Bed bugs resurface in homes, hotels, hype

From the riots in Europe to the constant threat of terror to the newfound nuclear threat in Iran, more and more the world comes to be defined by unrest and turmoil. Foreign and domestic policy is in utter shambles, and to top it all off, blood-sucking bugs have invaded our very homes. The United States has a rich history of bed bug infestation, its height reaching back to the pre-World War II era. With extensive use of pesticides, including the application of the chemical DDT, the bugs were all but eradicated.

Despite this historic victory over the ravenous bed bug population, the little buggers have wandered their way back into our homes, hotels, and hubs of travel. For the first time, bed bugs have entered the public eye as a real problem in the United States. Now you cannot even turn on a news station without hearing about the newest menace: this vampiric arthropod.

This recent resurgence has seen the return of bed bugs largely in North America, but the epidemic is not limited by geography. In Europe, the U.K. has entertained rising numbers of reports of bed bug infestation. Australia has reported bed bugs as not just a domestic problem, but also a public health issue.

So what, exactly, has caused these little guys to forsake their 50-year dormancy for the public limelight?

Many scholars blame the 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT for bed bug infestations. While a dangerous chemical to both crops and human beings, DDT was instrumental in the eradication and prevention of bed bug infestation. Bed bugs are indeed tough customers, and to treat, kill, and prevent their growth is much more complicated than squashing one or two.

Bed bugs, less commonly known as Cimex lectularius, can endure a wide variety of excruciating environmental circumstances. They have been known to survive in a multitude of extreme temperatures and atmospheric conditions, making this little blood-sucker all but invincible. The bed bug has a particularly long life for an insect, living from five months to a year. It can travel long distances on clothing, resulting in bed bug infestations in some really interesting spots, like Soho in New York.

As the number of bed bug cases continues to rise, so does the pressure to respond appropriately. Skilled exterminators are needed to oust the bugs, which can be both inconvenient and quite costly. Bed bug cases are dealt with mostly after the infestation, when the fight really starts with prevention. The only way to deal with this epidemic is through thorough education, government support, and attentive prevention.

What does this mean for Guilford? Jennifer Agor, associate dean for campus life, recently sent out an e-mail saying that “treating the entire campus is both cost and logistically prohibitive.” This is indeed true, but I feel as if more preventative measures can be taken because it seems little has actually been done. When and if an incident does arrive, we have a contract with a pest control company to respond. From what I’ve gathered, prevention and education, not just treatment, are the keys to curbing the bed bug epidemic.

So is the bed bug infestation as dire as the media claims? Or is this just the next swine flu-like media stunt?

While the media may not be accurately assessing the situation, one thing is certain: the number of bed bug cases in the U.S. and around the world have become much more prevalent. Whether just a scare or not, the U.S. needs to work to prevent bed bug cases in the future. So get properly educated on the bed bug situation in the U.S., check your beds, and try not to imagine them crawling on you in the dark.