Bed bugs were introduced into North America with the arrival of early European settlers. As people began migrating to North America they brought these awful pests with them on boats. With the introduction of railways and faster travel across the continent, bed bugs spread at alarming rates.
After many failed attempts to eradicate the bed bug problem, a Swiss chemist by the name of Paul Hermann Muller discovered the powerful effects of DDT to combat them in 1939. This, along with a new mentality towards preventative maintenance, led to a rapid decline of bed bugs in North America.
By the early 1950’s, bed bugs were rarely spotted and considered a thing of the past. That is until the year 2000 when they started making a noticeable come-back.
The bed bug resurgence has proved to be much worse than the initial infestation of bed bugs with the arrival of early settlers for several reasons. There are several theories that explain why there is a resurgence and why it is more troublesome than in the past.
The most compelling explanations for the bed bug resurgence are increased world travel, higher population density in large cities, the increase in organic farming and, worst of all, stronger bed bugs with a resistance to insecticides.
Increased world travel
One of the most accepted explanations for the bed bug resurgence in North America is attributed to increased world travel.
Prior to the 1980’s air travel was quite expensive. With the deregulation of airlines in the United States, world travel became much more affordable to the average person. As a result, air travel became more common.
Considering that bed bugs are great hitchhikers, it is believed that people going on vacation to bed bug infested regions, mostly developing nations, would bring these critters back home in their luggage and clothing.
This is one of the most accepted explanations regarding where these new pesticide resistant bed bugs came from but doesn’t account for how rapidly they spread within large cities in North America. To explore that more deeply the following section explains how higher densely populated cities can be blamed.
Higher population density
The global population has increased at enormous rates over the past 50 years, most of it occuring in large cities around the world. As a result, cities have much higher population densities than before.
High population densities puts people much closer to their neighbours than ever before. Many of these people live in apartments or other types of joined housing which makes it very easy for bed bugs to move from one home to another.
Bed bugs are notorious for hiding in cracks and crevices within houses and apartments, which is one of the reasons they are so difficult to detect and kill. While hiding in these areas within houses that share walls, the bed bugs easily move around.
Densely populated cities around North America are experiencing a rapid surge of bed bugs due to these reasons. You can find out how infested your city s by visiting the bed bug registry.
Increase in organic farming
Another theory for the spread of bed bugs is the organic food industry in North America. Organic poultry farms in particular have been known to get infested with bed bugs.
Since there are thousands of chickens being raised together without the use of pesticides bed bugs are able to breed in the millions and proliferate in these ideal living conditions. This creates a problem for the chickens psychologically and also directly affects those working with the chickens.
There is no evidence that the bed bugs get transported from farms to grocery stores, however, it is highly likely that this is happening and further contributing to the spread of bed bugs into large cities.
Resistance to pesticides
There is a belief that the bed bug resurgence has occurred because DDT was banned, however, this is not the case. The bed bugs that have been re-emerging are pesticide resistant and do not die off with the standard DDT spraying method. In fact, pesticide resistant bed bugs were first noticed shortly after the introduction of DDT during the late 1940’s in Hawaii.
Bed bugs are now more difficult to kill due to the obvious fact that they are very good at hiding and also from their pesticide resistance. They have gone through a genetic mutation known as knockdown resistance which enabled them to build a resistance to DDT and other insecticides.
Bed bugs have developed an enzyme called P450 that allows their body to break down pesticides much quicker thus making it less toxic. Another biological change in bed bugs which allows for such resistance is that they now have thicker exoskeletons making it more difficult for pesticides to penetrate into their body.
Why not use stronger pesticides?
Developing stronger pesticides to combat bed bugs seems like the logical choice. Part of the issue with using stronger pesticides is that bed bugs live in bedrooms so it would be very difficult to safely spray an infested room without harming the people living there.
Another reason that stronger pesticides haven’t been put into production is that chemical companies don’t have an economic interest in it. In order for a chemical company to prove that a pesticide is safe to use and effective, they could spend up to $256 million for each active ingredient over a period of 10 years of research.
Considering that the majority of pesticides are used in agriculture, large chemical firms do not have a vested interest in formulating a new bed bug pesticide.
What is the new solution?
Since these mutated bed bugs are resistant to pesticides, other extermination methods are now being used.
Some of the most popular and eco-friendly options include steam treatment and heat treatment. Both of these treatments kill the bed bugs by creating an environment far too hot for them or their eggs to survive.
You can read more about these eco-friendly bed bug treatment options by clicking here