Bed Bug Pesticide Resistance a Growing Concern
A group of 80 of the world’s leading bed bug experts are studying how bed bugs have evolved pesticide resistance , and the results aren’t good for us. As we’ve suspected from previous research bed bugs have multiple different genotypes that are causing them to become pesticide resistant in a number of different ways.
One problem with bed bugs – and other insects – is that their life spans and reproduction cycles are so short that evolutionary processes that would take hundreds of years – if not longer – in other species can occur quite fast. Over a matter of years entire populations can become resistant to pesticides; and it’s not a fluke that they do. As with any living organisms, some bed bugs will have gene mutations. Normally this wouldn’t matter, but if the mutation allows them to survive applications of pesticides – like having a slightly thicker skin for instance – then when the rest of the bed bugs are killed off by a treatment only the ones with the beneficial mutation remain. These bugs go on to reproduce, and the cycle continues until you have entire populations that are resistant.
For example, say bed bugs in Ohio are primarily exposed to Chemical A. Eventually they will develop a resistance to Chemical A, but Chemical B will still work on them. At the same time, Chemical B is in wide use in New York and the opposite scenario emerges. This wouldn’t be an immediate issue if the bed bugs in Ohio remained in Ohio, and the ones in New York remained in New York; we could still switch to the other chemicals and have a couple years of efficacy before new chemical solutions are required. But as we all know it’s easier than ever to travel around the world quickly, and bed bug populations become mixed.
Recently a joint effort between researchers at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medicine produced a record of the bed bug genome. This is very useful for future investigations, not only into bed bug pesticide resistance but also into how they feed and grow. However, it will require years of research for this to result in any practical pest control applications. Making matters worse is the lack of funding available for research into bed bugs. Washington State University entomologist Laura Lavine explained, bed bugs are not a funding priority as they do not carry disease and are classified as a nuisance. It’s easy to see why funding would go to research into more immediate public health concerns (such as the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus), but the effect of bed bugs on public health shouldn’t be underestimated.
Luckily, none of the research has shown any developing tolerance for heat. More than ever it’s looking like heat treatment should be the standard for bed bugs, especially as pesticide resistant groups merge and our options for effective chemical treatments grow more and more limited.