At least 99 pesticides should have been banned in India: Supreme Court

Pesticides

 Pesticides – Representational Image

Updated: Apr 19, 2018, 05:37 PM

In an ongoing PIL that seeks Supreme Court’s directions for concrete action on harmful pesticides and their phasing out in India, in its last hearing a month ago, the Court directed the petitioners to make a representation to the “J S Sandhu Committee” within 15 days. The Court further ordered that ‘since the matter is of urgent nature, let the recommendations be finalised by the Committee expeditiously, preferably within 3 months, and if decision is taken to ban a particular pesticide, let it be implemented fifteen days thereafter’.

The existence and functioning of such a Committee was highlighted by the Government of India counsel during the Hearing on 19th March 2018, in Writ Petition (c) 1079 of 2017. However, to the petitioners’ surprise, when they sent their submission to ICAR on 27th March 2018, they found that no such J S Sandhu Committee was functioning in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare. Dr J S Sandhu, who was the ICAR Deputy Director General (Crop Science) and Chair of the Registration Committee of CIBRC (the apex regulatory body for pesticides in India) had retired in July 2017, it was found, even though the government counsel referred to the ‘Committee headed by Dr J S Sandhu’ in a March 2018 hearing! After inquiries and communication initiated with CIBRC, the petitioners were informed on 16th April 2018, that in October 2017, the Committee was reconstituted with Dr S K Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner, DA&FW as the Chairperson.

“It is indeed a very sad state of regulatory affairs in the country when it comes to pesticides. This petition was filed soon after the acute pesticide poisoning incidents that emerged in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, in November 2017. The petition contended that even the Anupam Verma Committee’s mandate was narrowed by the Government to 66 pesticides (“bannable” pesticides, as Parliament replies refer to these), when there are at least 99 pesticides being used in India, which have been banned or restricted elsewhere in the world. Our petition prayed for all these pesticides to be banned in India too, after citing numerous studies on the health impacts of these pesticides mainly on farmers and agricultural workers. This is the violation of the Right To Life of these citizens, we explained. Meanwhile, we find that the Anupam Verma Committee constituted in 2013, which gave its report in 2015, had inter alia recommended that 13 pesticides be completely banned and 6 pesticides to be phased out by 2020 (incidentally, pesticides like Monocrotophos banned in numerous other countries and implicated in many acute pesticide poisoning cases in the recent past, have been put into a list that was recommended for further review in 2018 by the Anupam Verma Committee!). Based on this, the Government of India put out a draft ban notification, dated 15th December 2016. However, after receiving 108 comments on this draft notification, the MoAFW, on 30th March 2017, set up a Committee headed by Dr J S Sandhu, for evaluation of the objections and suggestions received in response to the Gazette Notification. While this Committee was given one month’s time in which to submit its report, it is seen that no report is presented by the time Dr J S Sandhu retired by July 2017! After a gap of another 2 months, the MoAFW reconstituted the Committee with Dr S K Malhotra as the Chair, but with a time period of 2 months given. Instead of this report being submitted by December 2017, it is seen that even in the month of April 2018, no report has been submitted”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Co-Convenor of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture) and the lead petitioner of the PIL. Co-petitioners include Ananthasayanan, a safe food activist and Dr Amarsingh Azad, a public health & child health expert. The case is being argued by Senior Counsel Prashant Bhushan on behalf of the petitioners.

Meanwhile, as per the Supreme Court’s directions to the petitioners, a representation was submitted in Krishi Bhawan on the 18th of April 2018. In their representation, petitioners submitted that no concrete action has been seen for nearly 5 years now, even as the negative impacts of pesticides were being borne by farmers and farm workers. They also objected to the constitution of the Committee, pointing out that no health experts have been included, and that the members are drawn mostly from the Registration Committee which had already reviewed the Anupam Verma Committee report in December 2015. The petitioners highlighted the serious limitations of the Anupam Verma Committee, its mandate and functioning, and reiterated the regulators’ failure to regulate and restrict use of pesticides. In their representation to the Committee, the petitioners repeated their broad prayers to the Supreme Court, which are the following:

1.       Ban as a first step all the 99 pesticides that have been banned or restricted in one or other countries elsewhere in the world;

2.       Ban the advertising and unacceptable practices of marketing and promoting of pesticides, which are after all poisons;

