Did DIY pesticide treatment lead to death?

by nobugsonme on May 31, 2010

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, canada, DIY bed bug treatment, pesticides

Bed bug treatment is expensive and many people feel forced by necessity to do their own bed bug treatments for this reason.

We generally advise against DIY bed bug treatment because bed bugs are difficult to treat and because misapplying or overapplying pesticides can make bed bugs worse and/or cause health problems, and even death.

The latter point is, unfortunately, driven home by the recent Evaluation of Pesticide Incident Report 2010-1615 by Health Canada, which records “pesticide incidents” on its Consumer Product Safety website.

According to the Health Canada site, the report, submitted to the pesticide manufacturer in April, notes that a woman applied a pesticide containing Permethrin and S-methoprene around the perimeter of her parent’s bedroom floor and between the mattresses. Both woman and parent became ill, and the parent (who had some existing health problems) died eighteen days later.

Wellmark International received information about an incident related to one of their products, which they submitted to the PMRA on April 29, 2010. The information contained in the incident report indicated that a product containing the active ingredients permethrin and S-methoprene was sprayed between the mattresses and on the perimeter of the floor in a person’s bedroom. The individual slept on the bed the night the product was sprayed and was hospitalized approximately two days later with symptoms including vomiting, chemical taste in the mouth, pneumonia, paralysis, and scarring of the lung tissue. The individual passed away after 18 days of hospitalization. The report indicated that the individual had a history of diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In accordance with the Incident Reporting Regulations classification system, this incident was classified as Human Death. It was also reported that the individual’s daughter, who applied the product, experienced bronchitis, which is considered to be moderate in severity.

It is not certain exactly which product was applied, but the report notes

. . . it is likely that the product used was one of three domestic-class products registered by Wellmark International for use in Canada: Vet-Kem Siphotrol Forte (PCP Reg. No. 22213), Vet-Kem Siphotrol 1000 Double Action Premise Treatment (PCP Reg. No. 25739) and Vet-Kem Siphotrol 2000 Double Action Premise Treatment (PCP Reg. No. 25582) all containing permethrin and S-methoprene at low concentrations (0.01-0.80%).

Permethrin belongs to the class of insecticides known as pyrethroids. Symptoms of overexposure to pyrethroids in general may include vomiting and irritation of the respiratory tract. S-methoprene is an insect growth regulator that mimics a natural hormone of insects and prevents the maturation and reproduction of young insect pests. S-methoprene has relatively low toxicity and is not associated with adverse reactions in humans.

The record of this incident on the Health Canada Product Information page associates incident 2010-1615 with Vet Kem Siphotrol Plus Pump Spray for Homes, an area spray for fleas and ticks.

As noted in the report, none of the products which may have been used in this instance are labeled for application to mattresses.

The report also assesses the likelihood that the pesticides caused the reactions noted:

Based on the available information, it is concluded that it is unlikely (where the effect reported is not typical for the suspected pesticide but the possibility that exposure to the pesticide caused the effect cannot be ruled out) that the symptoms of paralysis, pneumonia and scarring of lung tissue, as well as the reported death, are related to exposure to the pesticide product. The health of the individual may have been compromised from other medical issues at the time that the incident occurred; therefore, it is uncertain if the subject’s medical conditions may have been exacerbated by exposure to the pesticide.

It is possible (where there is some correlation between the exposure, the pesticide and the effect) that the vomiting and chemical taste in the mouth reported in the individual that died, and the bronchitis reported in the individual that sprayed the product, were related to exposure to permethrin.

Which pest the consumer was trying to treat in this incident is not noted, however, the application of the product to the bed suggests it was bed bugs (and this would also be an off-label use of the product).

This story is tragic. Although we don’t know exactly what caused the reactions and death, it is clear that the daughter developed moderate bronchitis after applying the pesticide.  It is uncertain whether or how the pesticide exposure contributed to the parent’s death, but the chain of events is very suspicious.

This is a reminder of the need for caution and knowledge when applying pesticides:

  • Never use pesticides outside of the labeling instructions.
  • Do not spray anything on your bed which is not labeled for such an application.
  • Do not attempt to treat a bed bug problem yourself unless you are able to do the research and learn to apply pesticides safely and effectively.

Pesticides can be useful tools, and the aim of this story is not to frighten people away from their use.  However, keep in mind, there are also sensitive cases where other methods (steam, thermal heat, etc.) may be more appropriate.  And keep in mind there are likely people besides you who are better suited due to their knowledge and skills to use pesticides safely and effectively in your home.

I thank Sean of the Bed Bug Resource for bringing this story to our attention.


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