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Inbreeding in bed bugs one key to massive increases in infestations

May 09, 2017

According to Vaidyanathan, ???Bed bugs are our oldest roommates. There is even evidence of bed bugs in Pharaonic Egypt.???

Researchers say the most recent US resurgence of bed bugs has been caused by a number of factors. ???The problems we are seeing with bed bugs in North America did not happen overnight,??? said Vaidyanathan. ???They are the consequence of multiple repeated introductions from all over the world. We have the highest concentration in the history of our species of humans living in cities. For as long as we??ôve been standing on two legs, we??ôve lived in rural areas. Over the last ten years, the majority of humans have moved to urban areas. This is the perfect setting for creating a high density of mammal nests for bed bugs. Bed bugs do not have wings; they are nest parasites, so our own population density has helped them to thrive.??? 

While there is limited genetic diversity within individual infestations, the NCSU team found that there is high genetic diversity across infestations along the East Coast; the bed bugs are coming from many different places, either from within the US or, more likely, from abroad. Previous studies confirm that turnover of residents is one of the biggest indicators for the presence of bed bugs and that increased domestic and international travel is one of the main factors driving bed bug infestations. Bed bugs also feed on chickens, and industrial production of poultry is providing the perfect breeding grounds for bed bug populations, according to Vaidyanathan. But researchers also attribute the spread to the increased introduction of used furniture and household items into homes.

Right now, either insecticides or heat treatment is used to deal with these infestations. The researchers noted that insecticides readily available to the consumer have generally not been tested against bed bugs. Applying heat treatment involves heating the whole home, or packing all furniture and belongings in a box and heating the objects at a high temperature for one hour, but both are expensive options and not ideal for chronic infestations. The researchers called for better education about bed bugs, improving existing detection methods, and safe and more effective control methods. 

???Just as with other global diseases once thought under control and then neglected, bed bugs have shown the ability to resurge in great numbers once our vigilance wanes,??? said Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, president of ASTMH. ???To stay one step ahead of bed bugs and other parasitic organisms, we need to sustain investment in research for new tools.???

Source: American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, founded in 1903, is a worldwide organization of scientists, clinicians and program professionals whose mission is to promote global health through the prevention and control of infectious and other diseases that disproportionately afflict the global poor.

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