Bedbugs, DDT


Bedbugs came back.

Common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, University of Minnesota image

Common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, University of Minnesota image

Once a scourge, bedbugs seemed to have gone away, largely, during most of the past 30 years, in most of the western world. International travel and other conducive conditions joined in the perfect storm, however, and bedbug infestation reports are rising in places like New York City.

A significant number of news stories on the topic mention DDT, which was briefly the pesticide of choice against bedbugs. Probably a majority of the blog posts on the topic call for a return of DDT for general use.

This blog is a refreshing exception: New York vs. Bed Bugs, “No DDT, thanks, we’re good.”

Update: In comments, Bug Girl suggests we look at the blog of Bedbugger, and especially this interview with an entomologist.  Take a look — the expert, Dr. James W. Austin of Texas A&M, says bedbugs are about 100% resistant to DDT.

20 Responses to Bedbugs, DDT

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  3. Bug Girl says:

    I sympathize, and bedbugs are an area of frantic research right now. But they are known to be resistant to DDT and a wide variety of other pesticides. Licensed pest control operators and public health agencies have the most up to date info on what is available (and still working).

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  4. Kander says:

    Have there been current studies using DDT? I have to tell you, I work with low income renters and homeowners, and bedbugs are destroying their lives. What do you tell the Grandmother whose landlord has not only evicted her, but thrown out her furniture? Or the the working mother of 2, who can choose between the mortgage for the next two months, or an exterminator. How about some more funding on the subject? How many actual studies are in play right now? Come on, the patent would have to be worth a million. Are the chemical companies working on this?

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  5. smadden says:

    Hey i like what you have to say. Check out my blog
    http://www.bedbugcentral.com/thecentralblog

    It’s all about bed bugs and linked to a web site about bed bugs. Tons of free information.

    And about DDT, I read that they stopped using DDT in the 70s/60s because the bed bugs were already building resistance to it back then. Interesting. I’ll try to find the article and post it for you.

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    DDT is also a case where the dangers of the chemical, apparent from the start, took more than 30 years before anyone acted on them. In that time, the abuse of the stuff caused the damage. We don’t need to return to abuse to work.

    The article says DDT was effective, but it doesn’t say it still is effective. I’ve spoken with four pest control guys, each of whom said that DDT wouldn’t be effective today. Bedbug resistance was prevalent in the U.S. by 1959, as I recall. One of the exterminators said that bedbugs in the Americas are 100% immune. I asked him whether the resistance wouldn’t decline after 3 decades of no use, but he insisted the genes are still in the bugs he’s had ground up and tested.

    Typhus is carried by lice, generally the same ones that travel with rats. There are a couple of vectors there to deal with. We have a vaccine for typhus, thanks to Hans Zinsser.

    Selective use of DDT is probably safe. There is no great need to bring it back in the U.S., and it is preferred to use something else, if possible, in every other application.

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  7. PrettyGirl says:

    Here’s one:

    “The federal health agency says insecticides such as DDT helped to keep the bed bug population at bay. With the increase of bait traps instead of broad-spectrum sprays, bed bugs are no longer being eliminated. ”

    And…

    “In the mid-20th century, the widespread use of DDT and various broad spectrum pesticides and insecticides caused the dramatic decline of the common bed bug — at least in the more affluent countries of the world.

    But since the ’70s, the available toxic tools to control pests like bedbugs have dwindled, to the point that modern pest control companies often try to bait and selectively target different insect pests by species. Some treat with steam, and a local B.C. pest control company even offers the services of two bed bug sniffing dogs. The result has been less nasty toxins sprayed in customer homes, but also more pests.”

    And getting rid of bbs:

    “The presence of bed bugs continues to increase,” says Richard Taki, director of health protection at Vancouver Coastal Health. “Everyone knows that [eradication] is not going to work with bed bugs. All you can do now is try to control it.”

    Also….

    “Do I hear Typhus anyone?

    And various other diseases. Our society has been relatively plague free for the last 60 or so years, well beyond the age of most readers here.

    The studies I have read about DDT by the scientific community state that it is an excellent substance when used in selected locations, such as indoors for bed bugs. The problems were caused due to widespread spraying.

    DDT was in fact one of the first “successes” of the “Green Movement” where lay people, using popular tear jerking, succeed in banning a substance that had excellent uses.”

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    If you have a science paper that says bedbugs in the U.S. are not resistant to DDT, would you share it?

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  9. PrettyGirl says:

    “As a spokesman for the U.S. chemical industry famously said when the Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was published,

    ‘If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.’

    Perhaps those days are upon us right now. ”

    Above quoted from BuggedOut Blog

    Ed Darrell says:

    “…with a special exemption for the use of DDT anywhere there’s an ’emergency.'” Well, if bedbugs and the growing epidemic aren’t considered an emergency, then we are all in big trouble.

    “There are plenty of other ways to get rid of them.”

    Yeah, like leaving your home with NOTHING and starting all over again. Spending thousands upon thousands of dollars which, quite frankly, a lotta people do not have. Some people have actually gone bankrupt because of this so-called pest. Spending months and months of doing back-breaking labor on top of our regular jobs that actually pay our salaries. Sure, there are ways to get rid of them, just very traumatic ways. People that spot bed bugs right away are the lucky ones who get rid of them, in let’s say couple months. What about people who do not recognize these little monsters before they get a foothold in your place of residence or job or car. They are a focker to get rid of, that’s for sure.

    I understand your point-of-view. Why that’s what open-minded is, looking at both sides of the equation. I’m not saying spray every living thing. Just our homes. Bald Eagles don’t normally reside with us humans in our homes, as well as “our top predators” as you say. Spraying DDT in our homes will not kill off these things.

