Bedbug Outbreak Hits All 50 States Thanks to DDT Ban

Published June 1, 2007

Bedbug infestations have nearly doubled nationwide since the year 2000, according to pesticide companies, and a ban on DDT and other effective pesticides is to blame.

Bedbugs were a notorious risk for those staying in hotels and motels until the 1950s, when scientists learned DDT was an effective weapon against the bloodsucking pests.

Now, however, infestations are rising rapidly as a result of years of failure to use DDT and several other effective pesticides that have been banned in the United States.

As a result, bedbugs that hitch a ride into the United States in the luggage of foreign visitors meet little resistance establishing colonies in hotels and motels, in turn hitching rides into U.S. homes.

“The irony is, as a pest problem bedbugs were virtually eliminated in the U.S. in the 1950s thanks to the use of DDT,” said Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association, in an April 10 news release.

“Bedbug infestations have been on the increase in the United States for many years,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute. “Hotels have been complaining about it for some time. There is little doubt that the loss of DDT in the Third World has allowed for the continuing increase.”

Many developing nations have banned DDT because the European Union has long refused to buy produce from nations where the effective pesticide is used.

Infestations Rising

Bedbugs have recently been discovered infesting not only hotel rooms of all price ranges, but also moving vans, airplanes, bus cushions, and apartment buildings.

The size and shape of a flat apple seed, bedbugs hide in the daytime and often are not discovered by hotel guests until they wake up itching in the middle of the night.

Without DDT or other effective pesticides, bedbug colonies are difficult to exterminate. They may withstand weeks of treatment by today’s less effective pesticides.

San Francisco, which has some of the most restrictive pesticide laws in the nation, has been hit particularly hard by resurgent bedbugs.

The number of complaints to San Francisco health officials about bedbug infestations–primarily in upscale hotels–more than doubled from 2004 to 2006.

“We don’t use as harsh chemicals as we used to, we don’t spray mattresses with insecticide before selling them anymore, and the bugs are getting increasingly resistant to the few chemicals we have left,” Laura Krueger, California Department of Health Services public health biologist, told the April 8 San Francisco Chronicle.

Traveling Tips

To avoid falling victim to bedbugs, experts strongly advise thoroughly and immediately inspecting your hotel room when arriving. Examine the seams of the bed mattress and the box spring. Small bloodstains on the mattress or sheets are a sign of bedbugs.

Look behind the bedboard and check bedside drawers. Keep your suitcase off the floor, preferably on a luggage rack or some other open pedestal.

Immediately upon returning home, thoroughly vacuum your suitcase and wash and dry all your clothes on the hottest setting. Be sure to seal and discard the vacuum bag immediately after vacuuming your suitcase.

“Perhaps as bedbugs hit home in the United States a stronger case can be made for returning to the use of the most important chemical ever produced by man,” said Lehr. Despite some environmentalists’ claims, “DDT has never thinned a bird egg or was a carcinogen to man. It is the best weapon humans have against disease-carrying insects.”

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney in Rochester, New York.