3.       Put into place a system by which the precautionary principle is to be followed before registering any pesticide for use or manufacture;

4.       Make it mandatory to perform a Needs and Alternatives Assessment before registering any pesticide;

5.       Appoint an Expert Committee comprising individuals of unimpeachable integrity mainly from the field of Organic Agriculture / Agro-Ecology to examine the issue of making a road map for phasing out all chemical pesticides in a time bound manner, preferably within 5 years, and for making recommendations on the assistance to be given by the Central and State Governments to farmers for the period of time it will take for their farms to convert to chemical pesticide free organic farms, as well as for providing the requisite impetus to organic farming in the country. Thereafter, Central and State Governments should implement the recommendations of the said expert committee in a time-bound manner. Such an Expert Committee should comprehensively and thoroughly examine and recommend the structural, institutional, legal and programmatic reforms that are needed to convert to organic farming in the country.

The Committee’s recommendations are now awaited, within three months, as per the SC’s 19/3/2018 Orders.

Bedbugs repeatedly found at STEMCivics charter school in Ewing

By David Foster, The Trentonian
STEMCivics Charter SchoolSTEMCivics Charter School founder Dr. Leigh Byron

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EWING >> Pupils are not the only living things attending class at STEMCivics charter school in Ewing.

One parent is horrified that bedbugs have repeatedly crept their way into classrooms in recent years.

“The school should be shut down,” the parent said of the learning center located at the Incarnation — St. James campus in Ewing. “It’s a public health hazard.” The parent, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, shared five emails from STEMCivics Charter School founder Dr. Leigh Byron informing parents of bedbugs being found in classrooms dating back to Nov. 18, 2016. The most recent two sightings occurred on April 10 and March 28.

“The bedbugs come in from the outside and they come in with students,” Byron said Wednesday in a phone interview. “The students go to the nurse. The students are checked out. We help the parents privately and we go forward. It’s not a building facility issue.”

STEMCivics moved to Incarnation’s campus at 1555 Pennington Rd. in July 2015.

Once a bedbug is reported, the school activates a pest control plan, Byron said.

“We have an exterminator who comes to the school within hours and inspects the schools,” Byron said. “The room is quarantined for the day.”

Byron said the school will help parents with infestations at home by providing advice and information, and connecting them with organization and agencies that can help.

The school leader said he has heard concerns from staff, parents and students about the bedbugs problem.

“We are concerned about everybody’s well-being and we take every step to help the families whose children have brought them into school rid their homes of the bedbugs,” Byron said. “People are concerned when they hear (of a bedbug being found) but we give them the information, we help them and we are proactive.”

If bedbugs are brought back from the school to a home, it could be a costly problem.

It can cost thousands of dollars to remediate an infestation.

“Something needs to be done,” the parent said. “Once you bring home this, it’s a problem.”

Byron said the parent who is concerned has a “choice.”

“That parent who contacted you or any parent who contacted you and feels that we are not doing everything we can to ensure the safety of everybody does not have to be at our school,” the founder said. “We love our kids and we’d miss them but parents have the choice.”

Bedbugs have been a prominent problem in the Trenton region. Infestations have occurred at state office buildings and public agencies.

A Trentonian story in October 2016 about the Mercer County Board of Social Services using Bounce dryer sheets to combat the critters garnered national attention.

As for STEMCivics, the school will increase enrollment by 650 students between the next school year and 2023.

The charter school will open two middle schools in Trenton at 720 Bellevue Ave. and 301 N. Chancery Place next school year, with 225 students attending each middle school. STEMCivics was also authorized to increase its enrollment from 400 students to 600 students in the high school over a four-year period.

Alamo Plaza Motel tenants allege bedbugs were in unit

by Philip Gonzales |

Apr. 12, 2018, 3:52pm

 

HOUSTON – Tenants at an Old Spanish Trail, Houston motel allege a bedbug infestation was not disclosed to them before renting a unit.

Cynthia Epps, individually, Douglas Brown and Cynthia Epps, as next friend of Noah Epps filed a complaint on March 27 in the Harris County District Court against Self Made Inc., doing business as Alamo Plaza Motel, and Larry Criswell alleging that they violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and other counts.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs moved into a unit at the Alamo Plaza Motel in May 2016. They allege they “immediately” noticed bites on their bodies and discovered bedbugs in the unit. They allege they would not have rented the defendants’ property had they known of the infestation.

