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Over the past ten years, infestations of the bloodsucking bug have increased dramatically in many nations.

Nothing gives me the creeps like the thought of tiny, bloodsucking bugs dwelling in our bedrooms. The typical bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is about the size of a lentil. It can consume up to seven times its own weight in blood in a single feeding, leave unsightly, itchy lumps on its human hosts, and conceal itself for months at a time.

The bed bug has spread throughout the world’s homes and hotels since the late 1990s, becoming an increasingly prevalent urban annoyance. According to a 2010 poll by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, 95% of US pest management companies had dealt with a bed bug infestation in the year prior, up from 25% a decade earlier and 11% before that. A resource for others with bed bug infestations, New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had to fumigate one of its floors just last month.

According to the survey, bed bugs are more difficult to manage than ants, termites, and even the fearsome cockroach, according to the majority of pest control professionals from Europe, Africa, Australia, and North America. Another study revealed that, between 2000 and 2006, the number of bed bug treatments performed in London alone increased by 25% annually.

The saddest part of this is that we believed we had already dealt with the bed bug issue. According to Clive Boase, a pest management specialist in Suffolk and the author of the London survey, bedbug populations in the UK started to decline in the 1930s as a result of changes in public health and social housing policies that resulted in the demolition of older publicly-funded housing and the hiring of teams of inspectors to check homes for vermin, respectively. By the 1950s, infestations were uncommon thanks in part to new insecticides developed in the 1940s, such as DDT. Due to the development and widespread application of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides, the US had a comparable decline in infestations starting in the late 1940s.

Therefore, where is the chemical treatment this time? Or, can the plethora of bed bug goods and services—from growth inhibitors to heat treatments—provide any solace?

Combating resistance

According to Virginia Tech entomologist and bed bug specialist Dini Miller, the expense of the current pesticides prevents their broad use. She continues that it is too expensive and time-consuming to produce new, less expensive insecticides. Chemical manufacturers are required to submit thorough toxicity data to demonstrate that their products are safe for indoor use as they may come into contact with people or animals due to bed bugs’ preference for the bedroom.

According to a 2010 industry research carried out for Crop Life America and the European Crop Protection Association, demonstrating the efficacy and safety of a pesticide may cost a business up to $256 million over eight to ten years for each active component. It might not be worth the investment. The majority of pesticides used worldwide—over a fifth—are used in the US for agricultural purposes. Herbicides and insecticides come next. The real estate of all the apartments and houses in the world combined is modest and makes less money than the immense expanse of farmland and orchards, claims Miller. This is particularly problematic given that a unique ingredient’s patent protection expires after around 20 years, after which the tech is open to generic competitors.

Even if developing a novel bed bug insecticide were profitable, there would still be difficulties. Knowing how a chemical must work in order to eradicate bed bugs most effectively, affordably, and safely is a difficulty. A thorough understanding of the bed bug’s biology is necessary for this. However, because bed bugs persisted for so long at such low levels, interest in researching them declined. Scientists had to completely relearn bed bug fundamentals starting in the early 2000s after it became evident that the resurgence was real and that bed bugs weren’t going anywhere, beginning with basic concepts like how to cultivate them in a lab.

The cost of the research is still another issue. Although dozens of laboratories now exist in every country that has bed bugs, funding is still scarce, in part because bed bugs are not known to transmit disease.

The issue of pesticide resistance is the last one. Even the alleged miracle drug DDT couldn’t protect against this. DDT-resistant bed bugs first appeared in Hawaii five years after the pesticide became widely used in the US; in the 1950s and 1960s, resistant strains were also discovered in other parts of the US and in countries like Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, and French Guiana, to mention a few.

No chemical pesticide is impervious to resistance, especially when applied excessively. A genetic mutation that makes bed bugs resistant to pyrethroids, a class of insecticides that are frequently used to treat bed bugs and function similarly to DDT, has been found in about 90% of bed bugs today.

RestAsure is the only minimal-risk pesticide that completely eliminates bed bugs at all stages of life. It is invaluable to combat the spread of bed bugs. 

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