Updated: May 25
They’re, unpleasant, unwelcome and . . . very, very hard to eradicate!
Now, the fact that these blood-sucking ‘vampires’ are so resilient may be good news for some professional pest control companies, but not for the rest of us. After all, no one wants bed bugs in their home or office, right?
So why, with all the various means at our disposal, are bed bugs so hard to get rid of? It’s in the genes!
DDT and Bed Bugs: A History
At one time many people thought that bed bugs were truly a thing of the past. Much of that optimism stemmed from the introduction of DDT in 1939. This new pesticide turned out to be remarkably successful at killing bugs of every description.
The fact is that DDT was so new and so potent that insects had few, if any, defenses and were highly vulnerable to its effects. The result was an enormous reduction in the numbers of all kinds of insects, bed bugs included. What’s more, DDT also remained effective for months after its initial application which, in the case of bed bugs, was particularly lethal, since the residue tended to linger in all those places that bed bugs called home, e.g. cracks, crevices, behind baseboards, dresser drawers, upholstery and drapes, mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, wallpaper, or clutter around a bed, etc.
Of course, it was only some time later that we learned ̶ thanks to the publication of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, in 1962 ̶ that this ‘miracle’ substance, along with a host of other synthetic pesticides, also created a wide range of environmental problems.
A New Generation of Bed Bugs
People didn’t stop manufacturing pesticides completely, they just did it differently. However, one of the reasons for the ‘return’ of the bed bug had to do with that new approach to the creation of pesticides. Research suggest that by 2000 new strains of pesticide-resistant bed bugs were appearing all over the US.
For example, a recent study by researchers at Rutgers University found that 1 in 8 low-income apartments in various New Jersey cities were infested with bed bugs, even though these apartments had been treated a number of times.
Pesticide Resistant Bed Bugs
Another study, published in Nature Communications, indicates that the reason underlying this resistance is inherent in lie in the bed bug’s genome. According to project co-leader, Coby Schal, "The genome sequence shows genes that encode enzymes and other proteins that the bed bug can use to fight insecticides, whether by degrading them or by preventing them from penetrating its body."
There are other factors at work (more about them later), but growing resistance levels are certainly a major force in this developmental dynamic. In fact, bed bugs possess have what is known as ‘knockdown resistance,’ a type of genetic mutation that also imbues them with resistance to DDT. Plus, our ‘vampire’ foes also possess so-called P450 enzymes that allow them to break down pesticides so rapidly that are less toxic.
Why can’t the chemical industry devise a sure-fire bed bug insecticide?
Genetic evolution notwithstanding, there are other, more mundane reasons that bed bugs are so hard to eradicate. We keep getting bed bug bites. (See pictures of bed bug bites below) How come?
To begin with, bed bugs can procreate at astonishing rates. One female bed bug can produce three to four generations of little bed bugs in a year and over her lifetime is capable of laying at least 500 eggs. It’s also worth pointing out that bed bugs thrive in temperatures between 70- and 82-degrees Fahrenheit, which just happens to be the range in which most of us set our thermostats!
We should also consider the fact that bed bugs are able to live for considerable periods without feeding. Research has shown that bed bugs can survive for as long as 500 days ̶ and as much as a year ̶ without sustenance.
Another factor that makes bed bugs so steadfast and hard to eradicate is that they spread very quickly in urban areas, especially apartment buildings.
So, you might well ask, why can’t the chemical industry devise some super-effective insecticide that can completely eliminate bed bugs?
Why It's Hard to Find a Good Bed Bug Spray
From an industry point of view this is regarded as a ‘pipeline problem.’ According to some experts, there are a number of challenges that the industry faces when it comes to new product development, including:
Development costs continue to increase
Synthetic targets increasing in complexity
Increased regulatory demands
High attrition rate
Higher manufacturing costs
Lower payer costs
Major patent expirations
Cost competitive R&D
It’s generally recognized that bringing new chemical products ̶ medicines, pesticides, etc ̶ is an incredibly expensive proposition. When it comes to the R&D that goes into developing insecticides, it’s been estimated that it costs approximately $256 million per active ingredient over a period of a decade. Plus, the ROI on developing new bed bug insecticides is quite small, and thus not a major focus of today’s chemical companies.
But the Bed Bugs Keep Coming
According to George Dvorsky, writing in Gizmondo, the US spends over $250 million in its collective fight against bed bugs. And yet, their numbers only seem to increase!
Research conducted by the University of Sydney suggests that bed bugs have developed the ability to neutralize the effects of many insecticides. They’re not completely immune, of course, but it does seem that these bugs are now growing thicker cuticles, which allows them to tolerate exceptionally significant doses of most insecticides.
David G. Lily, a PhD student who was part of the university’s research team, explained:
[Our] findings reveal that one way bed bugs beat insecticides is by developing a thicker
‘skin’. Bed bugs, like all insects, are covered by an exoskeleton called a cuticle. Using
scanning electron microscopy, we were able to compare the thickness of cuticle taken
from specimens of bed bugs resistant to insecticides and from those more easily killed
by those same insecticides.”
As for next steps, Lily suggests that:
“The new findings could explain why failures in the control of bed bug infestations are
so common. They may also unlock new pathways to developing more effective
insecticides for bed bug control.”
Another possible factor in the increase in bed bug numbers is, paradoxically, the rise in the number of pest control professionals who specialize in bed bug eradication. Needless to say, using these professionals is often the best way to tackle bed bug infestations. However, the paradox lies in the fact bed bugs are now able to detect the chemicals used by pest control specialists; the more they use, the better able the bugs are in being able to sense, and thus avoid, these pesticides.
How to Keep the Bed Bugs at Bay
The scientific fact of the matter is that there is at least one truly effective and easy to acquire pesticide on the market: Sterifab®. To find out more about how Sterifab can help you eradicate these nasty buggers, take a look at the the articles on this site and read all about how to get rid of bed bugs.
However, keeping those nasty interlopers at bay is, unfortunately, an ongoing task. In addition to using Sterifab when needed, it’s also a good idea to treat and clean every possible bed bug hiding place. In your home, every item of clothing, bedding, linens and other washable fabrics should be at the highest temperature possible.
Also, be sure to inspect every crevice and seam of mattresses and upholstered furniture. You should also empty and treat dresser drawers and remove as much clutter as you can. Bed bugs love to burrow down into those piles of newspapers you have stacked in the corner. Finally, seal any cracks in the walls and remove, or reattach, loose wallpaper. And don’t forget to treat and thoroughly vacuum all your carpets and rugs.
Finally, and while this may seem obvious, if you want to get rid of bed bugs for good, you should
...make sure you actually have bed bug bites
Sometimes, you may have trouble killing bed bugs because you don't in fact have them at all. There are several other pests that can be confused with bed bugs. Learn how to tell if you have scabies or bed bugs bites, mites or ticks.) Once you have identified your intruder, you can know how to get rid of them - for good!
Identifying Bed Bug Bites
Here are some pictures of bed bug bites. (Stop scrolling if you're eating right now!) Look for these if you want to be sure you do indeed have a bed bug problem: