Entomologists call them bed bugs; newspaper accounts call them bedbugs. Regardless of spelling, the term can make anyone cringe. After all, the idea of having tiny insects crawling on you and feasting on your blood while you are asleep can make going to bed a disconcerting experience.
For many Americans, bedbugs were merely something in an old nursery rhyme that was often recited at bedtime. The bedbug problem in the United States was considered solved for more than 50 years, so only older Americans remember the steps that their parents took to safeguard their children. Some readers may remember visiting grandmother’s house as late as the 1960s and wondering why the legs of every bed were coated with petroleum jelly and placed inside large bowls or cans containing water. The idea was that the bedbugs would fall into the container, be unable to climb out and eventually drown.
Over the years, various methods were used to eradicate bedbugs. In the late 1700s, gunpowder was sometimes forced into the joints of the bed and then set on fire; setting fire to a container of sulfur was also considered an effective treatment. By the early 1900s, extermination methods included spraying the room with kerosene, turpentine or gasoline. Homeowners could even purchase containers of cyanide gas for fogging the bedroom. It does not take much imagination to visualize all of the things that often went wrong with these methods.
Enter the Age of DDT
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as DDT, was first used during World War II to control carriers of typhus and malaria. After the war, DDT saw widespread use as an insecticide for the control of agricultural pests as well as household pests. DDT was believed to be quite effective against bedbugs, but the chemical was banned for most uses in 1972.
Why Bedbug Infestations Have Exploded
Although bedbugs began returning to the United States during the 1980s, the number of infestations has exploded during the past two decades. No one is entirely certain of the cause, and most experts believe that there are multiple factors behind the return of the American bedbug.
• The ban on DDT has been cited as a potential cause of the growth in bedbug infestations.
• Bedbugs have been developing immunity to many of the pesticides commonly used to kill them.
• Unlike many other insects, bedbugs do very well when inbred. One fertilized female can be responsible for a massive infestation.
• International travel and immigration have increased. Bedbugs remain a major problem in parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. People immigrating from or traveling to these areas can bring bedbugs to the United States in their luggage, laptops, cell phones and other belongings.
• After the economic downturn in 2008, recycling became more popular. Many people turned to the purchase of used furniture and clothing to stretch their budgets, sometimes bringing bedbugs into their homes when they purchased a used sofa, mattress or other item.
• Bedbugs are remarkably resilient and secretive creatures. They can live without a blood meal for months, conceal themselves in the smallest of crevices and survive a wide range of temperatures.
• Some experts believe that bedbugs were never actually eradicated in the United States. Instead, they merely moved to locations other than homes. For example, many poultry facilities have been found to have high populations, and bedbugs have been discovered in subways, taxis, retail stores and buses.
The chemicals and methods available to the average homeowner are ineffective at eliminating bedbugs. In fact, some do-it-yourself treatments can actually make the problem worse. Professional help is needed to eliminate bedbugs and prevent their return.
If you need help treating your home or business for bed bugs and are in the Phoenix, AZ metro area call us today for help!