel rooms a quick bed bug inspection before settling in?

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