Three recent bed bug related stories have drawn some media attention in the last couple of months. I thought we’d take a closer look at these stories to separate the media hype from the “need to know” essentials.
To start, I’ve seen a number of news stories (maybe just in my circles!) on the Simon Fraser University biologists, Regine and Gerhard Gries, discovery of a new bed bug pheromone lure. Bed bugs like to gather in groups. Based on that fact this new lure mimics a scent bed bugs are attracted to: themselves. The media may have latched on to the story because of the Gries’ unusual way of feeding the research subjects (on their own arms!). This is actually quite commonplace among unfortunate graduate students working on bed bug research projects
News stories on this lure like “Putting Bed Bugs to Bed Forever” in Science Daily have been a little misleading. The truth is this trap is not the answer to our bed bug infestation problems. This discovery IS a great development in monitoring for bed bugs. Monitoring and finding an infestation early makes control much easier. Although many bed bugs will be drawn into the traps, there’s always a lone female bed bug attempting to get away from the pesky males. As she wanders around, she’s laying eggs. While this new lure will be helpful in detection, it is very unlikely that traps will catch every single bed bug in an infested home. Unfortunately it will not take the place of treatments (heat, chemical, steam, desiccants or freezing). You will always have to choose a treatment option to manage bed bugs.
The other big story the media grabbed hold of was a recent study in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene which reported that bed bugs can carry and possibly transmit Chagas Disease. It’s important to note the research was done in a lab setting. In a natural setting this is extremely unlikely to occur. To spread Chagas disease a bed bug would have to leave droppings (bug poop) in the wound they create when they bite. Bed bugs typically do not to hang around where they bite; they retreat back to the folds of the mattress and other hiding places after they feed. Also working against disease transmission is the fact that most bed bugs will spend their entire lifetime in one room. If there’s nobody with Chagas disease in a home, they can’t pick it up and spread the disease. Although they will hitchhike and find a new host, they don’t move around from host to host like mosquitoes. If they are not changing hosts with every meal they are less likely to transmit the disease even if they do carry it. Want to learn more? See this article in Wired Magazine: Bed Bugs Won't Give You Chagas Disease (Probably)
Bed bug sniffing dogs also had their media moment this past month. ABC’s 20/20 aired areport questioning the accuracy of bed bug sniffing dogs. 4 out of the 11 dogs they tested falsely alerted to bed bugs in a home that was bed bug free. Watch the full report here: Not All Exterminator Dogs Are Perfect in Sniffing Out Bedbugs
Just like humans, dogs can make mistakes, but don’t rule out using a canine. There are many advantages to using a canine scent detection team. They make it easier and faster to inspect large areas. The alternative (visual inspection by humans) takes a long time and can be very expensive in multifamily housing. Bed bug sniffing dogs will save time and money in some circumstances. They can detect a single live bug and even a single viable egg! This helps us find infestations early and also helps determine if a treatment has been successful. There are very good canine scent detecting teams out there.
If you are thinking of hiring a canine detection team, there are a few important points to remember. The team (dog and handler) should have third party certification by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association and proof of continuous training. If a canine team produces a positive hit, they should be able to show you a live bed bug or egg or have a second dog confirm. In some cases you might choose to have treatment regardless of visual confirmation based on other evidence (bites, history of infestation, new blood spots).
If you are facing the challenge of managing a bed bug infestation in affordable housing, or want to remain bed bug free, contact StopPests in Housing to discuss integrated pest management (IPM) solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org