Bed Bug Insecticides Causing Sickness Officials Warn

November 12, 2012

Bed Bug Insecticides Causing Sickness Officials Warn

The U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have completed a report whose findings are published in the Sept. 23 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report regarding bed bug infestations in recent years across the United States highlights that many people are becoming sick because of exposure to pesticides.

The report says that in excess of 100 people have fallen ill because of taking inappropriate measures against bed bug infestation. In their attempts to eradicate the mites the researchers believe that at least one person may have died. The cases under investigation all come from seven states.

Report co-author Dr. Geoffrey Calvert, a medical officer at the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, says, “The majority of cases involved misuse”. He went on to point out that if the bed bugs cannot be eradicated by conventional methods like washing or vacuuming, or any other chemical free option, then the likelihood of non professionals being successful in their efforts is low. In this area he made one recommendation, “If you can’t control bed bugs with non-chemical means, such as washing and vacuuming, that means it’s probably going to be difficult to eradicate them, and we would recommend that people enlist the services of a pest control operator”.

The number of bed bug infestations has grown significantly throughout the U.S. in recent years. One study noted that in San Francisco, between 2004 and 2006 the incidence of bed bug infestations doubled.

This new study has looked at the data available on illnesses associated to pesticide use. The data was provided from a ‘pesticide illness surveillance program’ which was federally funded. The program ran from 2003 until 2010 and during the period of the program 111 people were identified as becoming ill because of misuse of pesticide across 7 states.

The findings show that 93% of incidences were cause by people trying to control a bed bug infestation at home. Although the majority of illnesses did not require medical treatment and the symptoms disappeared within one day, about 18% did require medical treatment due to their severity.

Symptoms included headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and breathing difficulties. And many of those who became ill were not householders but visitors such as EMS staff or carpet cleaners. These people had not been told the insecticides had recently been used.

The one death which has been associated with the insecticide use was that of a woman from North Carolina who was reported to have died in 2010. The woman had chronic conditions including a history of heart attacks and diabetes. She also had high cholesterol, high blood pressure and depression. The report says that her husband had used too much pesticide in his attempts to eradicate the bed bugs. After finding it was not effective he continued to use it over several days whilst at the same time his wife was spraying herself with the pesticide in addition to a flea insecticide on her arms, hair and chest before going to bed.

Another case of inappropriate usage concerned an exterminator who was unlicensed. He used malathion in an apartment over a period of three days, even though the malathion was not certified for use indoors. All beds, covers and floor covers were ‘saturated’ according to the official report. This resulted in the children who lived there having to receive medical treatment but could not live in that apartment again.

The exterminator was charged and found guilty. He received a fine and was put on probation as a result.

Because the vast majority of people who are ill because of insecticide usage recover on their own within a day or two they remain unaware of the cause. The author accepts that the number of people who have been affected is probably much larger than is in the report.

Calvert gives some good advice when he says that anyone who is intending to eradicate pests on their own should ensure that they have the correct product for the job, get a pesticide for controlling bed bugs. Additionally he states the importance of reading the label and following the instructions carefully. He also gives some common sense advice, he says to tell anyone who is going to be in the vicinity that insecticide has been used.

However professionals may be required to completely clear out some infestations.

Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, says that the report “draws attention to the necessity of effective bed bug control by a licensed, qualified pest professional”. She goes on to explain that, “bed bugs are one of the most difficult pests to control, eradicating them can require a partnership between a consumer and a qualified and licensed pest professional who will effectively inspect and treat an infestation”.

She points out that professionals have the best equipment to do the job successfully. They use professional grade products which are not readily available over the counter, in addition they can use non chemical means such as vacuuming and laundering and heating or cooling of the infested areas.


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