The plaintiffs hold Self Made Inc. and Criswell responsible because the defendants allegedly failed to rent a property in a reasonably safe condition and failed to disclose bedbug activity on the property.

The plaintiffs request a trial by jury and seek monetary relief of more than $200,000 but not more than $1 million and such other lawful and equitable relief. They are represented by Tad Rice of The Rice Firm in The Woodlands.

Harris County District Court case number 2018-20738

BANISH BEDBUGS WITH LIVE FREE POWERED BY KILTRONX™ – American Hotel

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Biting hotel owners’ wallets

It’s no surprise to anyone in the hospitality industry that bedbugs are a huge concern. Since travelers today often choose their accommodations online, they are heavily influenced by fellow travelers’ reviews. Online reviews can harm a hotel’s business and reputation if even the slightest hint of a bedbug infestation exists. Signs of bedbugs are more likely than other common hotel issues (odors, unclean bathrooms, dirty sheets) to prompt guests to leave a property.

A recent survey found that even a single mention of bedbugs on travel and social media sites drops the value of a hotel room by an average of almost $30/night.

Prevention

While bedbugs are challenging to eliminate, they’re easy to avoid – if you know how and use the right products. You may think cleanliness affects whether bedbugs will infiltrate your property. In fact, cleanliness is not the issue. Bedbugs hide in miniscule crevices and because they usually come out after dark, are harder to detect. To solve the problem once and for all, American Hotel recommends Live Free powered by KiltronX™ bedbug barrier system. This proven system actively kills bedbugs, protects the entire room (not just the mattress), prevents future infestations, and its organic solution is safe for guests.

Peace of mind

There’s no doubt bedbugs are a pain in more ways than one. Treating a minor infestation is inconvenient, but far less costly than treating the same problem after it spreads. The Live Free system, powered by KiltronX, is designed to protect an entire property, not just a room or two. The active compound that kills bedbugs was developed based on organic farming pest control technology. This green compound is in the system’s mattress covers, cushion liners, box spring wraps and all other kit components.

Sweet dreams

As the single-source solution for your property, American Hotel invites you to save up to 20% on KiltronX products through January 31.

We bid you good night, and, whatever you do, don’t let the bedbugs bite!

Monkey study suggests Zika infection in infancy could cause brain damage

By HELEN BRANSWELL

new study in primates raises the possibility that children infected with the Zika virus during infancy could be at risk of experiencing brain damage.

Zika is known to destroy developing brain tissue when it infects a fetus in the womb. Scientists know less — next to nothing, essentially — about how the virus might affect the brain of an infant infected after birth.

In the new study, scientists infected rhesus macaques with Zika virus at the age of about 1 month — which corresponds to about 3 months of age in a child. The macaques showed troubling brain and behavioral changes.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, are worrisome, admitted Dr. Karin Nielsen-Saines, who was not involved in the research.

Nielsen-Saines, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the Zika virus, said during the height of the Zika outbreak in 2016 she and colleagues were often asked if it was safe to take a baby to areas where Zika was transmitting.

“We sort of never knew what to answer, because there isn’t really much data, still, out there to determine if there are any issues or not,” Nielsen-Saines told STAT.

“I guess we will still not be able to appease those who call us to say, ‘Oh, can [an infant] travel to Zika-endemic areas?’ Because the data is not encouraging.”

Answering the question by studying children born in places where Zika was spreading could be surprisingly difficult.

Scientists would have to rule out the possibility that children had been infected before birth — no easy task given that Zika infections can be mild and women don’t always know they were infected. And testing for antibodies in the women or their children might not generate a clear answer, because tests don’t easily distinguish between Zika antibodies and those created by infection with dengue viruses, which also spread in places where Zika flourished.

In the macaque study, scientists led by researchers from Emory University and working at the university’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, studied the question in eight animals. Six were infected with Zika virus while two others were used as controls.

Four of the animals — the controls and two infected macaques — were followed until they were 12 months old to see if the brain changes persisted and if they altered behavior.

Dr. Ann Chahroudi, the senior author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Emory, said the brains of the infected animals developed differently than those of the controls. For instance, growth of the hippocampus — a part of the brain that is involved regulating emotions — was stunted in the infected animals. The hippocampus is also involved in long-term memory and spatial navigation.

