Bed bugs have been with us for a long time. They’re not exactly an old friend, but they have been with our species through thick and thin. Bed bugs have been described in writing for thousands of years, and the science surrounding them has been bizarre throughout the years. Some of the earliest references of bed bugs included medicinal properties for treating ailments like snake bites, ear infections, and hysteria.
In recent years, our relationship with bed bugs has changed. Home infestations rose to universal prominence in the 19th and early 20th century, and they’re coming back again at the turn of the 21st. We are now much more interested in bed bug treatments that are against bed bugs, not using them. But what does the future of these treatment methods look like, now that bed bugs are threatening to take over our daily lives yet again?
A History of Bed Bug Treatments
For as long as people have been plagued by bed bug infestations, they have desperately experimented with ways to stop the biting. Traditional bed bug treatments include using bean leaves — which have tiny barbs that pierce the bug’s shell — as well as bowls of oil under beds, smoke from burning decayed leaves as a method of home fumigation, and plant ash applied much like diatomaceous earth is often used today.
As electricity became common in the early 20th century, bed bugs had an easier time surviving the winters, and were able to become even more prominent than before. New methods of treatment were needed to curb this growing world threat. When US military bases began reporting bed bug infestations during World War II, the weapon of choice was fumigation with Zyklon B (which is infamous for its use in Nazi extermination camps).
DDT spraying during World War II. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine
After the war, Zyklon’s use decreased and was largely replaced as an insecticide by DDT. DDT was so effective against bed bugs that the species was nearly wiped out in many parts of the world. However, its adverse effects on many wildlife species made DDT the target of widespread criticism, and its use was mostly banned by the end of the 20th century.
No one knows exactly why bed bugs are coming back with such prevalence. While many are quick to point the blame at the banning of DDT in 2001, experts doubt that DDT would have prevented this new epidemic. With their uncanny ability to rapidly build resistance to many pesticide chemicals, bed bugs found today are believed to be widely immune to DDT. To make matters worse, most pesticide sprays found at local grocery and hardware stores still use outdated ingredients that are no longer effective against today’s strains of bed bugs.
There are a few common theories explaining how bed bugs have been able to return so dramatically. After the end of the Cold War, airline deregulation made air travel much more affordable and available across the globe. It’s likely that bed bugs took advantage of these new travel routes to spread from where they had managed to survive the scourge of DDT. Other factors include the growing prominence of year-round climate control, making it easier for bed bugs to survive and thrive year-round.
It’s almost certain, at this point, that bed bugs will be here to stay for a long time. If we want to keep our collective sanity, we’ll need to educate the world on new and effective ways to deal with bed bug infestations as they become even more common in the coming years. Fortunately, bed bug treatments can be done effectively and affordably, whether by a professional or in a do-it-yourself fashion.
Holistic treatment methods are quickly gaining preference by pest control professionals and homeowners alike. Recognizing that many techniques are not effective by themselves, but can be part of a very effective combined process, a number of common holistic procedures have started to make their way into the public spotlight. Bed Bug Supply’s own 4-step solution is built on a combination of chemical and nonchemical treatment methods, and includes defensive tools to help prevent future infestations.
Due to the spread of bed bug infestations across the country, manufacturers of insecticides and other products have begun designing and producing treatment tools aimed specifically at bed bug treatment. Even today, new products like the Cimex Eradicator, Thermalstrike Ranger, and CimeXa dust specialize exclusively in killing bed bugs. What used to be a loose portfolio of general-purpose tools is quickly evolving into a whole market aimed solely at making bed bug treatments more effective.
Modern bed bug research. Credit: US Navy
In the coming years, we may begin to see even more unique and innovative bed bug fighting tools enter this growing market. Researchers are hard at work discovering and studying new and unusual techniques that may be viable for consumer use in the near future. Concepts on display at recent conferences include fungal spores that sprout and strangle bed bugs or antibiotics in human blood that may weaken bugs that ingest them. The war on bed bugs is just getting started, and humanity is going to go in guns blazing.