Bed Bugs, Insecticides & Illness

In the past decade, Bed Bugs have gone from obscure references in nursery rhymes to epidemic. Bed Bugs have been found in hotels, homes, college dorms, cruise ships and even stretch limos. Bed Bugs have one food- human blood that they need to grow and develop. Bed bugs are patient and can go weeks without feeding. Feeding occurs at night when the victims are asleep. To avoid detection, Bed Bugs inject an anesthetic substance during feeding. After a brief meal, Bed Bugs return to a harborage. Because they are small and hide during the day, Bed Bugs are difficult to detect.

Bed Bug bites are unpleasant and people will go to great lengths to get rid of them. Sometimes this includes insecticide misuse that can lead to poisonings. My advice is to always use a licensed professional who knows and follows the rules for insecticide use. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) tracks illnesses and is THE authoritative source on pesticide poisonings. The CDC publishes its pesticide poisoning findings in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Poisonings related to pesticide use to control bedbugs is published in the September 23, 2011 issue of MMWR.

According to CDC, factors that most frequently contributed to insecticide-related illness were “excessive insecticide application (18%), failure to wash or change pesticide-treated bedding (16%), and inadequate notification of pesticide application (11%)”. A severe pesticide poisoning incident occurred in Ohio when an unlicensed applicator illegally sprayed malathion indoors. While malathion can be used outdoors safely, malathion and all other organophosphorous insecticides are banned from indoor use because of safety concerns. Several members of the family living in the treated residence became ill, some requiring hospitalization.

The most tragic outcome was the death of a North Carolina woman who was desperate to get rid of the Bed Bugs. According to CDC,

….a woman aged 65 years who had a history of renal failure, myocardial infarction and placement of two coronary stents, type II diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and depression. She was taking at least 10 medications at the time of exposure. After she complained to her husband about bed bugs, he applied an insecticide to their home interior baseboards, walls, and the area surrounding the bed, and a different insecticide to the mattress and box springs. Neither of these products are registered for use on bed bugs. Nine cans of insecticide fogger were released in the home the same day. Approximately 2 days later, insecticides were reapplied to the mattress, box springs, and surrounding areas, and nine cans of another fogger were released in the home. On both days the insecticides were applied, the couple left their home for 3 to 4 hours before reentering. Label instructions on the foggers to air out the treated area for 30 minutes with doors and windows open were not followed on either day. On the day of the second application, the woman applied a bedbug and flea insecticide to her arms, sores on her chest, and on her hair before covering it with a plastic cap. She also applied the insecticide to her hair the day before the second application. Two days following the second application, her husband found her nonresponsive. She was taken to the hospital and remained on a ventilator for 9 days until she died.

It is not clear how much the insecticide exposure contributed to her death.

Bed Bugs are a serious concern and people are desperate for solutions. Universities including Purdue are actively involved in finding solutions to Bed Bugs.

Underside of Immature Bed Bug

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Bed Bugs, Health, Pest Management. Bookmark the permalink.

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