In a bid to see if the changes were significant, the researchers put the macaques through a standardized stress test, called the human intruder test. The animals were exposed to a stranger, seen first in profile. Later the person made eye contact with the macaques. The control animals behaved the way they ought to have — they were scared. The animals that had been infected in infancy did not exhibit behavior that suggested fear; they were more inward focused, Chahroudi said.

With such small numbers of animals in the study, it’s important to be cautious about drawing too firm a conclusion about what this work can say about Zika infection in infants, she admitted.

It’s also not clear if an affected brain could rewire itself to overcome any damage the virus might have inflicted. “We don’t know the answer to that. You can hypothesize either way,” said Chahroudi, though she noted that brain damage caused by early infection with cytomegaloviruses or with HIV can be permanent.

Chahroudi said she would like to conduct an additional study, infecting macaques at different ages to see if there is a cutoff after which Zika infection no longer leads to changes in the animals’ brains. But she doesn’t currently have the funding to do this work.

In time there should be some human data that will hopefully shed some light on this question. Last year the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced funding for a study of 1,200 children in Guatemala who had been infected with the virus in their early years.

In the meantime, Chahroudi said, as a clinician, she would want to monitor the development of a young patient if told the child had been infected with Zika in infancy.

Holocaust survivor shares her escape from concentration camp with Penn State

Holocaust survivor, Inge Auerbacher, speaks about her life at the Eisenhower Auditorium on Monday, April 2, 2018.

At 7 years old, Inge Auerbacher was deported from her home in Germany to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. On Monday night at age 83, she told Penn State students and State College community members her story.

Many people gathered in Eisenhower Auditorium to listen as Auerbacher retold the events of the Holocaust from the perspective of someone who was only four years old when it began.

She was born Dec 31, 1934 and described herself as the “typical German little girl” at the time.

She showed a presentation that included photos of her and her family when she was young to show how happy and normal their lives were at the time.

While the first couple years of her life were what many would describe as normal, it all changed in 1938.

Protests began in Germany directed toward Jewish people, and people were being transported to what would end up being concentration camps.

Between November 9 and 10, which became known as the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, Auerbacher said all synagogues in Germany were destroyed.

Jewish homes were also being targeted at this time including her own, with the windows and glass being broken.

At this point, her family had considered leaving the country, however her father did not want to leave the nation he defended in war.

She said her family knew of people being taken away, but did not think it would happen to them. However, as she said, “the doors to the free world were closing very rapidly.”

Inge Auerbacher
Holocaust survivor, Inge Auerbacher, speaks about her life at the Eisenhower Auditorium on Monday, April 2, 2018.

Eventually they left their home to move to their grandparents village. They were the last Jewish family living in the village, but the Christian families were very polite and welcoming to her and her family and allowed her to play with their children, making her feel normal.

Auerbacher said it was “a very short but very nice childhood.”

Things in Germany got increasingly worse as Jewish children were no longer allowed to go to school with the rest of the children, as well as being forced to wear the Jewish Star on their shirts after age 6, which she still has and brought to show the audience.

She recalled her family at the time telling her ways to make her star less visible to protect her from being bullied by other children, however she would get picked on for it anyway.

In her old village, she said she watched many families be transported to concentration camps, and she brought rare photos from her village that showed people being taken away as their friends and neighbors watched and did nothing.

Her family was able to avoid being taken during the first few groups to be transported, which Auerbacher said was completely due to luck as there was no system in place that determined who would be taken when.

However, their luck did not last and were taken eventually in a transport group of about 1200 people. She was the youngest one in the group at age 7.

She took with her a doll that she had her entire life, and was even able to bring it with her into the camp and after when they were released. It is now on display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

The train ride was very crowded and also two days long before arriving at the camp in Czechoslovakia.

As they marched into the camp they had their belongings taken away from them aside from her doll.

She said as they marched in they were being whipped and her parents had to walk closely on both sides of her to soften the blows before they hit her.

The conditions of the camp were terrible. They had to drink water from polluted wells that gave many people typhoid fever, as well as their living conditions being infested with rats, mice, fleas and bed bugs.

Almost all the children living on the camp developed scarlet fever, and in the “hospital” there were two children to a bed.

Food was also scarce on the camps. The bread rations came in once a week, and her mother had to ration out a little each day so they would be able to continue to have bread each day.

