Bed Bugs Coming Back To Bite Us

2011-12-08 |

At least as far back as the times of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, more than 3000 years ago, bed bugs have been unwanted residents in our homes. Bed bugs were found in the sealed tombs of the pharaohs and were written about later by authors from the Greek and Roman civilizations. For several millennia, these small insects have been sucking the blood of our sleeping ancestors generation after generation. Fortunately, bed bugs did not spread disease like other pests such as fleas.

For people living in the Western world, exposure to bed bugs has been very rare. This was due to the introduction of insecticides in the 1940’s that all but eliminated bed bug exposure in first world nations. In many cases, the existence of bed bugs has been considered a consequence of unsanitary living conditions. Unfortunately, within the last decade, bed bugs have been reestablishing their presence and bringing along some serious health risks as a result.

What Are Bed bugs And Why Are Bed Bugs Coming Back?

Bed bugs are flightless, flat, brown or yellow insects no larger than 1/4 of an inch or 5 millimeters in size. They normally hide in crevices and cracks near a food source such as our pets or us until they decide to feed. Bed bugs are most active at night and will bite exposed skin to drink blood. Like a mosquito, they inject saliva to thin the blood and make it easier to consume. Although they are hard to spot, we can detect their presence by the brown stains caused by their excrement.

While the reasons for the return of the bed bug are unclear, scientists believe that sharing contaminated furniture, increased travel, reduced pesticide use and insecticide resistance have all contributed. In a 2007 study from the University of Kentucky, scientists analyzing bed bugs for insecticide resistance found that captured insects were very resilient to pesticides. When the researchers used the recommended dose of standard, legal insecticides, they killed less than 5% of sample bed bug populations from a number of different cities.

A subsequent study from the same university in 2010 found that 88% of bed bug populations collected from around the US had developed one or two genetic mutations. The mutations make the bed bugs resistant to the most commonly used insecticide. These results indicate that many decades of pesticide use have created a highly resistant insect.

What is worse is that bed bugs can survive drastic drops in their population and still rebuild the population. Research from North Carolina State University, just published, has found that in infested apartment buildings, the genetic variation of the insects was very low. This means that closely related insects can breed to produce healthy offspring, something that most other life forms cannot. As a result, only a few survivors after insecticide treatment can quickly rebuild a population.

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Category: Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks, Medical Treatment

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