The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites and generally irritating their human hosts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all consider bed bugs a public health pest. However, unlike most public health pests, bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease.
They can, however, cause otherpublic health issues, so it’s important to pay close attention to preventing and controlling bed bugs.
Experts believe the recent increase in bed bugs in the United States may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance of bed bugs to pesticides, and ineffective pest control practices.
The good news is that there are ways to control bed bugs. Getting good, solid information is the first step in both prevention and control. While there is no chemical quick fix, there are effective strategies to control bed bugs involving both non-chemical and chemical methods.
Bed bugs can be hard to find and identify, given their small size and their habit of staying hidden. It helps to know what they look like, since the various life stages have different forms.
Adult bed bugs, in general, are:
about the size of an apple seed (5-7 mm or 3/16 - 1/4 inch long);
long and brown, with a flat, oval-shaped body (if not fed recently);
balloon-like, reddish-brown, and more elongated (if fed recently);
a “true bug” (characteristics of true bugs include a beak with three segments; antenna that have four parts; wings that are not used for flying; and short, golden-colored hairs); and
smelly, with a “musty-sweetish” odor produced through glands on the lower side of the body.
Young bed bugs (also called nymphs), in general, are:
smaller, translucent or whitish-yellow in color; and
if not recently fed, can be nearly invisible to the naked eye because of coloring and size.
Bed bug eggs, in general, are:
tiny, the size of a pinhead;
pearl-white in color; and
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
When a bed bug infestation is discovered there are multiple methods for controlling it. Be aware that it will take time and patience; there is no quick fix for eradication. There are both chemical and non-chemical approaches are available. While using one or the other works, an approach that uses a combination of both can be the most effective. Using this combination of approaches is often referred to as integrated pest management.
Preparing for controlis very important whether you are considering hiring a professional or planning to do it yourself.
If you would like to use ado-it-yourselfapproach, be sure to come up with a plan to execute to ensure eradication and safety. All do-it-yourself products, especially foggers, should be researched and employed properly. In addition, you should be careful to only use legal control methods, as others may cause serious harm.
PA has registered more than 300 products for use against bed bugs. Most of these can be used by consumers, but a few are registered for use only by specially trained professionals. EPA evaluates data on the safety and the effectiveness of the products before approving them.
There are also two additional chemical classes registered for very narrow use patterns. Dichlorvos (also known as DDVP, an organophosphate) is registered as a pest strip for treatment of small enclosures; and propoxur (an n-methyl-carbamate) is registered only for use in commercial and industrial buildings where children are not present.
Each chemical class kills bed bugs using a different mode of action. It can be helpful to use pesticides that differ in their mode of action because it can reduce the likelihood that the bugs will develop resistance. The following paragraphs discuss in more details each of the more commonly used chemical classes for bed bugs.
Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids:Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most common compounds used to control bed bugs and other indoor pests. Pyrethrins are botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemical insecticides that act like pyrethrins. Both compounds are lethal to bed bugs and can flush bed bugs out of their hiding places and kill them. However, where resistant bed bug strains exist, these treatments may cause them to move to a new hiding place or temporarily flush them out of existing locations.
Some bed bug populations have become resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Sometimes using a combination product (either multiple pyrethroid or pyrethrin active ingredients, or one that combines different chemical classes into the same product) can improve bed bug control. It can also be helpful to switch to an entirely different chemical class to control resistant bed bug populations.
Some pyrethroid pesticides come in the form of a total release fogger. SeeShould I Use a Fogger?for information about fogger use and safety.
Desiccants:Desiccants work by destroying the waxy, protective outer coating on a bed bug. Once this coating is destroyed, the bed bugs will slowly dehydrate and die. Desiccants are a valuable tool in bed bug control. Because desiccants work through a physical mode of action, the bed bugs cannot become resistant to desiccants as they can to pesticides with other modes of action. In addition, they have a long-lasting effect and don't disturb normal bed bug activities.
Examples of desiccants include:
When using desiccants to control bed bugs it is critical to use those that are registered by EPA and labeled for bed bug control. Desiccants that are intended for other uses, such as food-grade or for use in swimming pools, pose an increased inhalation risk to people. Use of desiccants is limited to cracks and crevices use only to reduce inhalation risk.
Biochemicals:Cold pressed neem oil is the only biochemical pesticide registered for use against bed bugs. Cold pressed neem oil is pressed directly from seeds of the Neem tree, a tropical evergreen tree found in Southeast Asia and Africa. The oil contains various compounds that have insecticidal and medicinal properties. It is also used in making products including shampoos, toothpaste, soaps, and cosmetics. Performance trials conducted at the approved label rates show both products control bed bug adults, nymphs, and eggs.
Pyrroles:Chlorfenapyr is the only pyrrole pesticide currently registered for use against bed bugs. The compound is a pro-insecticide, i.e. the biological activity depends on its activation to form another chemical. The new chemical disrupts certain functions in the bed bug's cells, causing its death.
Neonicotinoids: Neonicotinoids are synthetic forms of nicotine and act on the nicotinic receptors of the nervous system by causing nerves to fire continually until they fail. Because neonicotinoids use this different mode of action, bed bugs that are resistant to other pesticides will remain susceptible to the neonicotinoid.
Insect growth regulators:Insect growth regulators are chemicals that mimic juvenile growth hormones in insects. They work by either altering the production of chitin (the compound insects use to make their hard external "shell" or exoskeleton) or by altering an insect's development into adulthood. Some growth regulators force the insect to develop too rapidly, while others stop development.
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