Inge Auerbacher
Holocaust survivor, Inge Auerbacher, speaks about her life at the Eisenhower Auditorium on Monday, April 2, 2018.

For lunches they often had soup or potatos, Auerbacher said the portions were “not enough to live and not enough to die.”

On May 8, 1945, Auerbacher heard an explosion. People were throwing in hand grenades to kill the rest of the Jewish people.

She and her father hid while she prayed and repeated to herself “God is one, one is God.”

She remembers the day they were released from the camp. She said someone came running to her family screaming “we are free.”

While they were happy, Auerbacher said it was not in the way most people would assume because they still had fears and worries about where the remainder of their family was.

“it was muted exhilaration,” she said.

Both her parents remarkably were able to survive, and they moved to Brooklyn, New York.

While in America she went on to finish her education and go on to college to become a chemist.

After her speech there was a question and answer where students asked her about a variety of topics such as activism, maintaining her belief in God throughout her experience, and whether or not she was able to forgive, to which she said “only God can forgive something like that.”

Megan Loftus was in the audience and said she found the pictures from Auerbacher’s childhood to be a very powerful part of the speech.

“There were about eight kids in the picture, and she said that only one of them survived which was her,” Loftus (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said. “It’s just crazy to think that she grew up with people and here she is today, no ones left.”

Casey Fern (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) also thought that the photos included in the presentation were a fascinating part, saying they “brought the whole story to life.”

Matthew Hampel was happy he was able to listen to Auerbacher speak, and liked the way she presented her story.

“I thought she was really well-spoken and has a meaningful story,” Hampel (junior-information systems technology) said.

Now, Auerbacher lives in a neighborhood in Queens, New York surrounded by a diversity of religions and cultures.

She said she loves living among people of all religions in harmony and hope it represents the future of our world.

“That would be my wish for the future and my wish for today” she said.

County health concerns should be call to action

By Laura Morgan, MD, and Padi Selwyn

Recent news that Sonoma County’s overall health ranking has fallen to No. 7 in the state, down two places from last year in a statewide health survey, should concern us all. More alarming was the Sonoma County Department of Health Services’ January 2018 report noting that our childhood cancer rate is the fourth highest in California and that cancer is the leading cause of death in all age groups.

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According to the Sonoma County Summary Measures of Health, from 2013-2015, cancer was the leading cause of death in all age groups.

Out of 58 California counties, Sonoma County ranks 22nd in age-adjusted cancer death rates (worldlifeexpectancy.co

 

m). According to the California Cancer Registry, as of

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October 2016, we ranked 13th among the other California counties in age-adjusted cancer incidence.

Could there be a connection between the increasing use of pesticides in Sonoma County, and our increasing rates of cancer since studies have linked pesticide exposure and various cancers?

In 2015, nearly three million pounds of pesticides (2,839,007 million pounds to be exact) were applied in Sonoma County — 97 percent of it on wine grapes. Of those pesticides, 10,633 pounds applied to 41,412 acres were toxic or lethal to bees and birds; 47,855 pounds applied to 14,275 acres were possible/probable human carcinogens and 9,025 pounds over 7,004 acres were toxic to brain development and function (California Department of Pesticide Regulation).

Glyphosate (Roundup), a probable carcinogen according to the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and Cal-EPA 2015, is widely applied throughout our county’s vineyards. In 2014, almost 77,000 pounds were applied to 48,137 acres of wine grapes in Sonoma County (Sonoma Index-Tribune, May 23, 2016).

Bee and bird-toxic pesticides currently banned in Europe are being used in vineyards from Sebastopol to Geyserville and Healdsburg. Probable carcinogens are being applied from South Sebastopol in a wide swath north to Cloverdale and east to Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale.

Mancozeb, an old-fashioned fungicide that has been largely phasedout in California because of carcinogenic and human developmental toxic effects, is still used in quantity here. Sonoma County applies 66 percent of all the Mancozeb used in California. Its use is concentrated from northwest Sebastopol through Forestville to the Russian River and in an area just south of Healdsburg. For more information, search the web for “Organic Wines Uncorked; Sonoma Gets Its (Toxics) Close-Up: What’s on those vines?” by Pam Strayer.

