Given that they spread like wildfire, why did bed bugs take 30 years to come back?

by nobugsonme on November 5, 2006 · 5 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bug treatment in hotels, bed bugs, england, new york, united kingdom, usa

Norwich, England has seen a 50% rise in bed bugs this year, which experts attribute to the rise in foreign travel and car boot sales. (Car boot sales = trunk sales, flea markets to you nortamericanos.) I do have to ask journalists to please stop saying “they can be treated easily.”

Don’t make Bugzinthehood want to send you an embroidered cushion! (Just a little joke from the Bedbug-mafia.)

What I don’t understand is that if DDT was outlawed in the USA in 1972, and the airlines were deregulated in 1978, and if said deregulation led to an increase in travel which everyone seems to think led to the recent rise in bed bugs, then why did bed bugs really start to hit us in the last 5 years? Shouldn’t we have started seeing cases back in the 70’s and onwards? Many sources mention that changes in pest control practices (such as spraying all the baseboards in a home regularly) led to conditions in which bed bugs could flourish, but again, these have been discontinued for a few decades, so why now?

If DDT more or less eliminated bed bugs in the USA, but they still flourished overseas, why has it taken about 30 years for them to come back? Sure, there were always isolated cases, but only a few. If these bugs spread as easily as they seem to (based on cases I’m aware of right now) what took them so long to make the splash (er, bloodbath) they’re making now?

In response to the recent story on bedbugs, one author of a letter to the editor outlined his “Tinhat theory” on bedbugs, which is that terrorists planted them in NYC hotels as a form of economic warfare. Granted, it’s a bit loopy, and I really don’t like what this person is implying about immigrants in general, but as conspiracy theories go, it has some features to recommend it. It does explain the rise in bedbugs in hotels. It does not account for the rise in bed bugs amongst residents of SRO hotels, shelters, institutions, and yough hostels, except inasmuch as those people may have some contact with the richer travelers who use hotels and/or with their infested castoff items (secondhand furniture, clothing, and other stuff).

Maybe the Dept. of Homeland Security should be dealing with a certain kind of miniature terrorist a little more aggressively. Regardless of their source, I’m sure we’d all agree with that description of the little mahogany-colored monsters!

1 mgdecombe November 5, 2006 at 2:00 am

I’ve asked the same question about the timing of the resurgence- why now? I don’t accept the DDT theory because if it were true, we would have seen a resurgence much earlier. DDT has a long half-life, but certainly not 20 years.

My theory is that the change has occurred in the last five years because of changes in cockroach management practices, which now involve the use of baits rather than wholesale spraying of the same habitat that bedbugs love.

I honestly think it has much less to do with foreign travel than it does changes in IPM practices. As for the tinfoil hat theory- well, we supposedly dropped the Colorado Potato Beetle on fields in Germany during WWII.

If you get any free stuffed animals in the mail, return them to sender.

2 nobugsonme November 5, 2006 at 4:40 am

This is interesting, Maureen. Was it only five years ago they started mostly using baits instead of sprays? Because that would seem to exactly mirror the time during which we’ve seen this change.

Here in NYC (and I speak based on two buildings I’ve lived in) in the last five years, they are still spraying for roaches. (Kitchen and bathroom baseboards mostly.) If you mention seeing more than a few, they use the gel baits.

Incidentally, a particularly sloppy guy from the current PCO the building uses likes the spray so much, swinging the can so enthusiastically, he saturates things like the board under the entry way to a room. And he doesn’t stay within the lines, so to speak.

Once he did this and stepped in it and tracked spray-footprints everywhere. I hate this, needless to say, as I have pets.

I am not in luxury accommodations so perhaps these two PCOs are behind the times.

3 mgdecombe November 7, 2006 at 12:41 am


Your experience puts a dent in my theory. If they’ve been doing prophylactic spraying in your building, and you still have a BB infestation, then the IPM/roach bait theory may not hold up in your case.

As the research wheels start turning on this issue, it will be interesting to see what develops.

I’d say that the switch to baits has been taking place over the last 15 years, but accelerating over the last 5 in response to IPM-related legislation.

Will be interesting to explore this…

4 nobugsonme November 7, 2006 at 3:58 am


Well, you know, they definitely were not spraying bedrooms and living rooms. So maybe that explains it? I wonder if that used to be the norm here in NYC.

5 parakeets November 8, 2006 at 8:24 pm

I think it is a law of numbers.
*–The number of bedbugs at first, whether in our homes or in our society, is small so we don’t catch on right away.
*– Up to 70% of people who are bitten, get no reaction at all. They don’t notice.
*–It takes months for the numbers to build up until people can see them.
*–Once people do even see them, particulalry 5 years ago when they weren’t common, people have no idea what they are. (Even I thought they were “baby roaches” or some type of “small carpet beetle.”)
*–If the bedbug sufferers went to their doctors, the doctors didn’t know what they were (still often don’t–just happened to me twice).
*–If the bedbug sufferers went to their landlords, the landlords either didn’t believe them or brushed it off as something they could “self-treat” and sprayed with fumigation bombs or baseboard roach spray.
*–Pest control services hadn’t seen bedbugs either! As recently as last year, we called two pest control firms in the Boston area who obviously did not know about bedbugs by the way they answered questions.
*–Many infestations started with people in our society who don’t have a voice, whether due to poverty, not speaking our language, being here illegally, lack of knowledge of the system…so bedbugs were here, but people weren’t speaking about them.
*–No matter what peoples’ background, no matter what class, bedbugs are the bug no one speaks about.
Now the numbers are so large the problem is evident, but, as a math major, I wonder if it just grew mathematically, but silently over time.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: