Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are once again a problem in the United States, around the world—and even in Sacramento—a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

Bed bugs were seemingly eradicated in the United States and much of the rest of the world back in the 1940s, largely due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT.  Use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1971, and later in the rest of the world, due to environmental and health concerns. The resurgence of bedbugs has been attributed in part to the ban on DDT, to increased global travel, and to the possibility that the insects have developed resistance to pesticides. Increased use of baits to control insect infestations, which results in less pesticide residue, and the use of very targeted insecticides—both mainstays of modern integrated pest management methods—may also be contributing to the bed bug problem.

Whatever the reason, there has been a 71% increase in reports of bed bugs since 2001, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). The problem has become so serious that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has included research into prevention and treatment of bed bug infestations in its Healthy Homes Strategic Plan (www.hud.gov/healthyhomes).

Bed bugs have been known at least since the 1700s in Jamaica and are believed to have been transported to the United States by European colonists. Although they thrive in crowded and cluttered conditions, which give them lots of hiding places close to the humans they feed upon, bed bugs don’t discriminate between clean and dirty environments. “The cleanest living area can have a very large infestation, and improving sanitation alone will not eliminate an established bed bug population…,” said Dr. Harold Harlan, a former career bug expert for the military in a recent MSNBC interview. “Almost anyone is at risk of having an infestation if bed bugs are brought into their home.”

Bed bugs can be brought into your home from hotels, theaters, even public transportation. They are nocturnal, typically active after midnight into the early morning hours. Flat and brown and about the size and shape of an apple seed, they hide in the tiniest of cracks and crevices, usually near where their human hosts sleep. Check for brownish stains or black specks in the seams of mattresses and behind bed headboards.

Although bed bugs do harbor germs that can make humans sick, there is no evidence anyone has ever become ill as a result of bed bug bites. However, their bites often cause a red rash or welts, and some people who are especially sensitive may have serious allergic reactions.

As the bed bug population continues to explode, scientists and pest control experts are focusing on the biology and habits of these distasteful pests. A recent article by leading pest control industry publication PCT Magazine reported on a fascinating three-year scientific study of bed bugs in a high-rise apartment building in Indiana. Using interceptors, or traps, the scientists learned, among other things, that the bugs spread from one apartment to another by simply walking out the front door and down the hall to the next apartment.

For more information about bed bugs, see our December article, or call our office, 916-457-7605, to speak with one of our trained pest control professionals.