Prenatal and early childhood pesticide exposures are especially significant because of the vulnerability of growing children and their contact with dust through ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption. Children of agricultural workers have higher pesticide metabolites in their urine, associated with an increased risk of developing lung diseases, leukemia, lowered IQ and behavioral problems such as attention deficit disorder. Historically, children of farmworkers have had the highest risk of developing these conditions in multiple studies.

Because of the known pesticide risks to human populations, especially to children, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation was created by our state legislature and requires that every county report types and amounts of pesticides used through their County Department of Agriculture Permit Program. This information is then made available to the general public at cehtp.org.

Now that the data is in, it’s time for all of us to rethink the use of poisons in our homes, farms and vineyards. Pesticides are defined as any chemical used to kill any life form, from rodents and insects to plants and fungi. They have long been suspected, now concluded to have significant adverse effects on human health (Cal-EPA).

What are we waiting for?

Laura Morgan, MD, is a family physician practicing in west county who was educated at Sonoma State, UC Berkeley, UCSF and Sonoma County Community Hospital. She has a long term commitment to the health of residents and the environment.

Padi Selwyn is co-founder of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, a businesswoman, author, and 45-year resident of Sonoma County.

Bed-Bug Madness: The Psychological Toll of the Blood Suckers

BY: ROSE EVELETH

Right now, everything I own is in garbage bags piled up in the middle of my kitchen and bathroom and filling my shower. It’s been that way for a week and a half and will continue to be so for at least another week on top of that. If you live in a major city, you might know what’s coming. If not, welcome to the hell that is bed bugs.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had bed bugs. Nor the second. It’s the third, and this time it’s taken two visits from the exterminators to (hopefully) rid our apartment of the tiny beasts. Luckily we were able to catch the bugs early before they got a real hold on the apartment. Unluckily, that’s mostly because rather than mosquito-esque little bumps, my bites turn into hardened ping-pong ball sized welts that itch for over a week. So when we have bed bugs, I know pretty quickly. And each time everything goes into bags. I stop sleeping. I avoid furniture on the street. I refuse to enter libraries.

I used to joke that I had bed bug PTSD. There’s a certain kind of anxiety that the seemingly invisible biters incite. But in fact, it might not be a joke. Research is starting to show that bed bug infections can leave people with anxiety, depression, and paranoia. And that’s normal. In fact, it would be weird for you not to be freaked out, says Stéphane Perron, a doctor and researcher at the University of Montreal. “If you have bed bugs, and if you don’t care, that’s not a normal reaction. You should be worried. I would consider it a normal reaction to a stressor.”

Perron has published a number of papers on the psychological ramifications of bed bugs. In one study, he and his team looked at apartments that had been reported to the Montreal Public Health Department for unsafe conditions. Some of those units were infested with bedbugs, but not all of them. Perron and his team gave the tenants of these buildings a series of questionnaires that assessed all sorts of health impacts, including psychological ones. All told, 39 of the units had bed bugs, and 52 of them didn’t. When they compared the psychological results between those two samples—a method that helps to control for factors that impact mental health like socioeconomic status—they found that tenants with bed bugs were far more likely to report anxiety and sleep disturbances than those without.

Another study by medical entomologist Jerome Goddard at Mississippi State University examined posts on bed bug related websites like Bedbugger.com. When they compared those posts against a checklist of PTSD symptoms they found that 81 percent of people writing these forum posts were describing psychological and emotional effects often associated with the disorder, things like hyper-vigilance, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and depression. “One person scored high enough to actually be considered a PTSD patient,” Goddard says. (The comparison they did here isn’t diagnostic. In other words, Goddard can’t actually diagnose anybody with PTSD from the results.)

In another study, researchers sent out questionnaires to seven different cities. They got 474 back. In the survey, they asked people to describe their reaction to the bites. Beyond the physical reactions, 29 percent of people said they suffered from insomnia, 22 percent reported emotional distress, and 20 percent said they had anxiety due to the bugs.

There are a number of reasons to take these preliminary studies with a grain of salt. For one, researchers don’t know anything about the mental state of the participants before they got bed bugs. And that’s important. In one case study that Perron published, a woman with a prior history of mental health issues got bed bugs and eventually committed suicide. “The bed bug is a stressor like many other stressors,” Perron says. “For people who are vulnerable, it may result in having a pathological fear of bedbugs or even delusions of parasitosis,” when a person falsely believes they are infested with bugs. So knowing the mental state of people before they were infected is key, and missing in these early reports.

