Will bed bugs ever go away?

Bed bugs are an unfortunate yet prevalent part of the hotel industry, but this has not always been the case in the U.S. During the 1950s and 60s, the pests were all but absent from American hotels while they endured in other countries.

According to Joe Barile, technical service lead at Bayer, an entire generation of both the public and pest management professionals never experienced bed bug outbreaks at all. Barile claims he only treated a home for bed bugs once in the 1980s, making sightings of the insects exceptional.

This bug-free period had a lot to do with readily available chemicals, according to Ron Harrison, director of technical services at Orkin. Powerful pesticides such as DDT were easily obtained at the local drugstore in the 1950s before the Environmental Protection Agency cracked down on their use, meaning the average citizen was able to treat their home without needing intervention from pest management professionals.

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Nowadays, the chemicals that directly target a population of bed bugs can be ineffective if applied by a consumer, and calling a pest management professional to take care of an infestation is costly.

Barile also cites a movement in pest management away from routine surface treatments for insects such as ants, cockroaches, carpet beetles and flies, where residual pesticide treatments would often kill bed bugs before they could establish themselves.

“The industry has moved on to using specialized treatments for singular pests, such as insect baits,” Barile said. “Bed bugs pay no attention to most of these, and they have had time to go about their business without any control measures affecting them.”

Once the use of powerful yet environmentally damaging chemicals had been curbed and regular surface treatments went out of style, a cultural increase in international travel helped bed bugs proliferate throughout the U.S. This resulted in a time lag between the discovery of the bugs’ resurgence and the effective treatment of them.

“People always ask me, ‘Have we peaked? Are we past the worst?’” Barile said. “The truth is that bed bugs are not going to go away. They are established here, just as they are throughout the rest of the world.”