For decades, bed bugs were all but gone from the U.S. and developed countries. But in the 1990s the bugs started reappearing, and today they are considered to be a common pest that has enabled an entire industry to thrive and evolve.
Bed Bug History
Where did bed bugs come from? Why did they disappear, more importantly, why did they reappear? And what is their status today? To answer these, and other questions on the ever-evolving bed bug, following is a brief history of this biting bug in the U.S.
- The bed bugs were among the first settlers of the New World, having journeyed across the ocean with the early colonists. Historical documents describe bed bug infestations among 18th-century colonists of what is now the U.S. and Canada - but no writings indicated any such bed bug problems among Native Americans.
- According to the Entomological Society of America, bed bugs received "a big reproductive boost" when central heating was introduced in the early 1900s enabling the bugs to survive the cold winters.
- The bugs were considered to be one of the greatest problems for soldiers on U.S. bases during World War II - outside of actual fighting, of course.
- During this same decade, however, that much of the Western world began to see an eradication of the bed bugs.
- The eradication was due, to a great extent, to the use of the pesticides such as DDT. (In fact, many suspect that one cause of their current resurgence is the banning of DDT and reduced use of pesticides in general.)
- Although eradication has never been worldwide, in most parts of developed countries, the bugs became little more than a children's bedtime admonition: "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" ...
- ... until the 1990s when the bugs began to crawl back into the spotlight, appearing primarily in urban areas but being just as likely to infest high-end hotels as low-income housing.
- Today bed bugs are, once again, considered one of the most common pests throughout much of the civilized world - and one of the most difficult to control.
Why Bed Bugs Are Back
According to the CDC, the resurgence is suspected to be associated with:
- increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides.
- greater international and domestic travel.
- lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence.
- the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.
Whatever the reason, an entire industry has evolved around bed bug eradication, even to the point the it has been credited for enabling the pest control industry to thrive while other businesses have failed in the difficult years of the recession.
Partnering Against Bed Bugs
That same industry, however, is still learning to contend with the bugs, with new products (some effective, some not) and processes (some effective, some not) continually being introduced and tried.
Unfortunately, little has been introduced to allow homeowners to take care of a bed bug infestation on their own. Rather, an effective program will be a partnership, with:
- the pest control professional inspecting, making recommendations, then treating several times to eliminate the quickly reproducing bugs.
- the homeowner following all recommendations to clean, launder or discard household items, eliminate clutter, and not bring infested items back into the home.
- multi-unit home owners, dwellers, and property managers implementing preventive controls to reduce the chance of infestation and prevent spread from unit to unit.