There’s no denying that bed bugs are an epidemic. What was once just a rhyme is now a very real threat spreading across North America and beyond. Bed bugs were here before, and we almost wiped them out. Why are bed bugs back now, with such prevalence?
Bed bugs have been feeding on humans since before written history, and were common in Europe and the Americas from the 17th to 19th centuries. In the 1800s, English and American homes were regularly fumigated with smoke from decayed vegetations to clear out bed bug infestations. As electricity became common in the early 20th century, bed bugs had an easier time surviving the winters, and became a more widespread problem.
DDT, a potent insecticide, gained popularity during World War II. The chemical was so effective at wiping out bed bug infestations that the species was nearly wiped out in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT became the target of criticism during the environmental movement of the 60s. The movement led to an agricultural ban of DDT in 1972, and the eventual ban of its use worldwide in the 2001 Stockholm Convention.
With DDT off of the table, bed bugs began their return. Over the 50 years since their decline, advances in transportation technology had allowed travel to explode around the world. Bed bugs now have an easy time moving from place to place, and the pesticides in use are nowhere near as effective as DDT was. After the 2001 ban, the number of bed bug infestations in Europe multiplied year after year- it was only a matter of time before the epidemic reached the US and Canada.
Fast forward to 2013, and the struggle is apparent everywhere. Bed bugs make the news every day, infesting hotels, libraries, trains, and anywhere else that people frequent. Today’s modern luxuries allow bed bugs to travel with ease: with thousands of flights every day, and central heating keeping home temperatures comfortable year-round, there’s nothing stopping these pests from thriving.
Unfortunately, the solution to today’s bed bug epidemic won’t be as simple as the one a century ago. Any insecticide that’s strong enough to kill every bed bug in a home would likely be too harmful to the people and pets that inhabit it, or to the environment outside. Consequently, organizations like the EPA keep chemical development strictly regulated, for the sake of public safety. Don’t count on another silver bullet like DDT to pop up and save the day.
I’d hate to write an article that’s all bad news. There certainly is hope against this menace; we just need to spread awareness and education, and use the right treatment methods for today’s bed bugs. People need to know how they get bed bugs, how to treat infestations if they have them, and how to prevent them if they don’t. We also need to promote holistic solutions with proven products, and discourage the use of ineffective foggers and outdated chemical sprays.
Arm yourselves with knowledge, folks. Bed bugs are back, and they mean business.