A lice outbreak has been making the rounds among the grade schools and preschools in our area, and just the thought of my kids coming home with lice makes me start to itch all over. (Must stop typing to scratch head.) A friend’s daughter got lice last year, and she said (in an obviously facetious, but clearly exhausted way) that, in hindsight, after what she had to go through to get rid of the lice, it would have just been easier to burn her house down.
The thought of just one of those little critters cruising into our lives on a head or a hat has me quaking in my snowboots. I’m suspiciously searching my kids’ heads the minute they come home from school. But, apparently, I should be bugging out over a far bigger problem: bedbugs. They’re everywhere. And they’re stronger than ever.
It’s not news that our country has been fighting a bedbug battle for a while now. And so far, it looks like the bugs are winning. This week, Ohio State University released a first-of-its-kind molecular study on the critters to help us more clearly understand what’s going on. The studied essentially proved the hypotheses that bedbugs have evolved genetically to resist the pesticides that we’re using to try to eradicate them. The study showed that some populations of bedbugs can survive 1,000 times the amount of pesticide that would have been needed to kill them decades ago.
Meanwhile, as they grow more and more resistant to our pesticides, bedbugs continue to reproduce like crazy in hotels and cruise ships and dorm rooms and daycare centers and retail outlets and homes around the country. The study cites an estimated 100–500% increase in bed bug populations each year. It also cites a survey by the National Pest Management Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating that bedbug “stress calls” increased 81% during the last decade, with the majority of complaints coming from occupants of multi-unit apartment complexes in urban areas. Furthermore, 76% of pest management companies confirmed that bedbugs were the most difficult pest to control (www.pestworld.org). The researchers estimate that billions of dollars are being spent annually on trying to control infestations.
Some have blamed the resurgence of bedbugs on increased international travel and increases in exchanges of used furniture (Ebay and Craig’s List, anyone?). Regardless of how or why it’s happening, it’s a public health epidemic that can affect anyone.
Freaking out? Try these five tips for keeping the bedbugs away.