    And I’m still not buying the resistance theory for every article that says there is resistance, there is an article that says there is not.

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  10. Bug Girl says:

    PrettyGirl said:

    And who do you think pays the entomologists’ salaries. Not us taxpayers, that’s for sure. BTW, I thought that DDT was banned 30 years ago. How did these entomologists get their hands on DDT.

    Actually, the VAST majority of entomologists work for State, Federal Agencies, USDA Extension, or universities. Only a very small proportion works in industry.
    You can check the Entomological Society of America Stats.

    You can apply to get any chemical, even if it is banned, in small amounts for *research* purposes in the US. We don’t allow Dioxins anymore either, but there is plenty of dioxin research, for example.
    There is a great deal of regulation, and each time some is removed you have to carefully note the use and weight. If you are audited and there is a gram missing, there is heck to pay.

    I’ll ditto Ed’s comment about Open Mindedness. :)

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Head on over the Bedbugs blog and check it out. Bedbug resistance to DDT is pretty complete, from everything I’ve read. DDT wasn’t effective against ’em in the U.S. by 1960. Every bedbug whose genome has been worked out has the stuff to make them resistant or immune. If you have bedbugs and you think they are not immune to DDT, have them tested. There are plenty of other ways to get rid of them.

    DDT was banned from broadcast use in agricultural spraying, in the U.S. and a few European nations. It was available for emergency use always, however — against the tussock moth in the Pacific Northwest in 1974, for example — and it has been constantly in use in Mexico since 1946. The POPs treaty calls for an ultimate ban, but it’s a phase-in sort of deal, with a special exemption for the use of DDT anywhere there’s an “emergency.”

    DDT came off the market because it is extremely damaging to the environment, which includes especially those insects, arachnids, lizards and small mammals that prey on insects like mosquitoes. In the wild, it bioaccumulates and takes out the top predators, especially in estuaries, where eagles, osprey and brown pelicans tend to be at the top of the chain. When the good predators are gone, the pests multiply.

    Open-minded? Sure, to facts. Not to false myths, biased reporting, and calumny campaigns.

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  12. PrettyGirl says:

    FYI. I know all about evolution. And who do you think pays the entomologists’ salaries. Not us taxpayers, that’s for sure. BTW, I thought that DDT was banned 30 years ago. How did these entomologists get their hands on DDT. Can you honestly tell me that 100% of bbs are resistant to DDT….NOT! I agree that maybe SOME, but not 100%. Malathion, carbomates, etc. Bedbugs are not all 100% resistant to all of these as well. They took DDT off the market for one reason only…to save the environment, that’s it. The resistance idea came out after bbs started to come back in 1999 and I feel that’s because DDT is finally now starting to leave the environment. Sure, bbs were around in the US, but not as much. Tells us something. Be open-minded.

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  13. Bug Girl says:

    Why would entomologists deliberately collaborate in a massive cover up?
    There are many, many reports in peer-reviewed journals of insecticide resistance in Bed Bugs, as well as in many other insects.

    I think you need a better understanding of just how resistance happens.
    But something tells me you probably aren’t interested in evolution either.
    :(

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  14. PrettyGirl says:

    I do not believe all the propaganda that DDT and all the other OLD pesticides are not working because bbs are 100% resistant to them. A lotta pesticides were taken off the market because they were harming the environment….that’s all. The way exterminators used to take care of roaches and bugs was to spray all the baseboards, thereby killing a lotta other insects as well. And you didn’t need to leave the house for hours and your pets were not at risk. Baits are no good. We need to bring back the old way of doing things. As a child my mom had an exterminator come and it wasn’t such a hazard as today’s ridiculous pesticides that not only do not work, but are more toxic to us and less effective on the damn bbs. We had 3 cats who lived to a very old age and us kids are doing just fine as are our own kids. Everything is not working. Just look at the statistics…..reports of bb infestations are going up every year. That should tell everyone something. These lousy pesticides of today do not work. Bring back the stuff that does and do not feed me any propaganda about resistance to the old stuff. Not buying it one bit.

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  15. Bill Pruett says:

    I think bringing back DDT would be a major mistake. There are new treatments being developed that are not anywhere near as dangerous as DDT. The problem with bedbugs is the amount of time it takes for their eggs to hatch. It takes several treatments to get thru the hatching cycle of the eggs left behind by the bugs in the initial kill.

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  16. nobugs says:

    oops– this is the link I was referring to from the BBC:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1677073.stm

    :-)

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  17. nobugs says:

    Thanks for linking to the Bedbugger interview with James Austin. (And thanks to Bug Girl for referring others to it!)

    Lots of folks call for DDT as a kind of knee-jerk reaction, and it’s understandable especially from desperate people with bed bugs. But the evidence does seem to be there that it is not going to solve the problem this time around.

    A snippet in this BBC article from 2001 says that when huts were treated with DDT for malarial mosquitoes (for which it is, of course, very helpful), it “has been found to make bed bugs more active.”

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  18. Renee says:

    Thanks–not least because I now know the story of Mencken’s bathtub.

    If DDT worked, we might have to think long and hard about risking appearing a little unhinged and advocating its impossible return.

    We have faith in the long-term future of insect control. Crazy things such as plasma. In the short term, plain education will help a great deal.

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  19. Bug Girl says:

    There’s some really interesting genetic work going on with bedbugs–it suggests they didn’t come from over seas, but have been here all along.
    A neat interview with a researcher:
    http://bedbugger.com/2008/03/20/bed-bugs-chickens-and-dna-with-james-austin/

    He also mentions the DDT resistance.

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