It’s early days for studies like these, and Goddard is the first to admit that they aren’t perfect. But they’re a start. “I think all these things sort of added together, suggest that at least bed bugs are associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance,” he says. “Now whether or not a person can truly have PTSD I don’t know.” And they do suggest that there’s something particular about bed bugs that sets them apart from other biting insects like tics, fleas, mosquitos, and chiggers.

When I tell people I have bed bugs, they say things like, “So, you’re setting fire to everything you own, right?” The EPA acknowledges the urge. “There is no need to throw out all of your things,” they assure visitors to their bed bug information page. But after weeks of garbage-bag living, the prospect of just lighting it all on fire and leaving doesn’t seem so unreasonable. And several bed bug studies note the extreme lengths to which people go to get rid of the bugs—everything from actually setting things on fire, to attempting to self-treat with loads of toxic chemicals. Even my exterminators are aware of the trauma the bugs incite. At the bottom of the two-page preparation guide for treatment, they write:

NOTE: Bed bug infestations are very traumatizing and it may take time to get over what you have experienced. There have been many cases where people feel they are still being bitten, even though the bed bugs have been eradicated from the home. Before you contact our office due to bites, please ensure that you are actually being bitten and that you do not have a rash or scratches from something else.

(When I read that passage to Perron he explained that it’s actually highly unlikely to continue to feel like you’re getting bitten once the bugs are gone. “I’m surprised they put that in their pamphlet, because no, it’s quite rare,” he says. More likely, the company simply doesn’t want its customers to bug them.)

There are a lot of reasons the tiny insects incite such insanity. Bed bugs strike you where you’re most vulnerable. Sleeping becomes impossible. Every tiny movement, every air molecule that touches your skin in just the wrong way, becomes a bug. I pecked out most of this post on my iPhone during a sleepless night. Thankfully my boyfriend is a heavy sleeper, and doesn’t notice when every half-hour throughout the night I leap out of bed, grab my headlamp, and root around under the covers searching for the insect I was so sure I felt.

Then there are the garbage bags. If I have one tip for you from all this, it’s to use clear garbage bags. This isn’t just about being able to see which bag holds what as you unpack. It’s about looking around your apartment every day for several weeks at a vast sea of black garbage bags—pushing past them as you try to weave through the living room into the kitchen.

I’m not alone in my fight against bed bugs. A 2013 survey called Bugs Without Borders estimates that 99.6 percent of exterminators got calls about bed bugs last year. In New York City alone there were 9,233 complaints about bed bugs in 2013. And according to the pest control company Orkin, New York City isn’t the worst city for the suckers. In fact, the Big Apple is number 17 on their list, behind Chicago, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, and 13 unlucky others. There aren’t good numbers on exactly how many bed-bugged units there are in the United States, but the public has been whipped into a frenzy about the insects for years. This year, they were spotted on the subway system in New York City and I considered giving up transportation all together.

But, of course, despite how common they are, you can’t tell anybody you have bed bugs. Admit you have them, and forget having anybody over again.

I am lucky, though. My landlords responded quickly to each call about the bugs, and after a few weeks of garbage-bag living we are always back to normal. That’s not the case for many people, who might live in buildings with landlords who aren’t as responsive, or in places where the landlord has no responsibility to deal with the problem. Exterminators are expensive, and the whole process is time consuming and costly. None of this was a barrier for me, but it is for a huge number of people. “The very poor can’t do anything about it, and the rich, it’s a pain and it costs a lot of money but sooner or later they’ll get rid of them,” Goddard says. And it’s true. I can see the light at the end of the bedbug tunnel. And once it’s over, my madness will likely subside.

Both Goddard and Perron say that more work needs to be done to truly understand the ways in which bed bugs mess with our minds. But in the meantime, doctors should be aware of the potential risks. Goddard says he’s not sure whether doctors know to watch for psychological impacts when patients come in with bites. “I suspect those doctors just say call an exterminator. I don’t think they would think ‘Oh my gosh this person has some severe emotional distress.’” Perron agrees. “I would say that the goal of this research is to say we should deal with it because it has more than skin deep consequences. It has consequences especially for a vulnerable individual.

