February 23, 2016 | by Keith Wagstaff | Forbes
Bad news for people who hate bed bugs. The insects are developing a resistance to widely used chemicals, according to a new study.
Researchers tested bed bugs taken from homes in Cincinnati and throughout Michigan, and found “high levels of resistance” to neonicotinoid insecticides.
Bed bugs were a big problem until the 1930s, when use of DDT kept them in check. Then came Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 and concerns over the environmental and health effects of DTT.
Over the last few decades, thanks to the rise of international air travel and declines in the usage and effectiveness of DDT, bed bug infestations have exploded. In 2015, nearly every pest control professional (99.6 percent) had to deal with bed bugs. That is up from 25 percent in 2001, according to the National Pest Management Association. Neonicotinoids looked like at least one solution to the problem — until now.
“It’s a constant arms race,” Richard Pollack, an entomologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, told me in an interview. “We find something new, it works, and then they use Mother Nature’s laboratory to come up with ways to get around it.”
In the study, published recently in the Journal of Medical Entomology, researchers found that the bed bugs from Cincinnati and Michigan were far more resistant to four types of neonicotinoids (acetamiprid, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) than bed bugs raised in a colony maintained by entomologist Harold Harlan.
Thanks to the “detoxifying enzymes” their bodies produced, the bed bugs from Cincinnati and Michigan were 33,333 times more resistant to acetamiprid than the colony-raised bed bugs. They were more than a hundred times more resistant to the other neonicotinoids, as well.
So, should we simply welcome our new insect overlords and resign ourselves to waking up covered in itchy red bites? Not so fast, according to Pollack.
“A lot of things bed bugs have become resistant to still work,” he said. In other words, if one pesticide doesn’t kill your bed bugs, pest control workers can just try several of them until one does the trick. Chances are the bed bugs in your home won’t be resistant to them all. There are other options out there too, like fumigation and applying extreme heat to a home. (Yes, houses have caught fire during heat treatments. Nobody said insecticide alternatives were perfect.)
To be clear, it’s not good that in some areas, human beings have one less weapon in their arsenal when it comes to killing bed bugs. But that doesn’t mean that people won’t develop new pesticides— potentially ones that are more effective and less toxic than old chemicals like DDT.
“We are in a free market economy,”Pollack said. “There is money to be made by developing new products.”