Top Story: September 1, 2010

Bedbugs: Media Darlings

Bed_bug,_Cimex_lectularius

Bedbugs have appeared in the media a lot in the past few weeks. Their resurgence, and attention to it, is sweeping the continent!

Why just this week, they’ve upstaged fleas at flea markets and Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon and Keira Knightly at the Toronto Film Festival. “The Daily Dish”, found at SFGate, reports that:

The world-renowned movie event is due to kick off in the city on September 9, but officials have found the parasitic insects in cinemas due to be used for the film screenings.

Bosses at the Cineplex movie theater complex are taking steps to make sure the festival is “itch-free” and organizers are hopeful the outbreak will be contained.

They’re also hogging the limelight on prominent science websites, starring in two separate videos. The New York Times posted a video earlier this week called “Studying Bedbugs” and producer Flora Lichtman adds to her wonderful Science Friday videos with talking bedbugs, (yes, bedbugs that speak into a microphone) posted just last week.

So what gives?  Why are bedbugs so hot right now?

Donald G. McNeil, Jr. describes it perfectly in an article in the New York Times earlier this week:

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the common bedbug as merely a pestiferous six-legged blood-sucker.

Think of it, rather, as Cimex lectularius, international arthropod of mystery.

That’s right. This pest is serving up quite a mystery. Bedbugs had virtually disappeared from America for 40 years until the 1990s. No one knows exactly why (DDT disappearance? Cockroach bait changes?). Unlike many other parasites, they don’t spread disease, so researchers haven’t studied them as thoroughly as some of their pesky brethren (for another itch-inducing article, you can read our previous post about disease-spreading body lice here).

Now these divas are gaining national attention. The CDC and EPA wrote in a joint statement, “In recent years, public health agencies across the country have been overwhelmed by complaints about bedbugs.” And according to the website IdentifyUS, formerly connected to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Bedbugs have increasingly become a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters.”

No one quite knows how to contain them. The EPA and CDC, concerned about pesticide overuse within homes and apartments (read this AP article for more info), are giving somewhat feeble advice: “try a mix of vacuuming, crevice-sealing, heat and chemicals to kill the things.” [New York Times]  And at least one New York Times op-ed asked why we can’t learn to love them.

In the meantime, the battle (and entomological stardom) rages on.

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