Is the USA losing the battle against bed bugs?

One of the main speakers at the Pest Summit 2010 in Bali raised the concern that the pest management industry could be in danger of losing control of bedbug infestations in the USA. The experiences there could be a warning for the European industry.

Dr Dini Miller is the associate professor in urban pest management at Virginia Technical Institute and State University in the United States. She is no stranger to the UK industry having spoken on bedbug control at the CIEH’s Best of the Best in 2009 and at other events where the UK have been well represented.

The UK does not appear to have the same horrific level of bedbug problems as the USA, where hotels and stores in big cities are having to close down because of the presence of bedbugs. However, there is clearly an increasing problem with what is one of the most difficult pests to control.

In the States, there are fewer pesticides that are permitted to be used on bedbugs. With no organophosphates or carbamates available, the main products are synthetic insecticides such as deltamethrin and lambda-cyhalothrin and insect growth regulators. There is the inevitable increasing resistance to these compounds as they are being extensively used.

This means that non-chemical control methods are being seen as the better alternative to insecticide treatments. These include heat or steam treatments, mattress encasements, thorough vacuuming and clutter reduction. All can work well but they are more labour intensive and therefore more expensive to carry out. Many building owners are finding the cost of a bedbug treatment to be prohibitive and are actually selling the apartment complexes because they cannot afford to carry out the multiple treatments necessary.

In the case of privately owned apartments, the cost of a proper treatment is so high that homeowners are trying DIY treatments, with very limited success or are simply either living with the problem or moving, thereby taking the problem with them.

Although EPA and State officials are concerned at the spread of bedbugs, they have very little experience of actual treatments and so have underestimated the size of the problem that is now being faced. There is a very real danger that the problem will get out of control.

This is a lesson for those responsible in the UK for public health, perhaps?