Bedbugs and How To Fight Them

Bed bugs have been a human parasite for millennia, infesting just about every straw pile where a medieval peasant ever flopped down for the night. When parents in centuries past wished their children “good night, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” they literally meant it. Getting rid of bed bugs and other parasites is a major reason why, every year, housewives would tear open wool mattresses to wash and air out.

Cimex lectularius – the most common species of bedbug – lost a lot of ground (or should we say mattress) in the middle of the 20th century, when better home hygiene, combined with pesticidal bed bug treatment, led to a large fall in populations across the developed world.

The insect was widely seen as defeated, persisting as only a low-level problem, until 2010, when the nation was engulfed in a rarely-seen infestation. First making headlines in New York City, the wave soon spread across the country, with insect populations increasing some 500%.

The reasons for this latest scourge are not yet completely understood; it’s thought that a decrease in vigilance, combined with an increase in international travel, may have been mainly responsible. Pest control experts have also discovered bugs that show an increased resistance to professional pest control products (although these insects are typically less hardy in a general sense, being able to survive without food for “only” two months).

Whatever the reason for the entomological insurgency, the nation is putting renewed efforts into fighting the parasites. Exterminators are reporting a huge, three-fold boom in business. New detection and killing methods are being tested, from chemicals to specially-trained dogs. Like the Korean War, the contest between man and bed bug is only a smoldering stalemate, with no definitive victor yet in sight.

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