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Homing in on Bed Bugs

Experts at NC State just won’t rest comfortably until they’ve shed light on bed bugs.

They’ve trained inspectors in workshops, brought in bed bug-sniffing dogs, demonstrated heat treatments and started studying the genetics of pesticide-resistant bed bugs.

Portable Pest

More international travel and less routine pesticide use have opened the door to infestations of bed bugs, said Dr. Mike Waldvogel, an Extension entomology specialist.

This generation of bloodsucking pests isn’t the stuff of nursery rhymes. Many bed bugs are resistant to common pesticides, making them tough to eradicate.

Waldvogel and other leaders at a recent workshop stressed the importance of getting professional help with a bed bug infestation.

Learn more and watch a bed bug-sniffing beagle.

Starting from Scratch

For the past four decades, bed bugs have posed few problems in the United States, said Dr. Coby Schal, urban entomologist. Research on bed bugs ceased in the 1950s as DDT and other powerful pesticides largely controlled the populations. Today’s entomologists are essentially starting from scratch.

Schal’s lab maintains bed bug populations for research. Colonies from across the U.S. share a very high resistance to pyrethroid-type pesticides. Schal suspects this generation of pesticide-resistant bedbugs may have descended from populations in Africa, Southeast Asia or South America, where pyrethroids are used in bed nets that protect against mosquitoes.

Using DNA extraction, researchers have found two genetic mutations related to pesticide resistance in U.S. bed bug populations.

Tracking the Spread

Scientists are using other genetic tools to “fingerprint” bed bugs to suggest how they colonize buildings and rooms. Schal’s group, in collaboration with population geneticist Dr. Ed Vargo, determined that a bed bug infestation in a 10-story building was so genetically similar that all the bugs likely came from a single source.

“An entire infestation could be founded by one pregnant female,” Schal said.

Researchers working on the bed bug problem include Schal and Vargo, as well as post docs Dr. Warren Booth and Dr. Alvaro Romero, who is working under a National Science Foundation fellowship. Assisting are doctoral student Virna Saenz and research specialist Rick Santangelo.

Romero’s work includes investigating the human scents that attract bed bugs, along with the body heat and carbon dioxide that we exhale. Such information could lead to potential “scent-based” traps that keep the bed bugs from biting.

Responses (2 Comments)

  • ROBERT RUFFOLO

    PLEASE PROVIDE WEBSITES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BEDBUGS. I HAVE A RENTAL PROPERTY IN ATLANTIC CITY NJ WITH A RECENT PROBLEM. THE LOCAL CODE ENFORCEMENT CITY DEPARTMENT NOW REQUIRES A BEDBUG INSPECTION REPORT BY A LISCENED EXTERMANATION COMPANY BEFORE WE CAN ALLOW A NEW TENANT TO MOVE IN.

    SINCERELY, ROBERT RUFFOLO

    I could use your help. I own a home on the Outer Banks of NC. As a summer rental home owner I would like to know what is the best way to protect our home. How long would it take for a noticable infestation to take place? I understand the bugs perfer temperatures around 70 degrees. Would homes be somewhat protected if the home temp is kept at 55 degrees during the winter months? Also, if the home is not rented over the winter months would this help protect the home?

    If we wished to have the home sniffed by a dog? What agencies have dogs?

    What do you think of the high temperature treatments to kill bed bugs?

    What are the thoughts on the special mattress covers?

    Does keeping personal items in a car (in the summer) help kill bed bugs?

    This information will be shared with my community.

    Thank you,
    Marilyn Bassford

  • D'Lyn Ford

    Robert and Marilyn:

    The best place to start is by contacting your county extension office. By following this link you’ll be able to find phone and e-mail contact information. County extension agents know about local resources and can refer you to specialists at other locations as needed.

    Thanks,
    D’Lyn Ford

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