As for me, I’m starting to sleep again. And tomorrow I’ll begin the long process of unpacking the seemingly endless piles of garbage bags. It will all be over soon, and I didn’t even have to set anything on fire.

Bed bugs cause more than just itching — they can lead to serious mental health problems too, study finds

‘The issue with bed bugs is that you’re going to bed and you know that at any time some insect will bite you, and you’re at your most vulnerable,’ said Dr. Stéphane Perron

Tyler Anderson / National Post

Tom Blackwell
Tom Blackwell

As she met the man at the door of his east-end Toronto apartment, Sharon Younger witnessed a scene she says belonged in a Stephen King novel.

“He was oblivious to how bad his problem was,” Ms. Younger said of her neighbour’s bed bug infestation. “There were bugs going through his hair, coming out of his ear, blood-soaked tissues. There were thousands and thousands in his apartment.”

[np-related /]

The tenant activist and her pest-control committee had the unit treated. Months later, the man she had assumed had psychiatric troubles — he used to be seen shuffling zombie-like through the hallways at night — had undergone a remarkable change. “He had a cheery ‘Hello,’ he wasn’t slurring his words, he was walking more upright and purposefully. … He wasn’t mentally ill at all. He was suffering the insidious effects of bed bugs.”

The Scarborough resident said she sees every day how the fallout from infestations stretches far beyond the obvious itching and scratching, and now a new Canadian study has provided the first scientific evidence of the insects’ mental-health repercussions, concluding that bug victims  are much more likely than others to suffer anxiety disorder, sleeplessness and possibly depression.

Doctors should be aware of the possibility of psychological distress in bed-bug patients and help provide the appropriate insect-eradication or mental-health help if needed, the Montreal-based researchers say.

They bill their study as the first to detail the psychological impact of a global resurgence of the blood-sucking insects.

“The issue with bed bugs is that you’re going to bed and you know that at any time some insect will bite you, and you’re at your most vulnerable, you’re sleeping,” said Dr. Stéphane Perron of the Montreal public-health department, University of Montreal and McGill University. “You cannot protect yourself.”

Bed bugs have returned to cities in recent years, with surveys suggesting that close to 3% of Montreal’s 1.9 million residents — about 57,000 people — have had problems with the pests.

Dr. Perron and colleagues compared 39 people exposed to the insects with 52 free of infestation at two housing complexes in the city that had been targeted by the public-health office because of unfit-housing conditions. The participants in the research, just published in the British Medical Journal Open, completed standard questionnaires designed to measure symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental-health problems.

Those with bed-bug infestations were found to be about five times as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and sleep disturbance, and 2.5 times as likely to be depressed, although the small numbers with depression make that finding not statistically significant.

Dr. Perron said the results need to be replicated in follow-up research but seem to fall in line with the panic and disorientation he has observed in people plagued by the bugs.

Ms. Younger said she attributes the stresses partly to the social isolation of being bed-bug afflicted, noting that many people end up being shunned by family and friends. They also feel constant wariness, “an automatic visceral reaction when they see a speck on the floor — ‘Is that a bed bug?’ ”

But she said sleep deprivation is perhaps the biggest factor, a result not just of the bites that typically start as soon as someone falls asleep, but also from the fear of actually being asleep and falling victim to the insects.

“You try not sleeping for days, weeks, months, years on end,” said the activist. “It doesn’t just make you a bear, it changes your entire personality. You become withdrawn, anti-social, you fly off the handle more easily.”

The process of having a home treated for the insects is stressful in itself, as clothes have to be washed and bagged and furniture and other belongings steamed, before a pest-control worker sprays the apartment once, then again two weeks later.

She said she has seen residents resort to substance abuse, act out with vandalism and, in one case, throw a pet cat off an apartment balcony in frustration at their infestation. Ms. Younger said she is even aware of suicides where the bugs were at least a factor.

“You can walk into the lobby [of an infested building] and the sense of utter despair is palpable.”

Toronto’s Woodgreen Community Services has been working on the problem since 2004, when it first started getting regular calls about bed bugs, and has even produced a manual on how to cope with the pests.

“It is very, very stressful for [bed-bug victims], especially people who have limited resources and who don’t always have a friendly landlord who is going to assist them in dealing with it,” said Brian Smith, the agency’s CEO. “It’s one of those things it’s hard to escape from.”

National Post
• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com

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